One respondent to an internet dialog asked, If you believe that conversion is nice, but it has no bearing on one's ability to "belong to" and "participate in the life of" the community, then in what way does the "identity" conferred by conversion "matter?"
I posed the question to some Jews by choice (converts). I want to share the replies with you.
Here is the first answer.
Good topic! Something I think about a lot.
There are three states: (1) being involved but not converting; (2) being involved and converting; (3) converting but not being involved. While Number 2 is the ideal, Numbers 1 and 3 show that actively belonging to the community is separate from converting, often related to it but not necessarily so. It's like being a resident alien with a Green Card as opposed to taking the oath and becoming a citizen. That final act makes you a real member of the club as opposed to just a visiting guest.
The "belong to" and "participate in the life of" sentiments miss out on an important element, which is the Jewish People. When you convert you become part of Am Yisrael (ie the People of Israel). If you are not converted you are only an associate of said people, but not actually one of them. A convert can make aliyah to Israel; a "Jewish associate" never could. The participating-in sentiment is alive only for as long as you actually participate; whereas once you are converted you could do nothing overtly Jewish yet you are still a Jew (ie Number 3 above). Converting is the step which makes your belonging-to irrevocable.