In the earlier days of my faith, knowing who was and wasn’t a “Christian” was a big deal to me. There was something attached to it that was comforting, familiar, certain. When I look back on those years, “Is he/she a Christian?” would come up in countless ways–related to teachers, doctors, family members, auto mechanics, friends, you name it.
Now, if I hear that phrase–“Is he/she a Christian?” I often feel myself tense up and my skin get a little itchy.
I feel weird about my reflexive response because I am, indeed, a “Christian.” Despite how much has unraveled related to certainty, doctrine, and a host of other things, I just can’t shake Jesus.
Yet, if random people ask me “Are you a Christian?” my first response is always, “Um, well, it depends on what you mean by ‘Christian.’”
Since we’re talking all things faith shift here, I wonder how many of you respond the same way?
The loud, divisive, judgmental, harsh, mean voices are often the most-associated with Christians. Our current political landscape has magnified that even more.
And like many others, I don’t want to be associated with that.
I don’t want to be misperceived.
I don’t want people to assume what I believe or don’t believe and be slotted into a groove that leads to all kinds of false conclusions.
Years ago, I remember reading about a study where people were asked, “When you hear the word Christian what does it make you think?” and people responded with so many loaded words–judgmental, mean, critical, cliquey, and exclusive. Then, they asked the same people–“When you think of the word Jesus, what comes to mind?” The answers were what we might expect–compassion, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace.
I once did the same experiment on my Facebook page related to “Christian” and “church” and “Jesus.” The identical basic themes emerged with a few deviations. What many think of related to Jesus is not the same association they have with his followers or his church.
For good reason.
The voices people most often hear are often the most harmful.
The Nashville Statement, Franklin Graham’s wide reach, Donald Trump’s alignment with a power block of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, and the ongoing division in so many denominations related to LGBQT+ equality, Black Lives Matter, refugees, and immigration issues have made this even more apparent.
And have created yet even more reasons why people are running away from the church, disconnecting from all-things-Christian, and denouncing our associations so others don’t confuse our hearts.
I know some now use “Follower of Jesus” or “Christ follower”, and I toggle between them all. Regardless of what we choose to use, I think there’s a bigger question we need to focus our energy on: How can we be a better representation of it to a world aching for Peace, Hope, Mercy, Meaning, Healing, Restoration?
It makes me think of Richard Rohr’s wise words–“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
One of the things I love about what’s emerging right now in the midst of so much despair and division is this:
Despite the hate, despite the horrid misrepresentation of the Christian faith so publicly, there’s also a strong and beautiful current of often-so-under-rated-because-it’s-happening-by-all-kinds-of-brave-people-all-over-the-world-not-looking-for-spotlights-or-platforms-or-power who are dedicated to practicing the better.
Who really want to reflect Jesus in a beautiful way not just individually but corporately, too.
Who are going to drown out hate with love.
Who speak less and listen more.
Who will subversively topple systems of power not with words but with actions that foster equality and justice.
Who are strangely known as those “wild, crazy, brave people who enter into the darkest, weirdest places that no one else wants to go.”
Who embody more corrective experiences for people that heal and transform.
Who won’t let their distant cousins who are carrying the same name be the ones who define their entire family’s values.