Why I call myself a “Christian.”

Why I call myself a “Christian.” August 2, 2010

Since Anne Rice’s declaration of her rejection of “Christianity” last week, the blogs I read can’t stop talking about it. (See proof here, here, and here.) It’s not that Anne Rice is (or was?) such a superstar Christian and that the believing world is devastated, it’s that she brought up what many in my generation have been struggling with for years.

How many times have I heard someone say: “I follow Jesus but I can’t refer to myself as a Christian”? Or, to quote Ms. Rice, “following Christ does not mean following His followers”?

Anne Rice, I understand. How many times have I cringed inside when conversations with new people in my life turn spiritual and I have to define myself through my beliefs? I’m not ashamed to confess my belief in Jesus Christ. But I am often ashamed to use the word: “Christian.” What baggage does it carry in the minds of my nonbelieving friends? I assume (or fear?) that their first thought is is of anti abortion demonstraters shouting “Murderers!” outside Planned Parenthood buildings, or homophobic slurs spouted from the pulpit, or Catholic priests abusing children then covering their tracks.  Anne Rice called Christians: “anti-gay…anti-feminist…anti-artificial birth control…anti-science…anti-life.” And the truth is, that is an adequate description of what Christians are a lot of the time.

But that’s not what Christians are all of time. Last Thursday night, I sat in room with some of the saints of San Francisco who work for a ministry called City Team. They serve the most broken of the poor on the streets of San Francisco, providing them with food, clothes and opportunities for new lives. They bring drug addicts through an entire year of rehab, offering them purpose and hope and fulfillment outside of the lives they’ve known before. Then, graduates of the program are partnered with professionals who mentor them and walk with through the process of the job search.

I listened to a young man my age share his heartbreaking childhood of abuse and neglect, his spiral into heroin, his time in prison, and his discovery of both Christ and insects. (Yes, I said insects.) It turns out he’s a genius whose passion for insects has carried him out of his former life and into college and graduate work and now into an incredible opportunity to study with entomologists in Madagascar.

Just as I encountered the Christians who have given their lives to healing to the broken of San Francisco, my dear friends in Young Life outside Philadelphia were on their way home from a week at camp. Yesterday, I talked on the phone with my friend Cat, who walked me through the stories of all twenty-two kids who went on the trip with Radnor High School. No, their stories are not as dramatic as those of rescued lives off the street, but they are just as powerful. I know the “Every-girl” in suburban high school girl who believes her only value is in her own success (whether it’s in the classroom, in athletics, in the eyes of her demanding parents, or in the label she’s given by the boys she longs to impress). I also know the beauty of the moment when that girl recognizes that she is loved unconditionally by a God who knows her deepest longings. The achingly heavy weight on her back falls to the ground and she actually believes she is valuable simply because her Creator knows her and chooses her.

Who told her that such a love exists? Christians did.

That’s why I refuse to remove that name from my title. As much as there is judgment and hatred and false pretensions in the Church, it doesn’t change the fact that when I was thirteen and our dishwasher broke in the midst of a particularly difficult financial season for my parents, an anonymous member of our church had a dishwasher delivered to our house.

Community is beautiful and it is broken. And the Church was Jesus’ idea, in spite of what he must have known of its failures.  Am I proud of the Inquisition, the mistreatment of women, the present day hatred of homosexuals? No, I’m ashamed. But to remove the Christian from my definition and replace it with “Christ follower” or “Jesus lover” or whatever term is most trendy among progressive “Christianity,” is nothing more than wordplay.

I am a Christian. See me and make every assumption you want to make. Because the truth is, I’m just as screwed up as the rest of my clan who calls themselves by the name. But, understand this: there is beauty  in the Church and that beauty is what I cannot resist.

This morning, my pastor said: “I refuse to be cynical about Christians, because I am not cynical about Christ.” In that vein, all I can do is pray with the tax collector who beat his chest, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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