Note: This post began as a type of therapeutic, personal journal entry for me. I debated whether or not to share it publicly. But then I read Jayson D. Bradley’s post about the Spiral of Silence (referenced below) and decided why not? So here it is. Fair warning: This is a piece about Christian faith, so if you followed my blog to see travel accounts or Mom’s recipes, it might not be your cup of tea.
I have a serious problem. I’m a grown, educated woman with more than a decade of professional experience behind me…and I STILL worry about what people think of me. Not only do I want people to like me, I also want people to respect me as a kind, sincere, and intelligent human being…and perhaps most importantly, to see me as a strong and faithful follower of Christ.
Most troubling is that I’ve realized that the people whose opinion I most worry about are fellow Christ-followers.
I think it began when I realized that I was “different.” And by “different” I mean, not politically conservative. I first felt these tingles of recognition in college when it dawned on me that many in my Evangelical circles assumed that Christian = Republican.
The adjective “conservative” was spoken with reverent zeal; the equivalent of all things true and just. The word “liberal” was typically used to describe unruly types; destined to spiral into sin and debauchery. Instead of the words describing two distinct frameworks of problem-solving, they took on a “good vs. bad” vibe. And it was during the 2004 elections that I felt the words took on an “Us vs. Them” vibe. I saw the Sojourner’s bumper sticker: “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.” …and felt relief.
I’m sure most people see their political ideology as a personal, yet well-educated, preference. Like religion, that preference is influenced by personal experience yet does not necessarily feel like a choice; in many ways it seems a part of our very being.
D-Cubed (a.k.a. the Duck Dynasty Debacle)
Okay, I’ll admit it. It sucked me in. I got caught up in the social media frenzy.
I don’t even watch the show. I didn’t know who Phil was. All I knew is that my news feed filled up with some shamefully nasty comments that morning. At least I thought they were shameful. And so I posted, “My statement of the obvious today: Jesus had tact. Many of his followers do not.” At the time I hadn’t read Phil’s interview in GQ and my comments weren’t directed toward him, but rather to the nasty things I had read in my feed, posted (indeed) by friends. During the next 48 hours, I garnered 29 thumbs ups and 78 comments from my 500+ facebook friends. I eventually read Phil’s comments and was horrified that his vulgarity and insensitive comments related to race were being heralded by many Christians. His comments were vulgar, not in the use of the words themselves, but in likening women and gay men to nothing more than their anatomy. Several of my Christian friends tried to “educate” me when I pointed out I didn’t want Phil to be elevated as some great Promoter and Defender of my faith. According to them, I was on the wrong side of the issue.
The thing is, I’ve learned that not all Christians feel this way. And often, the ones who are brave enough to say they don’t, are accused of having “watered down” the faith. I find this accusation to be very arrogant and condescending. The Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 2 have long guided me in my faith journey:
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
When I look back on my college career, I think the best skill taught by my university was to think critically. That means to doubt, to ask questions, to seek answers, and to consult varying viewpoints. I’ll never forget a sermon I heard at the Baptist church I attended while in college. The topic was doubt and the pastor pointed out that doubt is not a sin. Very often, it is in fact useful in strengthening our faith.
In my ever-present quest to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I’ve begun to follow the writings of so-called “Progressive Christians.” I’ve heard the label “progressive” used with ridicule but what I’m finding is that these folks are sincerely trying to do the same thing as me in working out their salvation. I don’t agree with them 100% of the time, but that is kind of the point. No one person, one denomination, one anything-else-under-the-sun, has it all figured out. And that’s okay so long as we don’t become complacent to the point we no longer seek Truth.
Currently, I’m strongly admiring the musings of blogger and author, Rachel Held Evans. I recently read her personal memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, and was struck by how brutally honest she was about her own journey. And it got me thinking that maybe it would be okay for me to be honest about my journey. Maybe it was time for me to stop worrying so much about what others think of me.
Don’t worry, this isn’t the part where I post my controversial stance on a number of pressing issues plaguing our society today. Because I still don’t have it all figured out and I’m not trying to be controversial, political, disruptive, or anything else. After all, my word for the year is “Peace.” I am here to say that I think those of us who call ourselves Christians should continue to seek the One we follow, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and convict. Just when we think we have it all figured out–when we are so sure that our interpretation is the interpretation–is when God teaches us about humility and brokenness (at least that’s been my experience).
Since I’ve been pondering these things, I began collecting links to articles that resonate with me. Again, I don’t always agree 100% with the conclusions these writers have come to–but a lot of what they say is worth reading and most importantly comes from a place of sincere faith in Jesus Christ.
Zach Hunt, blogger at The American Jesus, wrote about His Biggest Struggle, echoing my feelings of late.
Jayson D. Bradley blogs beautifully about the harm that can come from not being transparent about our beliefs to those around us. In this blog he states, “there are areas I fear openness would lead to feeling ostracized.” I fear the same.
I also try to stay grounded in scripture as I seek to understand differing viewpoints. Too often, it’s easier to rely on the thoughts and interpretations of others than to come up with our own thoughts and interpretations. Scripture warns us again and again to be aware that false teachers will introduce destructive heresies–we have to have knowledge of the Word to be able to weigh the truth in any statement made related to the Christian faith. And by this I mean not just the words themselves, but also the pervasive themes found in God’s Word.
So I pray diligently for myself and for my brothers and sisters in Christ–that we may seek unity despite our differences, that we may be salt and light in an unsavory world, and that Christ’s message of loving thy neighbor is never far from our thoughts. Let’s reason together…with respect, grace, and humility.