Close to Quitting Christianity... (?)

Ok. Maybe not really. I'm not sure.

A few days ago I had a conversation with a Christian man that really left me uneasy. He was talking to me about his first marriage and its failure. It left him shattered, searching, and so he read to learn more about himself and what went wrong. He read and read and found wisdom. So he shared some of it with me, and to be honest, some of it was resonating at first: he realized that the problems had been in him - in his unwillingness to change, to give, to listen, to work hard...

He read a book that changed his life. I can't remember the name now, but he explained this crucial point: "To make a marriage work, you have to define masculinity. You have to identify what masculinity means, and what you need to do as a man. This book, this amazing book says, if you don't define masculinity, your kids could end up queer!"

I think it was the most intense response I've yet felt against anti-gay language. It got me right in the gut. The way I felt when my high school English teacher told our class, "Jesus wasn't a Christian, he was Jewish." I know, I know, but I didn't get it at 14. I obviously knew Jesus was Jewish, but "not Christian?" I still remember how outraged I felt. That's the way I felt on Friday when this man lamented over "kids ending up queer" because gender roles aren't being concretely established.

I did eventually figure out Jesus was Jewish. But I'd rather stay outraged about this one.

Here's the problem: for most of my life, conservative, transitioning, emerging, and whatever-I-am-now, I have continued to immediately identify myself with other Christians. "You're a Christian?! Oh, I'm a Christian!"

Which suggests we believe in the same things...

Like what? Like Jesus? Like faith, hope and love? Like redemption and forgiveness?

Or like judgment? Like fear? Like anger, guilt, indignation, moral outrage, disgust, xenophobia, homophobia, apocalyptic fear of being left behind, you-name-it!

Because that's not what I hear when I hear "Christian." So it's not what I MEAN when I SAY Christian.

But I've been burned a few times lately. I don't like making negative changes in response to negative people, but maybe it's better to make sure clarity (truth) comes with disclosure.

Maybe there's no point in saying "Christian" or "Jesus" without establishing what those words actually mean.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but the outcome for me is that I'm going to think twice about identifying myself as a Christian. I don't want the baggage and bruises that come with it. I don't want the club memberships and political affiliations either.

It's weird to be feeling these things. I've always believed so strongly in the redemptive, trancendent power of the Body of Christ (fellowship of believers) but personal experience is dulling some of those concepts. It's making me less interested in affiliating myself with a particular culture of belief. And I think that's unfortunate.


Joan Ball said...

What if you had the same visceral reaction to this chain of events but, rather than responding by abandoning the word 'Christian' to this man and his ilk, you stood for it, instead? What if rather than breaking off and calling ourselves followers of Christ or some other factionalized attempt at rebranding, we actually stood for this word and the man it represents by saying - I am a Christian and what you are saying does not represent the love of Christ. This, I contend, is the more difficult path. The path of learning to be in loving conflict with those who also love Jesus, but whose prejudices and misguided judgements run contrary to this beautiful, wonderful, life-giving faith. I emphasize "loving" conflict, because all too often it seems that we are comfortable being unloving about those we perceive to be unloving, which is not only a contradiction but. in my interpretation, also in contrast to the Biblical mandate for us to be in unity.

Would love to hear your thoughts...

Brandon K. Baker said...

I really like what Joan had to say and I'd like to echo that sentiment.

While I have often felt caged and limited by the stigma that surrounds the label Christian, I also know that I came out of that stereotype. I was that guy who made the statement about masculinity and being "queer." That insensitivity and bigotry is part of my history and my personal growth. At some point I have to come to terms with it and take ownership of it.

It is only by owning our collective history as Christians that we can begin to build that bridge toward Christlikeness and love.

You have every right to abandon the labels and associations of Christianity. But let me approach it from one more angle before I admit that I'm constantly torn to do this myself.

You can't bridge the divide of racism without first coming to terms with your identity as white and your race's role in subjugating others. We can't say, "Well that was them and I'm not those white people." We are. I realize that you can't pick your race like you can pick your faith. So there is a distinct difference.

For me it comes down to this, I have just as much responsibility to direct Christians toward Jesus as I do anyone else. I can't bring myself to leave them behind as if they are the religious evolutionary equivalent of the cavemen. These people are a part of me and no matter how hard it is and how much it hurts, I have to build that bridge.

Jesus, though knowing that Judaism was broken and faltering did not tell his culture to abandon their religion. He sought to repair the broken rather than discard it.

Loved your thoughts Peter and I have walked that road many times and I'm sure I will again.

David Murdoch said...

I don't find that so offensive... the man didn't say that he hated homosexual people or that he would reject his kids if they turned out that way... it's not immoral for a person to have homosexual feelings, it's simply immoral to have sex in a way that one knows was not intended by God. Defining masculinity in the household probably isn't going to stop children from having such feelings (but then again, who really understands it?) if they did in any event.

Christ would ask us to love those whom offend us and to pray for them. This is the gospel message and that is a message that many people in this world who do not accept... preferring to judge people like that man and not to wish for their good.

God Bless,

The Fly said...

You know, Peter, this made a lot of sense, and I've had a lot of the same reactions that you've described - probably from the other side of the spectrum, but that's not the point. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that you're like me, in that I often get along better with civilized people with whom I disagree than I do with idiots with whom I theoretically agree. (It's the same way with "Republicans" and "Conservatives", many of whom I can't stand, but that's another topic altogether.)

For me, it always comes down to one thing: with whom am I identifying myself when I refer to myself as "Christian"? A group of imperfect humans who screw up and are often total cretins? Or the Incarnation of the One God, who came to redeem all of those imperfect, screwed up cretins, myself included? Somehow, I'd venture a guess that this is line of thinking is nothing novel for you.

I hope you're well.

- DTO -

Peter said...

I really appreciate your positive, proactive approach. I hope I'm mature enough, and disciplined enough, to live that sort of response, ongoing. I know that walking away from something is the easier way out (though still painful).

Brandon, I think we've talked about racial reconciliation before, and I'm in complete agreement. Like Paul, I'm the worst of sinners, which means I'm the worst of fundamentalists and every other group I might try to distance myself from. THAT WAS ME, too. And it's a sham if I pretend I've evolved beyond it. I'm still wrestling. Oh, and good point about Jesus, too. He didn't leave the old because it was restrictive. He redeemed WITHIN it.

The Fly, cool name. Yes, I think your assumptions about me are spot on. I don't have a problem with conservative Christians. I'm still surrounded by lovely people who think very differently than I do. I'm okay with that. It's the damage that comes from unthinking extremes, and insensitive assertions, that really causes a mess and turns my stomach.

And in all of this, I know I am still an "unthinking cretin" in many ways. I've got a long way to go...


Country Parson said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Joan's counsel. At the same time it may well be that the man with whom you spoke really did need something to help him understand what masculinity is and means in a health marriage. Based on what you shared, I'm not too sure the book he read was what he needed, but that's not the point. The point is that some men are clueless about what it takes to be a husband in a healthy marriage. I counsel more than a few of them. They are great guys, young, smart, energetic, successful in their chosen fields and dumb as rocks when it comes to being a husband.

Brent said...

I've thought about this christian label subject a lot. I could not find any way out of it. With what I believe, "Christian" classifies me best. Even though I would like to get away from the stigma the world has about Christians, I cannot.

What if the Enemy has done a very good job deceiving people about who we are? I don't profess to be perfect. I profess that I'm messed up and i found Someone who can save me from myself. But what I hear from most unbelievers is a dialoging about how the christian they know did something they don't think is very christian like. "what do they think their perfect, see their not." And to me that talk would only indicate they don't really know about the relational aspect of Christianity, only that it looks like rules that we cannot even follow. To change societies perspective as a whole about Christians I don't think it will ever happen. I just want to change it with those I meet. I ask God to help me accomplish that. Instead of complaining lets just change it with those we know!!

In a side note, you ever noticed that "they" influence us way to much?

Rachel H. Evans said...

I really, really appreciate the honesty of this post. I often feel the same way after a frustrating conversation (about biblical inerrancy, religious pluralism, "just war," etc.), or after someone says something really wacky like "I can't watch American Idol because the guy singing is gay."

Sometimes I just get to the point where I want to give up. I want to label Christians as "other" so I can distance I can make a big deal about how I am not one of them. Sometimes I get so down that I consider giving up not only the label but also the faith. "If this is what it means to be a Christian," I tell myself, "I don't want to be one."

Then I remember that Jesus is just too damn compelling for me to give him up, that I'm just as screwed up as all of these other people, and that - ultimately - we all give Jesus a bad name, whether we call ourselves Christ-followers or Christians or Jesus people or whatever.

Peter said...

Well said, Rachel. "Jesus is just too damn compelling." Christ is too lovely to ignore.

Brent, I can't see blaming someone other than ourselves (re: "the Enemy has done a very good job deceiving people about who we are"). We've done a good job of revealing who we really are. If we are known by our deeds and the fruits we produce, then how can we blame anyone but ourselves?

David Henson said...

I think one of the most powerful things living in the SF Bay Area is to claim "Christian" and even "born-again" and be as liberal as hell with theological integrity. Nothing drops people's jaws more than being Christian and standing for what Jesus actually stood for.

Plus, I think people see through the rebranding, and it's too inside-baseball. When people here follower of Jesus, Christ-follower, etc., I'd bet they hear "Christian."

Brent said...

Good point. I meant, "what we believe." I'm always hesitant to blame the Enemy for anything when I do such a good job screwing up myself. I only worry that self blame creates too much stagnation. To much inward focus on me and the things I'm doing wrong. Just trying not to screw up is a bad motivator for me and creates a cycle of unhappiness. Realizing God's immense love for me and others is the one thing that motivates me to share.

Just as our(christian) cliche rhetoric mask over any real substance, I would think this rhetoric happens amongst unbelievers about us.

Existential Punk said...

Love your honesty and what you wrestle with, Peter! i resonate with this and struggle too.

The book he refers to is probably 'Wild At Heart' by John Eldredge. That would be my guess since Eldredge gets into all that masculine stuff.

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