Not one of those
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I’m debating whether to stop calling myself a Christian.
I’m not sure what triggered the temptation to abandon the label entirely. Possibly it was my friend’s latest Sunday family meal during which the conversation centered around whether or not Obama is the Antichrist. How can we be members of the same Christian tribe when I’m thinking, “Finally a leader who can inspire hope and global responsibility in millions,” and they’re thinking, “Is it possible that behind that winsome smile there are seven heads and ten horns?”
Or maybe it was hearing my friend’s roommate exclaim, “Well praise the Lord, my jeans are dry!” I am profoundly skeptical that God is involved with the intricacies of the laundry cycle.
Or perhaps it was just reading the word “Him” in a recent church circular, spookily hanging there with its capital H and no previous reference to a specific subject. Yes, it may well have been the overuse of that pronoun that finally pushed me over the edge.
Then again, maybe there was no specific trigger for questioning whether to keep wearing the Christian brand. Maybe it was just a slow inexorable slide, a series of unremarkable events that piled one on top of the next until almost unnoticeably, the structure could no longer stand.
Or perhaps it was my years in East Africa when I worked alongside poor people who had been taught by early missionaries that life here and now is sickness and suffering, but in heaven will be eternal joy. I grew increasingly infuriated that Christianity was the rationale for letting kids die of malaria.
Or maybe it was my four-year stay in Malaysia where I was more compelled by the compassionate faith of my Muslim colleague than the trite American Christian lingo that flooded the local church.
Possibly it was just eight slow years of Bush, where God-talk became a weapon and identifying as a Christian dumped me into a dirty pile of right-wing politics.
Whatever it was, I have grown weary of saying, “Yes, I am a Christian, but I’m not one of those.”
What I hate is that as soon as I stick on my Christian nametag, I get added to a monstrously diverse club in which I am not at all sure I want a lifetime membership. I get lumped in with the Obama-is-the-Antichrist gang, and the dry jeans laundry girl, and Bush’s security council.
Just saying, “I’m a Christian” can be the easier route. The term is so succinct, so deceptively simple – far faster than trying to stammer out: “Well, actually, yes, I do believe in a God that exists separately from me. And yet within me too. I believe I am in a developing relationship with this God. That the world has gone terribly wrong, but God wants to change it and I play a part. That issues of justice are at the centre. And, oh, I’m sorry, is this explanation boring you?”
And so I feel stuck. It’s either trudge through lengthy justifications, sit silent, or fall back on the old label and cringe. None of these options appeal.
The troubling truth is that Christianity is the only religious language I know. And I am fluent. It is my mother tongue, seeped into me like warm spring rain in black earth. I can win a “sword drill” against the fastest Bible-verse-finding fingers in the country. Sit me down and ask me to tell you the big story, from Genesis to Revelation, and I will. Quote me the red letters, and I will say amen. But throw me into Buddhism, black magic or Islam and I would be a traveller without a map.
Like it or not, Jesus is the best way I know to understand who God might be and how God might have us live. Sure, I’ve tried some alternative terms to position me in this camp – person of faith, believer, even church-goer – but they seem so esoteric, so distant from this person of Jesus who I confess, has captivated me. And what does the term “Christian” mean if not one who acknowledges the reality of Christ?
So, Jesus, I’m with you. I’ll keep wearing your label. For now. And as for the rest of you folks that call yourselves Christians – all ye fundamentalists and liberals, emergents and evangelicals, backsliders and legalists, all ye gays and homophobes, wife-beaters and feminists, trickle-downers and socialists, the whole contradictory lot of you – I begrudgingly, painfully, hesitantly, humbly, hope-fully admit … we’re in this together.
Brenda Melles is a freelance writer and international development consultant based in Kingston, Ontario.