Am I an "Evasive" Christian?

Occasionally, I get questions from folks who visit my Facebook page. I always respond, and often, it generates interesting offline and online discussions. Most are genuine, courteous and enlightening. 
(Of course, there are those times are...well, let's just say, it's why I have Comment Guidelines.)

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Recently, someone on my Facebook page emailed me this:

I've noticed the way you phrase it when you talk about your faith. You say you "self identify" as a Christian, or that you are a Follower of Jesus. That sounds evasive to me, like you’re dodging the issue or ashamed of Jesus. Aren't we told to publicly confess our faith in Jesus? Are you or aren't you a Christian? I think it’s a simple “Yes” or “No” answer.

Before anyone gets offended or defensive on my behalf, please know that I didn't take the message as confrontational or accusatory. (Certainly not compared to some I’ve received.) We had a perfectly civil conversation, and in the end, while we may not have agreed on all aspects of my response, I think we both came away with a better understanding of one another. And he gave me permission to share the essence of the exchange, which says much about him.
(Thanks, t.c.)

It's a valid question, though all the built-in assumptions aren't correct.

Am I ashamed of Jesus? 
As part of my past Conservative, Fundamental mindset, I’ve done the aggressive, almost confrontation type of “evangelism” that included stopping people on the street or in malls to inquire about their eternal destiny. Back then, “faith” was tied to being right and wrong; it was about convincing others that the way “we” understood God, the way “we” believed, was the only way. Heaven (salvation, eternal life) was reserved to only those who embraced our Truth, so it was imperative that we speak out. We had to convert them. I took “apologetics” (i.e., defending the faith, cf: 1 Peter 3:15) literally and seriously, though in practical expression, it probably came across more as argumentative and undoubtedly judgmental.

I proudly and joyously debated those who disagreed.
I railed against “sinners.” (Especially “that” sin!)
I've visited new residents of our church's neighborhood, asking "trick" question as an gateway into "sharing the Gospel."
My car was adorned with pithy bumper stickers, "declaring" my beliefs on a variety of theological or social matters. 
I've observed Vacation Bible School "graduation" ceremonies, where young children were led to repeat a "salvation prayer."
I've been told to befriend an "unbeliever" for the sole goal of "leading them to Christ."
My messages/sermons included an “invitation” to accept Jesus as personal Savior.
I publicly "bragged" about my (supposed) transformation from gay to "straight," as if I were THE pattern for discipleship.

I related all that to make an important point: I've never been timid speaking up about my faith. I'm still not shy, or afraid to share. I can explain what I believe, and why...including, when pressed, chapter and verses. (Fundamentalists demand this!) Though I no longer feel the need to argue or debate, I'm comfortable answering questions, engaging in discussions, and I've been known to push back when challenged. 

Disclaimer: Before I proceed, allow me to quickly and categorically add that I no longer engage in those intrusive "evangelistic" activities; I view them as inherently presumptuous and arrogant. Looking back now, it all seems draconian. Even Machiavellian. In retrospect, I sadly think our methodology was often less important than results. As long as they repeated our proscribed prayer, asking Jesus to come into their heart, we’d done our job. Whether any of my evangelistic efforts were "successful" is a matter of personal opinion, I reckon. (For the record, this recollection is not intended as a sweeping, all-inclusive indictment of all evangelism, all churches, or all organizations. I'm recounting my background and my experience.) 

Sadly, I think it's gotten worse these days.
I see little "Good News" in the Gospel of Conservative (Evangelical, Fundamental) Christians, much less the essence of our message, which is supposed to be LOVE. 

Author’s Note: In case there’s the temptation to "educate" me, I do know the verses about “witnessing.” For years, I worked for several national...and nationally known...Evangelistic organizations, training people to share their faith (i.e., witnessing) and tell their faith story. (i.e., their personal testimony.) So let’s not get into a debate about “The Great Commission” or what the Bible has to say about evangelism.

Am I ashamed of Jesus? 
Absolutely not.
But the same can't be said for everything (and everyone) we see/hear these days using the name of Jesus!

Admittedly, I am hesitant to be identified with much of what is commonly understood as "Christian" in this country—everything from Franklin Graham to Pat Robertson to Joel Osteen. And while I'm transparent about my past involvement, I'm also very vocal about our current differences and disassociation. I find Christian Fundamentalism distasteful, disingenuous and dangerous. If they are "Christian," then I will avoid using that designation rather than be seen as part of what they represent. So I have chosen to be more intentional and careful with the words I use to describe my faith, my experience, my journey. But it's honestly not my intention to hide or camouflage that faith. 

Am I being evasive? 
I've never thought that to be the case. I regularly and candidly talk/write about my faith: the impact on my politics, the ways I relate to others, how I deal with my cancer, even my reason for coming out as gay.

Some have objected to my faith because it doesn't align with their denominational affiliation, creeds, doctrines or biblical interpretation. 
A few have complained I talk about faith too much.
There are those who suggest I shouldn't talk about faith at all.

As in other areas, this question might ultimately be a matter of perspective.

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Am I a Christian? 
Obviously, being a Christian is internal, intimate and individual. But if we're honest, it's also open to the opinions (definitions) of others, based on their culture, experience, interpretation, traditions, etc. Loud, visible voices these days will adamantly deny I could possibly be a Christian, simply and solely because of my sexual orientation. These folks are not subtle, they are not shy, and they are not silent: "You cannot be gay and Christian!"
(For the record, I do disagree.)

Am I a Christian?
Well, I know from all my years in conservative Christianity, my understanding of Scripture, and my extensive experience training others in personal evangelism/witnessing, that I absolutely meet all the standard, traditional "biblical" criteria. (Again, I can cite chapter and verse, should you choose to disagree or dismiss.)

Am I a Christian?
I like to think I am, though historically, that's a term bestowed by others, not a "merit badge" one arrogantly assigns to oneself. That's why I prefer to say that I "self identify" as a Christian. The phrase suits where I am in life. It's pragmatic, and indicates I’ve made a choice in my life, and that I take ownership of my faith. I hope the terminology shows my faith is a priority for me, and that it’s very personal. When I talk about my faith, it is just that: MY faith. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind, nor convert anyone. I embrace my faith, while refusing to argue definitions of what that means. 

Am I a Christian?
One of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite authors offers this perspective:

"I'm always amazed when people say, 'I'm a Christian.'
I think, 'Already?'
It's an ongoing process. You know, you keep trying. And blowing it and trying and blowing it ..."

~ Maya Angelou

I don't see "being" a Christian as a prayer I once prayed in my past, a list of things I believe now, or my locked-in reservations for an eternal heavenly abode. For me, my faith is a journey, patterning my life after the example and teachings of Jesus. My faith is seeking to consistently embody what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment—love God and others. (cf: Matthew 22:36-40)

I am a Follower of Jesus.
I think that's tangibly expressed in how we treat one another (cf: John 13:35), and how we respond to those around us who are in need: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the outcast, the disenfranchised, the marginalized. (cf: Luke 4:16-21; Matthew 25:31-46) It's showing grace, acting with compassion and working for justice...in the Name of Jesus. (cf: Matthew 23:23)

Am I a Christian?
I guess the more pertinent question might be: Does my life...my interactions, my attitudes, my passions, my deportment...cause others to deem me a Christian?

 

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