Yep. My well-formed, evangelical Christian religion went through a train wreck a few years ago. I am not the same. A lot of the things in my life that used to inspire me, no longer do. Some of them actually now make me uncomfortable. I don’t fit in. I can’t say an ‘Amen’ in agreement. My religion, that I was so comfortable with, has been wrecked.
In evangelical Christian circles we have our own lingo, just like many other cultural groups do. It doesn’t take long to pick up on the catch phrases and the meanings of certain terms.
People have been ‘blessed’ rather than lucky. If you ‘love worship,’ you enjoy the musical portion of a church service. If you talk to someone about God or Christianity, you got to ‘witness’ to them. And those people we witness to and pray for, we have special labels for them too. They are ‘the lost;’ they ‘don’t know Jesus;’ or as some of our favorite hymns refer to them, the perishing or sinners.
We know we are to love ‘them,’ because God does. The Bible tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We have a phrase we love to encourage one another with: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Generally, among the Christians I know, they genuinely do care about ‘the lost,’ especially those they know personally, family members, coworkers, neighbors. They want them to become Christians so that they can go to heaven when they die instead of to hell. They want them to become Christians so they will have happier lives here on earth.
We are the saved and they are the lost. Granted, we used to also be lost. We may even continue to call ourselves sinners in some circles, but we are no longer lost. We are saved, redeemed, purchased, born again, adopted into God’s family, we are new creations – we are Christians. We are going to heaven.
The problem with labels is that they lump people together, people we know personally are lumped with people we’ve never met. When we put a label on a group of people, whether it is the label Christian or Latino or Islamic or suburbanites or the lost, we lose sight of the individuals. It affects how we look at people and treat people. We find ourselves wanting to know your label, before we want to know you. Why? Because your label, whether or not you are a member of our social group or not, effects how we will relate to you and interact with you. We want to know if you are one of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’.
Living Among ‘Them’
It is easy to be totally comfortable with the mindset of your subculture, whether it is evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Jew or Hispanic migrant workers, when you spend the majority of your time surrounded by them. Even if your employment takes you outside those boundaries, you recognize it as foreign and look forward to returning to your refuge of comfort. I was no different, for most of my life, but God didn’t allow me to stay in my safe zone. He sent me out to live among ‘them’.
Lots of Christians go out among the ‘lost.’ Some do it as a vocation and are called missionaries or evangelists. I’m talking about something different, something totally unpremeditated. Even though we are to be ‘instant in season and out of season’ to share the reason for our faith, I found myself looking at my new community of acquaintances in a fresh way.
Many of the ‘them’ were openly hostile towards Christianity. Many used foul languages enthusiastically. Some had their own spiritual bents, Wiccan beliefs being fairly common, a few proclaimed atheists, but most, had no religion or belief system at all. What they had in common was their art, their passion for words and storytelling.
It was an online community with an active forum. You could listen in on conversations or participate if you so choose. As an introvert, I found it fascinating. I did a lot of lurking, enjoying the banter going back and forth. Some people did their best to get others riled, others were all about getting people to laugh and some were just too serious for their own good. But they were all writers, and several of them, very good at their craft.
Learning to Love
I was new to the writing world. It had not been my passion since I was young, like some of the others. Yet, several took time to read my attempts at poetry and other articles I wrote. They left comments. They offered encouragement and critique. In return, I read their writings. I was amazed at the talent.
For the most part, these were not college-educated writers. They were brick layers, salesmen, nurses, housewives and computer geeks. Some enjoyed journalistic writing, others short fiction, some poetry and others creative nonfiction or essays. They were from Ireland, England, Australia, the Philippines, Canada and all across the United States. It was a colorful group. Strong friendships developed among those who frequented the forum and read each other’s work. I learned to love these people.
Removing the Barriers
I wasn’t the only evangelical Christian frequenting the forum and posting her writings on the site. There were several others. Occasionally, one of them would start a thread on the forum to connect with the other Christians there. It might be focused on praying for one another or encouraging each other. Some attempted to ‘reach out’ with evangelistic messages of concern. Others attempted to use apologetics and logic to show the non-Christians the error of their ways and the truth of the Bible.
How did the non-Christians respond? Usually with delight! They loved to join the nice little Christian threads and interject some foul language or other disturbing comments. They loved to antagonize the apologists and evangelists, telling them how stupid they were and criticizing Scripture and the Christian religion. Generally, they were able to accomplish their goal of frustrating and ridiculing the Christians who chose to step into the ring with them.
It made me sad and often times embarrassed for the Christians, who truly were made to look foolish many times. Some of these well-versed Christians ended up treating their evangelism targets with contempt and anger. Their motivation showed up in the end – to convert people to their religion or just to prove themselves right.
A few other Christians on the site, along with myself, avoided these discussions for the most part. I can’t speak for the others, but I had learned to appreciate and respect these writers. I had gotten to know them as people. People who had lives with pain as well as joys. People with lots of honest questions about life that they explored in their writing. I had learned to love them, just as they were. They in turn allowed me to become one of ‘them,’ in spite of my religion, which was obvious in many of my poems and articles.
I could no longer think of people as Christian or non-Christian. It no longer mattered. I let go of any religious agendas I might have had. I let go of labels. It changed the way I interacted with people in general. It set me free to not only love people, but to truly enjoy them without passing judgment on their behaviors or their beliefs. I hope and believe this change in me helps them to love and respect me in return.
“Love your neighbor, Jesus said. But he went beyond that. He said to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not in a different way from how you love those most like you. Treat ‘them’ with the same respect and appreciation as you do those most like you.
I now cringe when people talk about ‘reaching the lost’ or ‘witnessing to non-Christians’ or evangelistic outreaches to the ‘unsaved.’ I don’t want to treat any group or individual different because of one of those labels. I don’t want those labels to have anything to do with my motivation. I want, and hope I do, treat all people with the same love and respect, regardless of who they are.
This is not meant to be a criticism of evangelical Christians; I still count myself among you and love my Jesus more every day. It is my personal journey. If it speaks to you in a positive way, I am glad. If it makes no sense to you, sorry, I guess it wasn’t meant for you. Ignore it.
Thank you to all of the great people who helped wreck my religion and teach me to love: Peg, Patti, Spirit, Moose, Fegger, Duff, Gringo, Kate, Bo, Brad, Theresa, Steve666, Casey, Jacquie and others whose path crossed mine during those times.