Sunday, April 04, 2010

Not Ashamed

The title of this post is the same as that of Evangelical supergroup Newsboys' first big hit. It was the first of many slogan-styled lyrics the group would pen and broker into a lucrative career. Many of the subsequent tunes would return to the theme of "Not Ashamed," championing the outspoken proselytizing characteristic of North American evangelicalism. It is a Christianity born of perceived persecution, one that assumes a bold demeanor must be adopted to 'win' converts to the faith. This was the Christianity I grew up with, and the one I served as a professional minister under.

As I pass into the final year of my '30s, I am convinced of neither of these propositions. I do not see Christians persecuted in North America unless they choose to be; nor do I think a bold approach the best for presenting the ostensible message of Christianity.

To the first point: I see Christians persecuted when they're being obnoxious, or advocating for political positions that advantage our faith or beliefs over others', or committing acts of public protest that do more to fuel oppositional invective than to "win souls." I have never been personally persecuted in North America. At the worst, NA Christians are inconvenienced. We have to travel to other countries to understand the meaning of the word persecution. The local school board banning public prayer is not persecution, it's an inconvenience. In my last year of high school, I formed a prayer group: our school permitted us to do so. Even if they hadn't, we would have been free to sit and pray together in out cafeteria or on the front lawn. None of us would have been beaten, tasered, or shot. Losing sanctioned time to pray in schools is not persecution: being caned for praying on school property is.

Getting in hot water for getting in people's grill doesn't count either: if you go out of your way to be an obnoxious bugger and someone reacts poorly, that's not persecution. I had an elderly couple 'witness' to me on a flight once--witnessing in this case having something to do with telling me how Obama was a communist and this last election was likely going to be the last. All this was delivered at a volume better suited to a Rugby field than the cabin of an airplane. Had I responded to the elderly man's tirade against the Democrat party with colorful colloquialisms, it would not have been persecution, though if he were anything like some other believers I know, he'd have seen it that way.

In some ways, I've already covered the aggressive approach to 'outreach,' or what I like to refer to as evangelical mugging. My first post-professional ministry social event was my first steampunk convention, and I found myself filled with the realization that I was free to just talk to people, without feeling guilty if I didn't crowbar Christianity into the conversation.

I can already hear some of the responses to this: "but if we deny Christ before men, he'll deny us before the Father." I'm not denying my faith, as I'll explain shortly. Refusing to verbally assault strangers with my opinion on life, the universe, and everything is not the same as denying Christian affiliation, despite how I often feel that much of organized Christianity is like that uncle who does all the really ridiculous shit at weddings: you know he's family, but you wish he weren't.

Despite all this, I am genuinely not ashamed of the gospel. I am still a believer, just not the one I was ten years ago. I am unashamed of what I still think of as, to quote Rob Bell, the best way to live. I am aware of the role my faith has played in some of history's ugly moments, but as I have said before, Christianity does not have the monopoly on sheep or shitheads; those are as well-represented among the atheists as they are among believers.

So on this Easter day, 2010, I'm ending my unsuccessful attempt at regular Lenten blogposts with the confession that I still believe. It's just a very different animal than it used to be.

Is he risen? I'm no longer as certain of that as I once was, but I'm okay with the uncertainty. If God really needed me to prove His existence, the enterprise entire would be screwed. I have become like the father who asked Jesus to help his "poor faith." My faith might be poor, but it's my faith, and I'm proud of it.