I will admit it: I suffer from Christian conversation embarrassment. Partly it’s because talking about Christian things often means straying into cheesy or emotionally vulnerable territory, and so instead of saying, “That sounds really tough. I’ll be praying for you,” I find myself coming out with “Don’t worry, I’ll hit up Big G for ya.” Yes, that is a sentence I actually say. But my main reluctance is to do with the big issues, the Christian stories or events that come up on social media or in the office that, if I were to weigh in, would probably cause me to lose more points than I would if I just kept my mouth shut.
And it’s not a lack of opinion on these issues that makes me keep schtum. My reluctance to talk about Christian things with my non-Christian friends comes from who they associate me with. Not Jesus (he’s great, I’m loving his work so far) but with other Christians – and you know the ones I mean; it’s the Westboro Baptist Church who spread hate instead of love; it’s the priests brought to light by the media who have abused their power and hurt innocent children. Last week, I read an article about Christian Domestic Discipline, which is a movement in which husbands are encouraged – through a ridiculous misinterpretation of the bible – to discipline their wives as they would a child (including spanking) and my heart broke. How can these people so woefully miss the point of what it means to follow Jesus? And how on earth are we all in the same club?
Because these are the people that most of the population think of when you say “Christian.” These are the ones who get the media attention, and so we all get tarred with the same brush of craziness, hypocrisy and abuse. And I understand why the media does it; here is a group of people claiming they know a better way to live, and telling you that your way of doing life isn’t the best. Of course it’s going to make the news if one of those high-and-mighty types messes up. As a Christian, I know that there are a few nutters but by-and-large we’re all basically trying to do our best to be as much like Jesus as we can, and aren’t actually silently judging the rest of the world whilst being blind to our own misgivings. But it feels like, to the outside world, we’re all a bunch of homophobes and power-abusers, busybodies and judges, and I’m getting wary of admitting to non-Christians “Yep, I’m one of those guys.”
In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which, if you haven’t watched it, is amazing and Tina Fey is a comedic genius), Kimmy goes to church for the first time and is surprised to discover she loves going, as up until this point her only experience of religion was through a man called “The Reverend” who kidnapped her and kept her in a bunker (it is a comedy show, I promise). But then she realises that members of the congregation are gossiping and being mean about one another, using the bible to excuse everything they do. The people in the church talk a big game about being good and kind, but are really liars and deceivers and “jerkatrons”. Kimmy tells the congregation, “If Jesus was here, he’d be all ‘I should have stuck with carpentry.’” But then something great happens: the church agrees with her. They say “Amen” and start clapping. They admit to various things they’ve done wrong, and Kimmy realises, “I guess real religion is about knowing we’re not perfect, but trying to be better –together.”
I could have fist-bumped the sun when I saw that episode. I wanted to make everyone I know watch it. Finally, here was a depiction of Christianity in the media that neither stuck a halo or horns on its head. Finally, Christians weren’t put on pedestals or pushed off them. Christians were flawed but kind; recognising that they were human, and at the same time working together to be more like Jesus and love other people. But we can’t sit the whole world down and make them watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (not everyone has Netflix). We have to be the ones to show the non-Christians in our lives that we are normal, actual humans. We need to get involved in the conversation.
My first night at uni, a few of my flatmates were chatting about birth control and one of them asked me what pill I was on. I, in my best efforts to brush it off as coolly as possible, muttered I wasn’t planning on having sex until I was married as it was “a Christian thing” and the conversation quickly changed to something less awkward. But the next day, I discovered one of the girls in my flat was trying to get moved into different accommodation because she wasn’t going to spend the year living with someone like me. And in that moment, I had a choice.
What I wanted to do was cut my losses. I didn’t want to have the awkward conversation and explain my side of things. I didn’t want to put myself out there. But I realised that I had already avoided the Christian conversation, and look where that had got me: I had tried to get away with talking as little as possible about it, but all that did was fuel the expectation that being a Christian was something to be ashamed about. I was letting the media determine how this girl saw me – and, by association, God. By trying to minimise the conversation, I lost control of the story.
So I spoke to my flatmate. I told her that I wasn’t going to judge her or tell her how to live her life. I told her where I stood on certain issues and she was welcome to ask me about it if she wanted. She told me her prior experiences with Christians had been, shall we say, less than ideal, and she had assumed I would be like the other horrible Christians she had known. She stayed in the flat. No, we didn’t become best friends and she didn’t come to God during the time I knew her, but she spent a year living with a Christian who, hopefully, showed her we’re not all mental or ridiculous or mean; most of us are just trying to do our best – just like everyone else.
I’m not saying we need to ram Christianity down peoples’ throats (I’m really not saying that) but by not wanting to rub people up the wrong way, we lose our chance to show people what being a Christian actually means. I shared that article I read about Christian Domestic Abuse, commenting about how heart-breaking and infuriating I found it as a follower of Jesus, and most of the responses I got were from my non-church friends agreeing with me. No one said, “But, Chloe, you’re one of them.” They saw the distinction as soon as I had made it. The people in your life are perfectly capable of changing their minds about what Christians are like; all you have to do is have the conversation.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti