These are the adjectives friends of mine think of when they think of Christians. To be honest, I wasn’t really shocked, though I must admit that it stung a little to see those words repeated by many people whom I adore and admire. Actually, for many years I would have described Christians in much the same way. In my family, we cringed when someone would say, “I’ll pray for you.” And phrases like, “Have a blessed day.” were cause for eye-rolling. A few friends loved to claim that they weren’t “perfect”, just “forgiven”, as if that negated all the nasty things they were saying about friends. Hypocritical? It was all there too.
I grew up believing that religion and faith (if you had them at all) were private things not to be expressed in public. Educated, intellectual and civilized people did not partake in activities of mascara-laden Evangelists or fear mongering Bible Beaters. That’s one of the many reasons I avoided discussing my slow-growing admiration to the Christian faith. I didn’t want to offend anyone, or worse, be judged as uneducated, naive or pushy.
Compassionate. Loving. Graceful. Imperfect. Tolerant. Accepting. Spirit filled. Joyful.
These are the adjectives my Christian friends think of when they think of Christians. Those who have not been abused, rejected and humiliated by the Christian church (and the people therein), know these adjectives are true. They are in the messy, love-filled, complicated process of a faith journey. They have experienced true love and support from their Christian brothers and sisters. They know what beautiful things can happen when a community gathers for the purpose of supporting those in need, for solace during difficult times and for the practice of deep introspection. They know that, while imperfect, the unending challenge to be closer to God through the inspiration and example of Jesus Christ is full of love and grace.
As someone who arrived at the Episcopal church later in life, I don’t need to convert anyone to prove that what I hear in the liturgy is divine truth to me. I’m fine believing and exploring the Christian way on my own and with my parish. But since I spent so many searching years looking for where faith and curiosity intersected, I find myself wishing that people at least knew what was so beautiful about the Christian faith. Since I’ve seen the hurt religion has caused to friends I love, I do want people to know that the Episcopal church, MY church, is different. I want my friends to know that MY church allows priests to be married. MY church has women priests, gay priests, and gay, married, women priests. MY church did not reject me when for years this non-conformist refused to be confirmed. MY church supported my family with love and sustenance when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. MY church listens when my teenage daughter challenges beliefs, norms, identities, and painful rites of adulthood. MY church encourages challenging discourse on its doctrine, its rituals and its evolving understanding of what it is to be a Christian in the 21st century.
I often wonder how large movie theaters can be converted into huge active congregations when I’m pretty certain that the message from the pulpit at the Episcopal church is even more radical and dynamic than theirs. Why are the pew counts in our church dwindling? Why don’t more people know how progressive and radically welcoming our Episcopal church can be?
The answer is: People don’t know.
How could they? They don’t go to my church. They aren’t following the Diocesan Facebook page to stay abreast of what’s new in the Anglican tradition. What reason do they have in their busy lives to walk through our red doors on a Sunday to find out? How will anyone know what is going on in our community if I don’t say anything about it? And I wouldn’t want to personally invite someone because, well, that’s a little bit too personal.
I recently stopped feeling frustrated about people not knowing. I began sharing what is beautiful and meaningful about my church and my faith experience. At the very least, I thought, it helps my friends know that there is a place where imperfect people try to be better. I think that talking about the ernest and thoughtful practices of my faith helps balance out the voices that are loud and brash and hurtful.
I’m friends with a mix of conservative right-wing Republicans, liberal Christian and anti-Christian Democrats, atheists, Jewish people, Pagans and self-declared church refugees. When I asked on Facebook what adjectives people would use to describe Christians, I expected the bad and the good in the comments.
Here is what I did not expect.
I did not expect how thoughtful people were about their responses. I didn’t expect people to question their own biases and kind of enjoy it. I didn’t expect strangers to express their own faith journey so openly and honestly. I didn’t expect to see the wonderful interactions between believers and non-believers. I didn’t expect the thread to last days and days, with new responses and contributions adding life to previous ones.
Would you be willing to add to the Christian message?
Do you worry about what people will think of you if you share your experiences and your love for church like I did? Do you feel like it’s divisive to talk about religion in this era? Can you boldly and graciously share your experience of love through the Christ way of peace, grace, compassion, open-mindedness, tolerance, unselfishness, and love?
Can we afford not to?
Can we, with just your voice and mine, begin to change the negative Christian narrative and start the unraveling of all the negativity that has been afflicted in the name of the Christian church?
Here is the secret power you may not have known you possess: Your friends won’t listen to a stranger. They know and trust you to have their best interest at heart. If you share glimpses of your own faith journey, and if your friends and loved ones become curious about this Christian life you talk so lovingly about, I promise, you’ll be one of the first people to know.
Here are some tips on sharing your love for your faith in this digital era.
- Write only from your perspective. Don’t make claims or assumptions for or about anyone else.
- Be loving, positive and curious. Ask questions that are open ended and show that you care to hear the answer, such as, “Is this true for you?”, and “Whaddya think?”, or “What’s your perspective on this?”
- Be specific. If you were uplifted by a sermon on Sunday, say specifically what words were especially meaningful and why. If you share a post on social media, include WHY it is important to you.
- Engage with care. Respond to comments with a comment or a “like” to show you’ve seen and appreciate their input.
- Share. What’s happening at your church, and also at other churches around town? Include a personal invitation and any information that would make a stranger feel comfortable, such as, what door to enter, where to meet you at the event, and what will be happening.
- Be real. If you are willing, be open about the good AND the bad going on in your life. Nobody can relate to someone who only posts what looks perfect, and you won’t inspire people to join you in the pews if all you post are daily rants about what’s wrong with the world today.
- Tag your church. Include the church and/or location by tagging your post (use the “@name of church”) and use your hashtag (ours is #vitalaht), if you have one.
I’m really curious about what the church at large is doing to promote this specific kind of evangelism and radical invitation. Which congregations are online and reaching out to new people? What is your church doing to collectively and purposefully share faith stories with others?
Margot Madison is a working mother of three, wife to one, and an Episcopalian/Christianity newbie.