Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Christian with an Identity Crisis

I fear I’ve been quietly rejected by the gatekeepers of the evangelical Christian community. Perhaps I’m wrong about this perceived rejection—perhaps it is all in my head—so allow me to make my case.

A while back I wrote a little novel called Prime of Life. I entered it into a contest put on by the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and it won first place. (If you don’t know who Jerry B. Jenkins is, then you also probably qualify to be rejected by the evangelical community since he is the author of the famous Left Behind series and was selected by Billy Graham to assist in the writing of his autobiography, Just as I Am.) As winner of this contest, Prime of Life was published by Worthy Publishing, a boutique evangelical Christian publisher that has published several powerhouse evangelical leaders including Chuck Colson, Jim Daly, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Franklin Graham, Hank Hanegraaff, Ralph Reed, and Chuck Swindoll (again, if you don’t recognize at least a few of these names then your name may only appear in very small print in the Book of Life.)

As a born-again, baptized, Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christian I was happy to see my name listed in alphabetical order among these other authors on Worthy’s web page. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I felt kind of proud in a not-so-Christian way. Sure, I noticed that the links to my facebook page, twitter account, and this blog were missing next to my name, but that was probably just an oversight. (You can see what I mean here.) It turns out these links are missing from one or two of the other authors as well. Perhaps Worthy just forgot to add mine even though I sent them the links upon their request.

But when Prime of Life went to press, and my case of books finally arrived, and I eagerly tore open the box and held it in my hands for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice that the official golden seal identifying it as winner of the Christian Writers Guild contest had been left off the cover. Also absent were any endorsements by other evangelical authors—endorsements that had been present for past contest winners. Again, thought I, probably an oversight.

I tried to explain these things away as minor glitches, but I still couldn’t stop myself from wondering. What if something more is going on here? Let’s see. The editorial team did make a polite request for me to add a scene to the novel so that the protagonist clearly gets saved and becomes a true Christian, and I did politely ignore that request because it would have ruined the story. (To their credit they didn’t try to force me.) So was that the problem? Was my novel not “Christian” enough to score any endorsements or the official Christian Writers Guild seal? Or was the novel just plain bad? The nearly four hundred combined reader reviews on amazon and goodreads seem to demonstrate that most readers think otherwise.

And what about the absence of the links from Worthy’s website to my blog and facebook page? Did they truly just accidentally overlook this, or did my sites fail to pass some sort of evangelical litmus test. Worthy has not directly informed me as such, but are there problems with some of my posts? Let’s see. What have I said on the record that could possibly ruffle some evangelical feathers…

Okay, I can think of a few. I’ve wrestled with whether or not the Bible is truly inerrant, I’ve rejected the mainstream evangelical conception of Hell, I believe in evolution (gasp!), I don’t believe we should legislate against gay marriage (double gasp!), when I go on medical mission trips to restore sight to the blind I don’t show the Jesus film to my newly sighted audience and try to make them pray the sinner’s prayer through a translator, I’m not a Republican, I don’t have a Not of This World bumper sticker, and I think all evangelicals ought to read Carl Medearis’s Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.

Oh shoot. What have I done? I’ve gone and lost my faith. The evangelical Christian community has not rejected me; on the contrary, it seems I have rejected them. Good grief.

But wait a minute. Have I really lost my faith?

Let me check.

Do I believe in God? Yes. Good. Check.

Do I believe in Jesus? Yes! I believe he is God’s divine son, and he atoned for all our sin, and I want to follow him and only him and have a relationship with him and do everything in my power to love my Lord with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. Sounds good. Check.

So have I lost my faith? No, I don’t think so.

Does this mean I’m still a Christian?

I don’t know. Who’s to say? I don’t appear to fit the accepted evangelical mold. I haven’t lost my faith. I’ve lost my religion. I've lost it because I’ve dared to think and reason about my faith. That can be very dangerous.  

So if I can’t call myself a Christian, what should I call myself? This is truly an identity crisis.

Sure, I know I can still call myself a Christian if I really want to, but what does that really mean anymore? The evangelicals have become so vocal and prominent in North American culture that they’ve managed to corner the Christianity market. You say “Christian” to Joe Blow on the street and he hears “evangelical, social conservative, anti-gay marriage, young earth creationist, you’re going straight to hell if you’re not one of us and you will burn there forever.”

Not being able to call myself a Christian is a big problem for me. I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are more of you out there. I would even wager that we outnumber those highly visible and vocal evangelical gatekeepers. I’m starting to think we ought to do something. Rather than reject the Christian label, we ought to reclaim it. We ought to reclaim it in a big way. So big that when you say “Christian” to Sally Sue on the street all she hears is “follower of Jesus, servant of God, love.”

So how do we do this? How do we reclaim Christianity?

I don’t think we have to search too long and hard for answers. Jesus made it clear enough. We need to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and we need to learn to love our neighbor, and by neighbor he meant everybody.

Imagine what would happen to the face of Christianity if we could somehow manage to truly stay focused on loving God and loving everybody. 

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