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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Stacey Hamlin said...

As a divorced, missionary's grandchild, with a gay brother who has been in a relationship with my honorary brother-in-law for 17 years, who asks her kids to call said uncles "uncle", who also homeschools...i totally hear you about fitting in.

Religion is not all it's cracked up, it's relationship that matters, and love, and forgiveness.

I'm still a fan, if that matters at all, and tell people about my awesome nephew (or whatever you are now).

P. D. Bekendam said...

You are family forever, Stacey. Thanks for reading and commenting. Much love from me, Christy, and the boys!

Deborah Harrell said...

Very well said & I agree 100%! I have the same identity crisis with you & often don't want to use the label Christian because of exactly the reasons you mentioned! I know this is a big ship to turn but hopefully we can do it, at least in the world we influence!

I loved Prime of Life & it gets my seal of approval!

The author of The Shack has gotten rejected from the same evangelical crowd so I think you are in great company!

Thank you for all you do to make our world better!
Deb Harrell

Pam Bekendam said...

Perhaps the book written by Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, gives an answer to this dilemma.

A little blurb on Amazon describing the book describes this issue beautifully:

"The last command Jesus gave the church before he ascended to heaven was the Great Commission, the call for Christians to "make disciples of all the nations." But Christians have responded by making "Christians," not "disciples." This, according to brilliant scholar and renowned Christian thinker Dallas Willard, has been the church's Great Omission.

"The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament," writes Willard. "Christian is found three times and was first introduced to refer precisely to disciples of Jesus. . . . The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ. But the point is not merely verbal. What is more important is that the kind of life we see in the earliest church is that of a special type of person. All of the assurances and benefits offered to humankind in the gospel evidently presuppose such a life and do not make realistic sense apart from it. The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian -- especially padded, textured, streamlined, and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He or she stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the Kingdom of God."

Willard boldly challenges the thought that we can be Christians without being disciples, or call ourselves Christians without applying this understanding of life in the Kingdom of God to every aspect of life on earth. He calls on believers to restore what should be the heart of Christianity -- being active disciples of Jesus Christ. Willard shows us that in the school of life, we are apprentices of the Teacher whose brilliance encourages us to rise above traditional church understanding and embrace the true meaning of discipleship -- an active, concrete, 24/7 life with Jesus".

Thank you so much for having the courage to share your thoughts Peter!! It brings great joy to my heart that you can express this truth so clearly and eloquently!

Lisa said...

Completely agree and feel the same!!!

Kaelisabeth said...

I'm not alone? This awesome. I feel the same way.

Matt Darby said...

I don't care much for the church I fill they are more self serving then they claim to serve god and for my christian faith I try to lead by example inspire people to want to join the faith threw my selfless good deeds rather then threaten them with hell and remember that a person that performs a good deed and seeks recanition for his own name sake and not for gods is not truly a man of god But of himself its humility and being humble not being loud and flashy , self gratifying and serving to greet others with the same love and understanding that jesuse did for we are all siners and fall short of the glory of god and only threw jesuse can we hope to get in to heaven for he is the only way to god are father amen and god is the the only one new can judge me and I pray and talk to god on a daily I valontier my time out side the church and wen I am judged it will be by my relationship with god so wen some one says your going to hell I say I'm glad that's not up to you