A couple of years ago, I was asked by a Christian organization to visit a third world country and write about the experience on my blog.
Although I was flattered to get the offer, in the end I turned it down because it seemed like the kind of thing I needed to wait on until my children were a little older and more self-sufficient. The guy I talked to on the phone about it was very understanding. “Actually, we wanted to ask you even sooner,” he said. “But we couldn’t until you changed your blog header.”
For those of you who weren’t around a few years back, this is the blog header he was talking about:
Personally, I loved this header. I finally changed it only because my son was no longer wearing diapers and so I was no longer… ahem… wiping ass. For the most part.
But I thought about this conversation again recently, because it’s a perfect example of something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and that is that by outing myself online as a Christian, I now face far more pressure to appear to be perfect and squeaky-clean, both on this blog and in real life. Most people assume that ‘good’ Christians don’t curse. Or smoke, or drink too much. They don’t have marital problems and if they do, it’s something they only admit after they’ve ‘conquered’ them. They can’t let it get out that sometimes they question their faith or that they think they might be depressed. They certainly can’t write about getting a Brazilian bikini wax, or facing off against a local MOMS Club. And they absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, put a header on their blog with the tagline ‘Wiping ass and taking names.’ I know because several Christians took the time to write and tell me so.
This has been a problem for me, because while I’ve felt a burning desire to have a better understanding of God and what I believe and to be a committed member of a church, I’ve also felt a calling to write about my very real, very imperfect life on this blog. And over and over, I’ve found, in other Christians’ eyes anyway, the two just don’t go together. I’ve been burned by Christians, y’all, I’ve been burned bad, and I considered some of the burners to be friends. It has been made very clear to me, both directly and indirectly, that I am not exactly role model material in the Christian community.
This wound cut deep. For a while I struggled to find a way to remain true to myself and fit in with the Christian community, but it was a lot like when I joined a sorority back in college. It just. Wasn’t. Me. I can’t be all hearts and flowers and inspiration 100% of the time. Sometimes I’m good and sometimes I’m bad, and while the general community seems to be okay with that, the Christian community is most decidedly not.
And that’s weird when you think about it, because here’s the truthiest of truths:
Christians are no better– and no worse– than anyone else out there.
The refusal of Christians to accept this fact has a lot to do with why church attendance is dropping and why Christians get a lot of flack from non-Christians. We as a society are desperate for authenticity in others- not perfection- and the Christian culture simply doesn’t allow for that. Living in Nashville, the Christian music and publishing hub of the US, I know a few dozen people who are ‘famous’ for their Christian faith. I know some of them very well. And I can say, without any doubt, that they have just as many issues as I do. Actually, they probably have more- because while I, the ‘bad Christian,’ have the freedom to live transparently, make mistakes (within reason), and be forgiven by my community, they have to keep their problems hidden. They must present a facade to the world that’s totally unrealistic and often takes a superhuman effort to maintain.
I’ve known plenty of Christians and non-Christians by now and at this point, I think it’s safe to say there’s not a whole lot of difference between them, other than what they believe. Regardless of our faith, we are all equally capable of being honorable. Kind. Compassionate. Generous. We have all had moments of true moral greatness. And while I like to believe that those moments come from God, I don’t think that being a Christian gives us a ‘lock’ on these attributes.
I’m also certain by now that Christians ‘sin’ just as much as non-Christians. None of us are immune from making mistakes or doing things we later regret. We’ve all had moral low points, and some of those points are worse than others. I see the very same kinds of problems among my Christian acquaintances that I do among my non-Christian acquaintances- adultery, addiction, overspending, debt- The Christians just tend to do a better job of hiding it.
Most of my friends who feel the way I do have just stopped going to church– but for me, that’s not the answer. I see so much potential value in having a church family — I just wish that congregations in general were a little more open and forgiving. While I see a lot of lip service devoted to this topic in churches lately, I honestly don’t see it playing out in real life in a deep-seated, meaningful way.
I want to stop feeling a need to present a sanitized version of myself around other Christians. I want to stop fearing rejection from the Christian community if I am relentlessly honest about who I am. I don’t have any illusions that writing this post will change anything– but I would like to know if I’m alone here. Are any of you struggling with these issues?
Because right now I feel like I’m part of the Bad Christian Club.
Image via Brenden Ashton/Flickr