April 21st, 2005

I was raised, as many of you already know, Southern Baptist. My parents are missionaries. My only brother and his family are missionaries. With me, the missionary thing didn’t stick. In case your background has not been quite like mine, let me make explicit the salient point of my upbringing in this environment : The Great Commission. I have had it drummed into me that I should go everywhere and talk to everyone about Jesus. And yet, I never do. Why not?

This is a tough question, one that I’m not sure I can fully answer, but that I have thought about a great deal. Let me cut away some of the clutter by ruling out some of the reasons that don’t apply. It isn’t because I’m no longer Christian, have ceased to believe in God, or don’t believe that there’s no salvation without Jesus. Ok, I’ll admit that I sometimes wonder about that last thing. But as a general tenet, I don’t really have a problem with it. It’s also not because I doubt that everyone should hear about Jesus and be able to make an informed choice about whether or not to follow Him. I’m all for followers of Christ. I’m not secretively hoarding the keys to Heaven, giggling to myself about the solution I refuse to offer to others. But I don’t see the sense in pushing Jesus on everyone I have an exchange with. There has to be an openness, a readiness, a prepared inquisitiveness there for the message to reach a person. I don’t know if I have the ability to recognize such an openness when I see it, either, but I do hope that should the opportunity present itself I would be both willing and able to speak my heart and my faith on this matter. I’m unlikely to say anything, though, unless someone asks me. I’m not going to volunteer my religious persuasion or my beliefs.

Reluctance to spread the good word, the joy of the gospel, the path to salvation is so completely counter to everything I was taught that it makes me think I’m probably not a very good Christian. Or at least, not a very good Evangelical. And yet, try as I might, I have a great deal of trouble justifying proselytizing on all kinds of levels. I can’t understand why any human being with a bible and basic literacy skills can’t figure it out on their own. Why have I got to be the middle man? Now I know there’s languages the bible isn’t translated into and places where there are no bibles and people who’ve never heard of the bible. I don’t live in one of those places. And there’s fewer and fewer of those places on the planet all the time, thanks to the many missionaries who have been out there in the last couple of thousand years. Those missonaries, by the way, are one of the many things that make me exceedingly queasy about the whole prospect of evangelizing. Too many of them wrecked cultures with their enthusiasm, not to mention the ones that hastened trips to the afterlife for people they mostly thought of as savages. Still, the hypocrisy and bad behavior of some, though it gives me pause, is not something that invalidates the cause as a whole. I have no problem with missionaries as such. If the Great Commission is the most important thing in the book, and many think so, then I understand their fervor completely. I get on well with my family and respect their work, which to the extent that I have observed is above reproach. Nonetheless, I don’t think my words can clarify what’s held within the covers of the good book. I do think I can lead by example but that requires no explanation. Any words I interject between a person and the bible are wasted words, as far as I’m concerned. It stands on its own. I’m not talking about discussing religious issues with people who follow Christianity, that’s a different thing. I’m also not talking about answering questions on the subject of Protestant dogma, religious practice and biblical theology to the minimal extent that my knowledge covers these subjects. I’m willing to correct misapprehensions if I think it’s worthwhile. No, I’m talking about standing in between a person and their firsthand experience of what I consider to be a holy book. It seems presumptious and well, distracting, to me.

I had a conversation a while back with an atheist friend of mine. He does a lot of railing, and on this particular day he was railing against Christians. It was his premise that the far right in this country has usurped Christianity, and that all the other Christians that don’t accept the tenets of the far right are collaborators by their silence. By not saying “This is not my Christianity” or “I’m a Christian but I don’t believe that” we are allowing ourselves to be co-opted for political gain. I was deeply troubled by his assertion. I didn’t think it to be true that there was no countervoice, and I certainly didn’t think it was my job to tell people that I’m a real Christian and the other guys are just fakers, hypocrites or deluded fools. That sort of judgment isn’t mine to make, and the scripture is quite clear about that. Anyway, it’s pretty self-evident who’s sowing what, so why isn’t the example of my daily life enough? Why is it incumbent upon me to scream louder than Christians who see things differently than I do? I’m not a screamer. I’m a pluralist, willing to let everyone who wants to have a shot at calling themselves Christian do so. I’m also busy with any number of beams in my own eye, thank you very much, and don’t really have time for the motes of others.

Still, it got me thinking. Here’s this guy whom I know doesn’t want to hear me tell him the first thing about God’s eternal love for him claiming I’m not doing the right thing if I’m not representin’ yo. (I do believe in an ironic God). Outside of my unshakeable belief in the separation of church and state, which makes the overt mixing of my religion and my politics repulsive to me, I am not interesting in proclaiming myself to be a Christian to the world because my relationship to God and my faith isn’t anyone else’s business. It’s private. It took a long while for me to understand that this was the first rung on the ladder of my reluctance. I was raised on Jesus as personal savior, one-on-one, God talks back, the Spirit is in me religion and that took root far more deeply in my psyche than the evangelizing aspect did. It’s my private God. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of God to go around, and He can be your private God too if you like, but the state of my soul and my faith is just between Him and me. You may see the effects of God’s work in me, but I’m not going to talk about it spontaneously any more than I’m going to regale the world with what color underwear I’m wearing or recite how much money is in my bank account. It’s just not anyone’s business but mine. The penny didn’t drop for me on this until I read the often brilliant slacktivist‘s piece on Rick Warren. He made a parenthetical joke about “Jesus as your privatized savior” (which was very, very funny) that made it all click for me. I’m so to the left socially, you can imagine my surprise to discover that I really am a capitalist pig when it comes to the capital of my soul. It’s mine, mine, mine and you can’t have it or touch it or see it.

Maybe I’m a woman with a bushel and a light. I don’t know. I’m trying to come to grips with it. Perhaps I need to look into being less individualistic. I doubt I’ll take up missions, but possibly I can move away from my position of extreme reticence. You have to admit, this is a start, isn’t it?

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