Rifling through old photos of my mom for an article, I found a picture of myself from my sophomore year of high school. In front of me on a table is an issue of Christianity Today magazine alongside a leather-bound Bible adorned with a carefully placed BUSH/CHENEY 2004 bumper sticker. Beyond the brutally uninformed political statement forever etched in time, my current 29-year-old self feels a little bit embarrassed of who I was in that picture. Mostly, I see a girl looking for love and belonging, but I also see someone a little deceived about what being a Christian really means. Someone who was so eager to take, and so unprepared to give.
My relationship with Christianity began both fast and intense, like many new romances. I became a modern-day disciple overnight, bloated with the pride of having given up everything to follow Jesus — except that my version of Christianity cost me nothing, not really.
I traded in my Catholic upbringing for a happy-clappy evangelical church, complete with the stereotypical smoke and lights. I chose church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights instead of sleeping in or going out with friends and led Bible Studies at my local coffee shop. I participated in cafeteria debates about conservative issues I had no business arguing about and interviewed Republican political candidates for my school newspaper. In my insular world, all of it was celebrated.
Back then, being a Christian was easy. It was a place to belong, an identity to grow into, and if I’m honest, a pedestal from which to decide who was good and who wasn’t. If you swore or drank or watched reality television, you wouldn’t make the cut — and I wasn’t shy about telling you so. Everything about me back then, down to my bad highlight job and over-plucked eyebrows, was unapologetic. So why do I feel like I need to apologize for who I am so many years later?
As a Christian writer whose work mostly appears in non-religious publications, I have become increasingly aware of how desperately I want to fit in both places, and how I stick out like a sore thumb in both. On the one hand, I’m too conservative for my “woke AF” counterparts on Twitter. I’m not caught up with the news cycle (having two kids and freelancing full time makes it hard), and even if I was, I’d be afraid to engage in conversation about it. Because what if people think I’m a hypocrite for being a Christian?
On the other hand, I’m afraid my non-traditional views, and my sheer presence in the secular writing world, keep me from fitting in with other Christians. I swear sometimes. I like to drink wine. And, worst of all, I definitely don’t support leaders who perpetuate misogyny and racism and hate. But I stay quiet, lest I lose a few Twitter followers or tarnish my reputation as either a writer or a Christian. Lest my opinions isolate me or, God forbid, render me uncool. In many ways, I am the same girl I was in the photograph, and I need to say I’m sorry.
Over the weekend in Charlottesville, men and women, eyes filled with hate, marched with torches to “Unite the Right,” a guise for white supremacy and domestic terrorism. But even before the horrific events of last weekend, millions of people live in fear every day, just because of who they are. I can’t think of a greater violation of God’s love.
I am disgusted that some people attach the name of the God of love to acts of hatred, terrorizing people He treasures. I’m disgusted that racists who claim to be Christians, like Peter Tefft, take the name of Jesus and use it to perpetuate systemic injustice. I’m disgusted that our government doesn’t do anything about it. And I’m sorry I’ve been quiet, protecting my privilege instead of the marginalized people around me.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” In this moment, when I hide behind the superficial fear of not fitting in, I’ve betrayed those who God loves. And really, I’ve misunderstood the entire premise of my faith. My fellow Christians believe that Jesus gave His life by dying on the cross so that people, regardless of their background or gender or ethnicity, could experience love. This is what it means to sacrifice: to lay down your life.
At the deepest level, I believe being a Christian means being like Jesus. So if Christianity isn’t costing me something, I’m doing it wrong. If Christianity is an excuse to stay in the confines of what makes me comfortable, I’m doing it wrong. If I don’t reflect what I believe to be true in my everyday life, I’m doing it wrong. The Jesus I chose to follow on that fall day in high school is kind and compassionate. He weeps over injustice. He doesn’t stay silent about His love, even at the expense of His life.
So I’m taking little steps to be like Him — taking risks of love that I hope will amount to a shift in culture, starting in my own family, in my own home. For example: Last night, I made my first attempt to address the issue at bedtime, the only time of day my wild three-year-old stays still long enough for a conversation.
“Can you think of anyone at school who has different color skin than you?” He named a few kids from his class. “There are some people who hurt others just because of what they look like. And that makes God really sad,” I told him. “He loves people no matter what their skin color is, whether they are black or they are white.” My little boy looked up at me like I had torn back a curtain on a whole new world.
In general, trying to explain concepts and ideas to a preschooler is like pouring an ocean into a cup. But why did addressing racism feel like such a big undertaking? I realized in that moment that I’ve never wanted to draw attention to differences in other people, worried that it would cause my son to see them differently or say something embarrassing in the grocery store line.
But more than that, I worried I’d be opening a door I could never close. Letting my son in on the pain in the world — to pull back that curtain — meant I’d have to continually steward him in it. To be the person he looks to with his questions, even when I didn’t have the answers. I’d have to discipline and correct him when he’s wrong, and to shepherd him in the right way, the way of love. I had been focused on the difficulty of the work, and not the reward of raising a son who loves others.
This is how our silence and inaction betrays us. When we fixate on the risk and the sacrifice, we miss out on the reward. But when we speak up about injustice, we get a gift: a better version of ourselves and, by extension, a better world.
How do you speak up about injustice? Talk to us @BritandCo.
(Photos via Mario Tama, Stephen Maturen, Chip Somodevila, Jessica Kourkounis / Getty)