“Are you a Christian?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question. Every time I was asked when I was younger, I would bubble with excitement, puff my chest out, and respond with a resounding, “Yes, of course I’m a Christian”.
The first time I clearly remember being asked that question was when I was a freshman in high school. I was playing golf with a friend of mine. I wanted to call him my best friend, mainly because it sounded so cool when he cussed and because sophistication reverberated from him every time he lit up those Marlboros. Not to mention every time his phone rang it was another “hot chick” wanting to “holla at him”.
Being a member of the National Honor Society and straight-A student, “hot chick” and “holla at him” were not in my vocabulary.
We were in the middle of our golf game when the infamous question was asked. He had just spat out several curse words, when I gave him a condescending look, leading him to ask, “What are you a Christian or something”? After I told him I was a Christian, he responded with, “So you’re one of those religious people?”
And that’s where it all began …
That day on the golf course is one of many times I’ve been asked if I was a Christian. Although excitement has often spilled over when I’ve been asked, throughout the years it has been replaced with feelings of discomfort. I’ve realized that the term Christian that I use and the term Christian that everyone else uses, is starkly different. I’ve come to learn that to some people, the term Christian referred to big, Caucasian men standing at the front of a overpowering pulpit, wearing robes and holding a staff and holy grail. To others, the term referred to certain women wearing pant suits, holding a bible and picket sign that reads “turn or burn”. So, I made a decision a couple years ago that I would never again tell someone I was a Christian when they asked me.
Instead of telling people I was a Christian, I was going to tell them I was a follower of Christ. By telling people that I was a follower of Christ, I was giving them more than a one-word statement of what I was, which was often open to their own interpretation. People would then understand what I was because I had given them something deeper–a verb, a follower. But, had I really given them something deeper or just caused more problems?
The term Christian isn’t the only term people have problems with. There are a myriad of words such as liberal that vary in interpretation.
When we hear the term Muslim, words fill our mind such as jihad, Taliban and Bin Laden. Yet these words do injustice to the Islam world. I had a close friend in college who was a Muslim. I’ve known few people who were as moral, devout and caring as he was–and is one of many Muslims, who are such. Nonetheless, we have often described Muslims solely on what we see in the media. And then we get upset when people describe Christians based on what they in turn see in the media. We feel threatened, wronged and pressured to defend ourselves.
In reality, the words to describe Christians are kinder than they could be. They could call us murderers based on the actions of the Crusaders who went through the world killing in the name of Jesus or pedophiles because of the sexual exploitations of Christian leaders. So what do we tell people?
Whether we tell people that we are a Christian or a follower or a believer, doesn’t really matter. The conversation should never stop, “Are you a Christian?” People are going to make their inferences based on how they see us live up or live down to the words we use. What matters is that we embody the words we use.