Sunday, July 07, 2013

Closet Christians

At this week's Bible study, our pastor asked us if we knew what was the average number of times a Lutheran church member invited someone to worship with them. There was dead silence as we all pondered that question. If the rest of the group was like me, they were trying to remember the last time they asked someone--not a relative--to go to church with them. If ever.

The answer? Once every 28 years!


Now, admittedly, Lutherans, being descended from German and Scandinavian stock, are not the most demonstrative people in the world. A handshake is too much touching for some of us. But, still...

Somewhere along the line, it became uncool to be a Christian. While gays dress up and parade in the streets over the recent Supreme Court ruling, Christians have made it a point not to talk about their faith. When someone asks, "What did you do this past weekend?" no one ever answers, "I went to church." Or almost no one.

At one of my jobs, we had a Muslim woman working for us who followed the traditional practices. She dressed in layers of clothing much too warm for the Arizona desert and, as a result, kept the thermostat in her area in the uncomfortable I'm-going-to-freeze range for the rest of us. Since her office adjoined the main conference room, we all learned to bring in sweaters or sweatshirts for meetings. She also used the conference room as a prayer room several times a day. We felt embarrassed when we accidentally intruded on her.

I'm not saying that this woman should not have been allowed to practice her faith. What I am saying is that she did it openly, in the workplace, while the Christian workers were careful to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" during the holiday season.

I blame Madalyn Murray O'Hare. As a result of her actions as founder and president of American Atheists, the Supreme Court ruled against both officially sanctioned prayer and Bible readings in schools in the early sixties. While prior to that it was not unusual to have a prayer or Bible reading during school assemblies or events, afterwards no school dared to reference religion for fear of groups of atheists descending on them and filing lawsuits. It even became questionable to study the Bible as literature or history.

Christians have learned to avoid talking about their faith. For a long time, I thought this was because most people didn't believe in it any more. Recently I've realized that it's not that people don't believe; it's because they've gone into the closet.

As I neared retirement, I found myself asked what I was going to do with all my free time. I answered that I was going to write mystery novels. When they asked if I'd completed one, I said yes. The follow-up question, of course, was what it was about. Most people said they'd like to read it. I then cautioned that it was edgy Christian fiction. Cautioned. Because it's really easy to get negative reactions from non-believers when they find out your novel has a Christian worldview. Just check some of the reviews of Christian fiction on Amazon. Amazingly enough, to me anyway, was that everyone said they still wanted to read my book.

I went to the security office to turn in my parking permit my next-to-last day on the job. As usual, the guard said she was envious and wanted to know what I was going to do. Having nothing to lose, because this was the first and--probably the last--time I'd ever see this woman, I told her about the writing and added that members of my church had told me they had plenty of volunteer work I could do if I got bored. Her eyes lit up and she enthused about how much time she'd spend at her church if she didn't have to work during the day.

I was at the bank on Wednesday, moving money around in my accounts because of my retirement. As we were wrapping up, the bank officer commented, "I like your cross." Now, I usually wear my cross inside my clothes. More of that not wanting to push my faith in anyone's face stuff. But frequently it slips out into view. It's nothing special, not a gorgeous piece of jewelry, just a plain gold cross on a plain gold chain. But I've often got complements on it. We had a brief conversation on crosses we'd lost and found before wrapping up the business part of my visit.

So what is the reason Christians so infrequently invite people to church? The answer is fear of rejection. I think we think too much about those people who write the negative reviews and not about the security guard and the bank officer. Maybe if we asked one of those people we were afraid of being told no by, they might surprise us. They might have been waiting to be asked.

Photo Credits:
Church: By Mateus Hidalgo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
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