Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Being Christian In Public

This evening I volunteered at the Navigators booth at Clubs Night at my university. Navigators is an international Christian fellowship organization that focuses on personal growth in Christ through participation in smaller groups and on community involvement. I was at the booth for about an hour and twenty minutes, and during this time I discovered something I hadn't known before.

I have never been publically Christian.

I mean, I've been in situations in which I was in public, Christian settings. And I've revealed to lecture and seminar classes that I'm a Christian. My Facebook page says I'm a Christian--I actually changed the settings so it's in my Basic Information page on New Facebook. It's not like I scratch fish into the sand and refer to Rome as Babylon. But I've never been in a situation where I am immediately and publically announcing, at least by association, that I am a Christian, where otherwise people would generally assume that I was not.

Because that's something I've noticed about university, or at least my campus--if you do not give any indication that you are religious, people will assume you are atheist by default. This is especially true if they think you are intelligent. This means that most people who know me only somewhat do not necessarily know that I am a Christian, so when they meet me at the booth, say hello and then read the booth sign, they give this awkward double-take. It is almost as if they think, "Oh! I didn't think he was one of those people. How awkward." And the conversation proceeds with this careful lack of mentioning that I am there with a religious group.

And I could be totally cool about it and say something like, "Yeah, I'm here with Navigators. It's a small fellowship on campus, are you interested?" It's definitely possible to play it cool and still bring up the fact that it's a Christian group. But no. I play it awkward. And I don't do my job as the booth person.

This all intersects with my extraordinarily uncomfortable relationship with evangelism. I find traditional approaches the evangelism annoying and ineffective, and I find some of the theological underpinnings to evangelism...let's say patronizing. On the other hand, I cannot argue with the theology behind it. Given that Christianity's salvatory claims are true, I should certainly try to spread them. It would be selfish not to.

To an extent, this booth presented itself as an evangelical dilemma. I could stand by the booth looking as welcoming as possible and wait for people to talk to me; I could go out into the passing crowd and engage people directly. The first would likely yeild fewer interactions; the second would give me the appearance of a pushy preacher. It's my fear that the latter drives people from the Church more than brings people in, but I don't know that the passive approach works well, either. The problem focuses around the hugely negative connotations and expectations of evangelism in general.

I have no conclusions or messages to draw from this experience, other than that I discovered a new way in which a Christian identity can be discomforting socially and that I may not have given myself fully to that identity. Well, I know I haven't--who has?--but I'm even further from it than I thought.

Maybe I should go buy a cross on a cord to wear around my neck.


Jon Wong said...

Again, perhaps I am being elitist about this but... I somehow can't imagine how surprised you can be to find out that anyone named "Christian" is indeed, a Christian. Not to assert that anyone who's named Christian is necessarily a Christian follower but it certainly shouldn't... surprise anyone. I can't be the only one who's made this connection.

Jon Wong said...

I mean, who needs a cross? A nametag should be sufficient.

The English Clergyman said...

And yet you'd be surprised. In highschool people always asked me if I was Christian after I introduced myself, but in university no one does. I used to think it was because everyone was too politically correct to ask that, but then I realized that many of the people I spoke with--at least the non-religious ones--actually assumed that I was an atheist. I'd like to say that you're absolutely right, that it might occur to someone that anyone named Christian is at least likely to come from a Christian household--and the fact that I've chosen not to abbreviate my name seems also telling--but that doesn't seem to be a common line of thought around here.

globaltrev said...

Enjoyed the blog. Read this as part of my sermon prep this week on how Christians end up being "religious" and why people don't like religious people and all the awkwardness around that.

As well, Navs were a big influence on me on campus at Waterloo.

nice work.

Pastor Trev

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