When I imagine someone saying the words above, I hear it in a very specific way. Someone has asked -“Are you a Christian?”
The response is a hesitation, an exhale of consideration that weighs everything a yes or no carries with it. The air hangs with a tension thicker than the smog in LA, one that makes your lungs hurt to breathe in because of fear. Fear spreads that smog through your brain, making the decision hard – what do I say?
So a moment of clarification is sought as a defense against likely negative connotations — “define what you mean by Christian.” Is it the Christian who led the Crusades? Is it the Christian who yelled hateful words at others? Is it the Christian who never truly loved you, or the one who didn’t let you come to their church, or the one who kept slaves, or the one who was a hypocrite? If it’s those ones than no definitely not, I’m better than that.
Another common response I have seen to the question is this: “Well I am a follower of Jesus Christ,” but that leaves out the unsaid thought “but I don’t call myself a Christian because I don’t want to be associated with the religion people hate.” This answer is part of the trend I see on Facebook profiles sometimes, when people like to list their religious views as “lover of Jesus” instead of flat out Christian.
The actual dictionary definition for the word as a noun is:
2. a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ
If we were judging by that definition then the latter answer still deems a person a Christian, but it is something people sometimes don’t want to admit to. It has to do with some of the same reasons why people don’t like to go to church anymore but they still consider themselves a follower of Christ on their own, or those who don’t like to describe themselves as “religious.” They don’t want a label that could associate them with anything so negative, so disliked. And I don’t blame them.
No doubt it is a very controversial word – Christian. It can inspire hatred, fear, and judgement while bringing others brotherhood, companionship, and love. It’s ok if you are one of these people, I understand the fear of rejection. In fact I too was one of those people who didn’t like to list my religious views on any profile because I didn’t want people to judge me.
Then one day a good friend of mine came back from a church small group where the leader had spoke on taking back the term “religious.” It was the same principle, that tendency to check “None” or “spiritual” on the list of religions in a survey because people fear this commitment to a term. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, came to speak at my school once and that was exactly the result he had found in many of his surveys across the United States. People would rather be listed as “none” than commit to one term; now I think that partially is a result of fear of commitment in general since we love our freedom, but it is also an example of fearing a definition or label.
But that’s when I realized – if I keep letting the bad examples claim the word Christian, or the word religious, then those negative connotations are always going to exist. But if I own the term, take on its definition and all of its implications, but live the way I believe a Christian should, maybe I can redefine what it means.
I think if we all did this, we could change the implied meanings behind the word Christian. Take back the title, hold it as a trophy not of greed or pride, but one of confidence, one that lives out the grace of God to erase our human mistakes with the power of His love. We can be religious and still have freedom; we can be Christian and own our mistakes; and we can be the definition but change what it means. Stop letting people define what a label means to you, and instead define it for yourself the way God sees it.
What does the term Christian mean to you?
How is that different than the way our culture defines it?