Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian
Who do I need to prove my faith to—and why should I try?
I’ve lately observed conservatives questioning Obama’s faith with more than professional interest. Because if Obama’s not Christian, what does that make me?
I have not been public about my faith. I am somewhat tempted to embrace the punk-rockness of being a progressive, feminist, tattooed, pro-choice, graduate-educated believer—and then I have to remind myself that believing in God is about as punk rock as wearing pants, maybe even less so. Almost nine in ten Americans believe in God; in any given moment, how many are wearing pants?
In my personal life, my faith is not something I struggle with or something I take particular pride in. It is just part of who I am.
The only place where my spirituality feels volatile is in my professional life; the only time I’ve ever felt uncomfortable talking about my faith is when it comes up in conversation with colleagues.
It does come up: Since leaving Washington, I have made my life over and I am happier, freer, and healthier in body and spirit and apparently it shows. When people ask me, “What changed?” or, “How did you do it?” or, sometimes, with nervous humor, “Tell me your secret!” I have a litany of concrete lifestyle changes I can give them—simply leaving Washington is near the top of the list—but the honest answer would be this: I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray.
The last time I tried giving that answer was in the Fox News green room and it stopped conversation as surely as a fart, and generated the same kind of throat-clearing discomfort.
Conservatives might pounce on my closeted Christianity as evidence of a liberal media aversion to God. After all, my day job is all about expressing my opinions and beliefs—some of them unpopular. In my private life, and very cautiously on social media, the people close to me can see evidence of my affiliation. Tweeting out prayers and quotes from Scripture still feels subversive. But until now, I have avoided publicly aligning myself with one of the most popular beliefs in the world.
My hesitancy to flaunt my faith has nothing to do with fear of judgment by non-believers. My mother was an angry, agnostic ex-Baptist; my father is a casual atheist. (I asked him once why he didn’t believe in God, and he replied easily, “Because He doesn’t exist.”)
I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.
No, I’m nervous to come out as a Christian because I worry I’m not good enough of one. I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.
I am not sure if there is anything Obama could do to make someone like Erick Erickson believe he is Christian in a “meaningful way.” For a thousand reasons, mostly bad ones, I presume for me he and his compatriots would set the bar lower. But how low?
Not going to church low? For Erickson and others, that’s passive evidence against Obama, even though Reagan didn’t go to church, either. What about Bible literacy? Mine is mostly limited to dimly remembered excerpts from the Old Testament we read in my college humanities class and a daily verse email. I read spiritual meditations, but the Word is still a second language I speak less than fluently. If Obama’s occasional mangling of scripture is proof positive that he’s not a “real” Christian, I have so much studying to do I may never catch up.
Here is why I believe I am a Christian: I believe I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. I believe in the grace offered by the Resurrection. I believe that whatever spiritual rewards I may reap come directly from trying to live the example set by Christ. Whether or not I succeed in living up to that example is primarily between Him and me.
My understanding of Christianity is that it doesn’t require me to prove my faith to anyone on this plane of existence. It is about a direct relationship with the divine and freely offered salvation. That’s one of the reasons that when my generic “There must be something out there” gut feeling blossomed into a desire for a personal connection to that “something,” it was Christianity that I choose to explore. They’ll let anyone in.
To be clear, I don’t just believe in God. I am a Christian. Decades of mass culture New Ageism has fluffed up “belief in God” into a spiritual buffet, a holy catch-all for those who want to cover all the numbers: Pascal’s wager as a roulette wheel and not a coin toss. Me, I’m going all in with Jesus. It’s not just that the payoff could be tremendous—it already has been! The only cost is the judgment that comes from others, from telling people that my belief has a specific shape, with its own human legacy of both shame and triumph.
Intellectually, I know that the public performance of Christianity means something different when it comes to the president. I know that when conservatives talk about Obama’s faith, they are also talking race, fear, society, and status, as well as winning elections. Obama’s Christianity—or lack of it—matters to them only to the extent that it proves an existing hypothesis about who he is at his core.
Yet in part because of the judgment thrown upon him, proclaiming my belief in God—the God of the Bible, God who gave his only Son as proof of His inexhaustible grace—feels risky. I proceed because that very belief teaches me that all earthly risk is illusion.
The truth of this world’s impermanence also suggests that my anxiety about coming out as Christian has a perversely self-interested aspect. It is true that I feel intimidated by a conservative culture that seems intent on creating boundaries around Christianity rather than open doors. But it is also true that I wrote this article knowing that at least a few of them will probably like it—some might even tell me it needed to be written. The image of Christianity and progressivism as a newly hip fusion genre—it’s fucking edgy, man—is a strong siren song.
Yet any rumbling desire to turn my religion into something fashionably rebellious is an artifact of ego. It’s an attempt to make this story about me, someone who did something and then changed, ta-da—cue workout montage and triumphant final scene. On some level, I still want credit for the spiritual makeover—I was lost, but now am found, and I am the one that found me.
But if I understand God’s grace correctly, the miracle of redemption is that I was found all along. God does not see charming dissonance in being a liberal who follows Christ; He’s not looking for that New York Times Style section trend story. I do not get to think of myself as “edgy” for being just another believer. There is nothing to reconcile.
One of the most painful and reoccurring stumbling blocks in my journey is my inability to accept that I am completely whole and loved by God without doing anything. That’s accompanied by a corresponding truth: There is nothing so great I can do to make God love me more.
Because before I found God, I had an unconsciously manufactured higher power: I spent a lifetime trying to earn extra credit from some imaginary teacher, grade-grubbing under the delusion that my continuing mistakes—missed assignments, cheating, other nameless sins—were constantly held against me.
And I knew in my heart that failure was inevitable.
What Christ teaches me, if I let myself be taught, is that there is only one kind of judgment that matters. I am saved not because of who I am or what I have done (or didn’t do), but simply because I have accepted the infinite grace that was always offered to me.
My hope is that His love is somewhere underneath the ego and grievances that inspired me to write this. I believe that it is. What I pray is that you can find it for yourself as well.