Thank God, I Was Wrong: What I Learned From Opening Up About My Faith
After a powerful, positive response to last Sunday’s column about going public with her newfound Christian faith, Ana Marie Cox felt a coda was in order.
When I sat down to write my piece about finding Christ, I felt I had two major obstacles to overcome. First: fear that other, more conservative and theologically learned Christians would tell me that I was not one of them. The second hurdle: My ego. Humility and testimony are difficult to square; it’s difficult to write about redemption without humblebragging.
I don’t know if I succeeded in threading that needle. There was a part of me that knew the article might be praised in some quarters and I worried that the praise would unravel whatever humility I have learned in becoming a follower of Christ. I am human, so my ego will always need checking, but I can say that I finally understand what it means when someone says they are humbled by praise. The positive responses to the piece, after all, just prove that my fears were misplaced.
With a week’s worth of responses behind me, I can report that my fear of judgment was legitimate—haters gonna hate—but also that I was proven wrong in the most wonderful way: I found amazing warmth and generosity that far outweighed criticism and negativity. Support came from the right and the left, believers and non-believers, dog people and cat people.
Some wrote to me to tell me that what I wrote had touched them personally; a few felt moved to admit that my piece had made them reconsider how harshly they had judged the liberal Christians in their own lives. Many wrote to say that it was my brief discussion of my own insecurities that resonated the most strongly. People whose outside performance of their faith is perhaps more evident than mine—churchgoers, Bible-studiers, activists with religious affiliations—wrote to tell me that they, too, worried about being “good enough” Christians.
Some might argue that widespread self-doubt among Christians is proof that the gospel of grace itself is faulty, but I think it’s a feature, not a bug. Self-doubt is what enables us to continually discover grace anew. I personally haven’t been saved in a way that I can put a specific date on (except, maybe, “2,000 years ago, give or take”). Rather, every day I wonder if I am worthy of being saved, and every day the answer is the same.
Speaking of not being good enough: a note on the language in the headline of the piece, and the use of the word “closeted” to describe my practice of Christianity. I am an advocate for LGTB rights and I like to think I mostly do the cause some good with my writing. A few of my colleagues in the movement wrote to take issue with my borrowing the phrase “coming out,” especially since I applied it to something (Christian) that’s hardly the kind of stigmatized identity that LGTB individuals still have to overcome.
So I apologize for using that language; it is an obviously imperfect metaphor—as I note in the piece, there is nothing marginal about believing in God. Conservatives’ genuinely affectionate responses to my piece underscored even more the gulf between how little I risked in “owning” my religion and how much is at stake for those struggling for complete acceptance from that same group.
Publicly proclaiming my faith has, basically, given me the best response I’ve received in my professional life. It would be easy to conclude that I should write about it more.
But the ego is a nasty little man; a false beggar who only gets hungrier the more you feed him. A writer wrestles with hers constantly, whether she realizes it or not, and someone who writes about faith winds up wrestling with an ego that can present itself as an angel and whose wrestling moves feel like a massage. Yet I think the best advice I received, buried in the tidal wave of good will, was a prayer pointed in a different direction: God, “don't let my bullshit narcissism *entirely* obscure You.”
I am so young in my faith, so new to the language and tradition, I am especially wary of how easy it would be to confuse glorifying God with something more akin to the sin of Onan. I hope any new readers I’ve gained won’t be disappointed to find me still Tweeting more about cats than Christ, more columns about progressive causes than piety. I believe the Lord may still work through me, and I hope to be His vessel. My plan, as St. Francis apparently never said, is this: “Preach the Gospel always, when necessary, use words.”