Titles, “Christians,” and Shots in the DarkFeatured, Religion — By Andrew Oxenham on September 14, 2012 at 7:00 am
One morning a coworker of mine, Kenneth, was expressing his vehement distaste for Christians when he suddenly turned to me and said, “Oxenham, you’re a Christian, right?” I replied, “I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘Christian,’ but I do love Jesus immensely.” Kenneth nodded his head in agreement, noting, “Mhmm you’re not like any of the Christians I’ve met. You don’t judge me, you’re kind to me, and more than that, you’re a good friend.” With that, the conversation moved to a new topic.
It’s crucial to notice that I never responded to Kenneth’s question with a direct “yes I’m a Christian.” Further, and here’s the real kicker, I do not think any Christian should ever answer that point blank question with a “yes.” Please set down the tar and feathers and hear me out for a second. In the fast paced metropolitan environment, the term ‘Christian’ is a broad one, a term that is unfortunately fraught with vagueness and misconceptions. If you don’t believe me go out to the street and ask ten people what it means to be a Christian. This vagueness allows people to import their own ideas of what Christianity is straight onto anyone professing to be a Christian. ‘Christian’ for one person might call to mind the oft-repeated revisionist historians’ picture of Christians as dogmatic murderers of non-believers. To another, ‘Christian’ might recall horrid memories of a childhood relative who committed abuse towards them. Answering the question “are you a Christian?” is a blind shot in the dark. Answering this question presents a blank canvas for other people to import their misconceptions onto. This starts the believer off at a deficit, one he must first overcome before beginning to approach a conversation about faith. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but it is an inefficient use of positioning because you’ve put yourself on the defensive from the get-go. What I’m not saying is that one must deny that they are in any way affiliated to Christ. What I am suggesting is that in order to wisely position oneself in regards to conversations of faith, one should always use first impressions sagaciously.
To the Christian I advocate not using undefined terms. Clearly define your terms and make sure the person you are speaking with is explicitly clear on what you mean when you use various titles, terms and isms. Be especially wary of words that carry immense amounts of connotations with them. Do not let your passion get the best of your savvy. Be both kind, be ardent about your faith, but be cautious. Remember, to brashly answer vague question is extremely foolish, but a simple clarification easily leads to much deeper and more productive conversations.