A friend recently found out that his girlfriend had been cheating on him. They broke up, she pleaded with him to take her back, they picked up where they left off, the trust issues proved too much to bear, and just a few days later he started dating another woman.
Interestingly, all of this information was divulged via social media. I, along with everyone else who knew the couple, was given front row seats to this Jerry Springer-ish episode that terminated their relationship.
As a society, we have definitely blurred some lines between what becomes public and what remains private.
Thanks to the abundance of information at our fingertips, we need only turn on the television or stand in the checkout lane or search Google to uncover the most up-to-date gossip on any public figure. And thanks to social media, we now get to know far more about our friends and acquaintances than we probably care to.
It seems that nothing is private anymore. But in what some may see as a terrible downturn in society, I find a glimmer of hope — this is, in part, paving the way for deep and relevant discussions on faith to take place in the public forum.
Yet when it comes to matters of faith, it seems a majority of us remain silent. Why is it that we will readily invite the entire world on our date via instagram, yet we are so hesitant to open up about our beliefs?
I have a few answers to that question. First, there have been — and always will be — those that consider matters of faith to be irrelevant to the practical outworking of life. But, considering about 88 percent of Americans say "their religious faith is important in their life," I'd venture a guess that those who feel this way are in the minority.
Of course, some people keep their mouths shut because the topic of faith tends to be so polarizing and divisive, and they'd rather not offend anyone. For the rest of us, the answer seems to be much more simple. For whatever reason, we still feel uncomfortable with these types of conversations. They single us out. They threaten our innate sense of comfort. So, we keep our faith private.
I can't help but think that Christians only have ourselves to blame for this. We have advocated that following Jesus "isn't a religion, but a relationship." We claim that he is our personal savior. And we say that "only God can judge me."
While there may be some validity to each of these statements, let's make a few things clear. If it's not worked out in our daily life, while interacting with other human beings, it's not a relationship Jesus would want any part of. He certainly may be our personal savior, but that doesn't negate the fact that he is also the savior of many others on this planet. Did he not come to seek and save all who are lost? Perhaps judgment is meant to be reserved for God, but we can't follow him all on our own. It's much more of a communal event. This type of language makes me wonder if we've lost sight of the bigger reality — that following Jesus isn't some monogamous, one-on-one, kind of thing we do in private.
But blame for keeping our faith so private isn't solely on us as individuals. The church has had its hand in this, as well. In some instances, the church has inadvertently made faith into a one-hour-a-week ritual. It has kept the topic of faith from leaving the confines of the four walls of its sanctuaries. Many of us walk through the doors, sing some catchy tunes, listen to some Biblical teaching, pass around an offering plate, and when all that is said and done, are informed we are free to leave because church is over.
I'm sorry to say, this approach is all wrong — church isn't over once we leave! On the contrary, it's just beginning. Which is why it is crucial that churches offer us opportunities to engage with fellow believers outside the Sunday morning service; that they encourage us to wrestle with and question the teaching we just heard; that they challenge us to be bold enough to make a commitment, even with everyone's head up and eyes open.
If these sorts of changes aren't made, can the church really expect us to be comfortable living out our faith Monday through Saturday?
Do we really need to ask why Christians fear going public with their faith? When this is the approach some churches take with faith, it's quite obvious why we feel that honestly opening up about our beliefs will bring ridicule, rejection, or even persecution. If we can't be open an honest about our beliefs within the confines of church, how then can we be expected to make our faith relevant outside those four walls, with those who have varying beliefs?
While I am advocating that we take our faith public, I need to take a moment to clarify some things. I'm not encouraging us stand on the street corner, notifying every passerby that they are "going to hell in a hand basket." (To begin with, because I'm not entirely sure what a hand basket is.) I also don't believe that is the type of public attention our faith needs. While I may be willing to have these conversations (with total strangers that show up at my door unannounced, handing out the Watchtower), I'm certain that I find myself in the minority. Most people find this approach too impersonal, too pushy, and too judgmental. It's pretty arrogant of us to think we know where everyone stands with God.
What I would like to see is quite simple — that, in moving our faith from the private to the public forum, we simply share what we believe when the opportunity presents itself.
And that we would be open and honest in our dialogue. That we would be wise enough to realize our words and actions will only go so far — they likely won't convert anyone. The good news is that we're not called to this kind of conversion. The Bible makes it pretty clear that our responsibility is only to express our hope, and the reason for it.
And last, but certainly not least, I would like to see that we would be mature and humble enough to agree to disagree — to realize that we don't have the market on what it looks like to walk with Jesus. Especially when failing to do so causes unnecessary division.
Following Jesus isn't about uniformity but conformity to the life of the one who walked this Earth and laid down his life for even those who stood in opposition to him.
Jordan Davis is an aspiring writer, aspiring preacher, and aspiring pastor. Every day, he is trying to figure out what it means to follow in the footsteps of an itinerant Rabbi. He graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 2005 with a degree in Pastoral Ministry and now resides in Sioux Falls, S.D. He blogs at http://jordanddavis.blogspot.com/.