Christians who ask lots of questions or wear their evolving beliefs on their sleeves often incur the umbrage of other Christians still on the “inside.” There is a surprising amount of resentment toward those who publicly wrestle with faith and doubt. When I was looking through Christian memes for a recent post, I came across this one which hit home in a big way:
This is a variation on “why are you even a Christian?,” a question that has been directed at me more than once and at countless Christian seekers in “real life” and online. This really is an absurd and loaded question, but after I explain how absurd it is I think I’ll go ahead and answer it anyway.
“Why are you even a Christian?” is a rather rude and thoughtless way of scolding someone for not meeting our personal expectations. The assumption at the heart of this question is that I am a “normal” or mainstream type of Christian, and you have drifted so far from where I am that you no longer qualify. Or maybe I just look at you and wonder how you could possibly think those thoughts and ask those questions and even want to identify as Christian. Maybe this isn’t the right religion for you if you really think that way, and maybe we don’t want you anyway! Ultimately the question reveals a deep lack of self-awareness and a small and undercooked notion of what it means to be a Christian. It’s an implicit and lazy appeal to the status quo of institutional American Christianity and a thinly veiled judgment on someone else’s character.
I can think of three honest responses to the question “why are you even a Christian?”:
1. I was raised Christian (like most of us).
2. I attend church and read the Bible and do many of the same Christian things that other Christians do.
3. I find Jesus endlessly compelling and choose to follow the path he taught and embodied. I am a Christian because I have faith (that is, vulnerable trust) in Jesus.
But maybe I should try and answer the real question, “how dare you defy my expectations?”:
The expectations and judgments of others cannot be the basis for something as personal and vital as how I interpret and experience faith in Jesus. If my journey and my thoughts are troubling to you, it might be that there are dimensions and aspects of life and faith that you have not considered. Or maybe we just have a genuine disagreement about what it means to be a Christian. Either way, we are both subjective voyagers, neither of us has the credentials or the authority to police the borders of true Christianity. We need each other’s questions and doubts just as much as we need kindness and encouragement.
I used to be where you are, and I was also puzzled and alarmed when people asked inappropriate questions. In fact, reaching back, I start to recall my old reasons for clinging to Christianity: obligation, fear, expedience, inheritance, expectation… And all of that is a recipe for anxiety and unhappiness. If I had a chance to talk with my young self I might ask him, “why are YOU even a Christian?” Turns out it’s an excellent question, if you ask the right person.