A friend recently found out that his girlfriend had been cheating on him. Angered by her admission, they broke up. The next day, while she was at work, he packed up her belongings and left them in the hallway, outside the door to their one bedroom apartment. Surprisingly, when she got home that evening he was met not with rage about her things being piled in the hall, but repentance. Teary eyed, she pleaded with him to take her back. She apologized for her lapse in judgment and made the case it would never happen again. They embraced, moved her stuff back into the apartment, and picked up where they left off. I wish I could tell you they went on to get married and live happily-ever-after, but I can't! Just a few weeks later it was splits-ville for this young couple. The trust issues were too much for him to overcome and too much for her to bear. The good news is that apparently it didn't take long for the emotional healing to set in. I know this, because he started dating a new girl just a few days later.
What makes this story more interesting is how I was apprised of this information. He didn't tell me in person. I didn't receive a phone call. It wasn't even typed out in a text. 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.
This leads me to the blaring reality that, as a society, we have definitely blurred some lines. And not just the lines of what constitutes consent (I'm talking to you Robin Thicke). But the lines we have blurred between what becomes public and what remains private--all due to the abundance of information at our fingertips.
We need only turn on the television to see what everyday life of the rich and famous entails. Standing in the checkout lane at the grocery store we can read any number of magazines dedicated to spilling the details of celebrities 'extra-curricular' activities. Google gives us the ability to uncover the most up to date gossip on just about anyone. And, thanks to social media, we get to know (and see) far more about our friends and acquaintances than we probably care to.
It seems, according to the world, that nothing is private anymore. In what some may see as a terrible downturn in society, I find a glimmer of hope. This, in part, is 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% 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 we, 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 rebuttal that "only God can judge me." While there may be some validity to each of these, 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.
Before you get down on yourself, the blame for our faith being privatized isn't solely on us. The church has had their hand in this as well. In some instances, the church has inadvertently made faith into a one-hour-a-week ritual. They have kept the topic of faith from leaving the confines of the four walls of their 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 you 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's 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 simple share what we believe--when the opportunity presents itself. 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. But the good thing is that we're not called to. 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, 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. Because 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.