I remember the first day I became a Christian vaguely. I must have been 5 or 6 and when the preacher asked who wanted to give their life to Christ. I shot up without a second thought. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do at the time, because as far as I was concerned anyone who was willing to take the not-so–proverbial bullet for me deserved some sort of allegiance. Either that or my father nudged me and gave me a dirty look for remaining seated, but let’s stick with the former version of the story lol.
Point is, I’ve been at this Christian thing for as long as I can remember.
Or so I’d like to think.
While there were periods of my life when I was younger and my faith was ‘on fleek’ and I was unashamed of my affiliation with Christ and the things of God, as I grew older, I’ve got to admit that it became harder and harder to actually walk the talk. Suddenly I wasn’t so excited to tell people where I spent my Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights and Sunday mornings. New friends I hadn’t grown up in church with were all discovering the night life and sexuality by 12. My friends suddenly started having sex, and there I was, still determined not to share my first kiss until my wedding day. HA. While that ship didn’t sail at 13, it sailed eventually. (BTW, the fact that my Dad reads my blog and doesn’t have a heart attack amazes me LOL).
It became harder and harder for me to reconcile my faith with my relationships and what was going on in the world around me, and so I decided it would be easier to live compartmentalized – to keep church at church, and live a ‘normal’ life everywhere else.
In effect I became a Closet Christian.
CLOSET CHRISTIAN: A follower of the person of Jesus Christ who chooses to follow the His teachings but does not feel compelled (or fears) to share or propagate his personal faith among others.
Gosh, can I tell you being a closet Christian is the absolute easiest??? You get to do everything you want to do, and still go to church on Sunday and call yourself a Christian should anyone ask or should you have to check off a nifty little box on a questionnaire. You get to avoid awkward conversations with your friends who either don’t believe what you do, or are opposed to it, and you don’t have to worry about everyone giving you the side eye when ‘non-Christian’ topics like who’s messing with who come up. People don’t scrutinize your every move like you’re Jesus incarnate, or expect you to be perfect. They can’t judge you either, because hey, they don’t know the relationship you have with God when you get home and climb into your closet.
And it’s not like you don’t love God or you’re ashamed of Him. If you’re like me you’ve given your life to Him at least three times over – you’re basically in it to win it. It’s not like you still don’t have Christian friends or read your Bible. You just don’t want to make people who don’t believe what you do – or yourself – uncomfortable. You don’t want them to talk. You don’t want to be seen as counter-culture, or anyone to ask you the difficult questions that you might not have the answers to and be embarrassed. It’s just simpler this way.
But being the easiest doesn’t mean living your Christian life in the closet is the best – or even what God has for you. So like my post last week on Why I Left the Church, I thought I’d share with you a couple misconceptions I had about being Closet Christian during my time as one, and what I learnt as I began to question them:
“I have a bad track record. People will talk about me and label me a hypocrite.”
People will talk regardless. One of the greatest fears any young person has in actually living out their faith is the fear that people will talk about them if they are open about what they believe. Yes, people will think you’re a hypocrite and point out all the reasons you seem fake. But if there is one truth that has resounded throughout my short 26 years of life, it is the fact that people talk. And this is not even a faith thing – PEOPLE TALK. And they will talk regardless. People will talk if you’re up, and they’ll talk if you’re down. They’ll talk if you’re Christian and they’ll talk if you’re Atheist. Give people a chance, and they will find something to say about anything – Lauryn Hill told us when she sang ‘So Much Things To Say‘. I don’t know what your experience has been, but I’ve had people talk a lot and say many hurtful things about me both when I hid my faith in the closet and when I didn’t. One day I decided that I’d rather have people talk about me for doing what I knew was right.
And I have found God to be true to His Word:
no weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged.
Any accuser who takes you to court
will be dismissed as a liar.
This is what God’s servants can expect.
I’ll see to it that everything works out for the best.”
“But what if I tell people I’m a Christian and I mess up?“
Christianity is not Perfection. You WILL mess up, and guess what? You’ll still be a Christian. Me messing up does not make God any less God or Jesus’ work on the cross void – in fact it only serves as evidence for the need of it. If we were not imperfect messes stumbling our way through life, then what would be the need for Christ? You don’t have to worry about not meeting the mark of perfection – God already knows you can’t, and so He sent Christ so meeting the mark wouldn’t be up to you, but up to Christ at work WITHIN you.
Paul elaborates in Galatians 2:
Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
I thank God for my imperfections. They’re a constant reminder that I’m in need of Grace.
“I don’t want to come off as judgmental. Not everyone believes what I do and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable around me or like I disapprove of their lifestyle.”
Christianity is not Judgement. Ever wonder how Jesus always found himself dining with people who neither knew him nor his Father? How he managed to be the son of God and still maintain close friendships with prostitutes and tax collectors? Why a man like Zacchaeus would climb a tree just to get his attention? I don’t think any of these people would have wanted to be around someone who was judgmental of their lifestyles, and yet they all longed to be in the company of Jesus. Why?
It’s because our faith isn’t one that shoves itself down people’s throats – it’s one that meets people right where they are. And you cannot know where someone is, unless you stop and listen to their story. Every time Jesus encountered someone, he could have simply said ‘Be healed!’ or some un-kosher version of ‘Be saved!’ and left it at that. A sick person isn’t one who is difficult to spot – he could have simply just twirled on the spot and had everyone make a grab for the hem of his garment. He could have met Mary Magdalene and immediately rebuked her for her lifestyle choices. But he didn’t. He constantly sought to understand people and their desires. Over and over again, he asks, ‘what do you need?’, ‘what do you need me to do for you?’, ‘tell me your story.’ Because it is one thing to heal a symptom, and another to bring wholeness to someone’s life. And Jesus drew people in to himself by meeting them at the point of their need.
As an out-of-the-closet Christian you will have to learn the art of being open about your faith and at the same time open to the lives of others. You should be able to sit there and listen while your friends talk about their sexcapades, when everyone knows you’ve gnashed for half a decade on this celibacy tip. And you’ll find that people will find it refreshing that your first instinct isn’t to start to rebuke them, but rather to get to know them. Soon enough, you will find a meeting point where what you have (Jesus) can serve their needs.
“I don’t know many other Christians. I’m going to go from having so many friends to none at all.”
You’re not alone. One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6. They were being hunted by one king or the other, and woke up one morning to find themselves surrounded by the enemy’s forces. Of course, the servant starts to panic because, let’s face it, no one’s trying to die because someone has beef with their master. Elisha, sensing his servant is about to chuck up the deuces and hightail it out of there, tells him : ‘there are more on our side than on their side.’. He prays for the servant’s eyes to be open and suddenly he sees: the whole mountainside is full of horses and chariots of fire from God surrounding them.
When you become more vocal with your faith, I have found that it incites people to become more vocal with theirs. I can tell you that a good 70% of the people I know today and call my dearest friends are people I met through blogging or through telling someone about my faith. There are more of us out there than you think, willing to support and encourage and stand with you, but you’ll never know if you stay locked up.
And besides that, people who love you will stick by you no matter what you believe. If anything, coming out with your faith shows you the people who have truly been for you all along, and gets rid of those who haven’t.
“But what if I don’t fit in anymore?”
You were not created to fit in. I went to an all girls boarding school in the middle of Nowhere, Cape Coast, Ghana, and we were known as girls who never really fit the status quo. We had a cute little saying that I still carry with me today:
When they sit, we will stand.
When they stand we will stand out.
When they stand out, we will be outstanding.
And when they are outstanding, we will be the standard.
This should be the mantra we recite to ourselves every day as Christians. We were not created to fit in or conform to the way things work. We were made to be different and to constantly challenge the status quo. We were created for greater. Saying you’re worried about not fitting into the world as a Christian is like Prince Harry saying he’s worried about not fitting in during his stay at a Holiday Inn Express. He is royalty. He’s not meant to. And neither are you.
Embrace your difference. Embrace the heritage to which you have been called. It’s more glorious than anything you could have ever imagined for yourself.
“I don’t want to attract attention to myself.”
You’re not meant to be hidden. Jesus says in Matthew 5:
“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
The last instruction Jesus gave before he left the earth was his most important: go into all the earth and make disciples of all men. And we do that as much with our words as we do with our very lives. Your life is your story – and your life has the ability to point people to God. But people can’t make the connection to everything going on in your life – the victories and the triumphs and testimonies – with Jesus if they don’t know he’s the one you follow. Your life of faith is meant to be the bright neon sign that points others to Jesus, but you have to let others see it.
“I can keep things compartmentalized. It’ll work.”
No, it won’t. Christianity is a lifestyle. It isn’t a part-time thing. It’s our very identity. You know what we call people who change who they are depending on where they are or who they’re with? Fake.
I stopped trying to compartmentalize my faith a long time ago because I don’t want to find myself in compromising situations. Because guys I talk to know what I believe, they don’t ask things of me they know I can’t give. Because people know I served at church all weekend earlier this year, they didn’t make group plans unless it was Because my friends know what I believe, they don’t ask me to do certain things they know would compromise those beliefs. I remember one time where one of my agnostic friends texted me saying she had found the perfect guy for me, and went on to list all his ‘Christian qualifications’. It was funny at the time, but looking back it’s made me appreciate coming out of the closet because everyone around me makes sure to do for me what’s in my best interest, and not their own.
You can’t draw lines in this faith thing, you are either hot or cold – there’s no room in the middle. If you do not take a stand, you will easily find yourself compromised.