Lately I’ve been struggling with a frustrating problem.
There are quite a few times when I have absolutely no idea how to speak with Christians.
Given my vocation this might seem like a strange issue.
It’s not even a specific type Christian which is causing my communication struggles. When “Christ-followers” rail against “chuchianity” I have absolutely no idea what to say that won’t have me labeled as a relic. When I sit with liberal Christians who assume no sane person believes in some of the classic Christian doctrines, such as Jesus’ divinity or the virgin birth, I really don’t feel safe to speak my mind. When I am grilled by evangelicals about popular “Christian living” books I don’t know what to say that won’t be perceived as rude 1. When people from “very contemporary” churches question every little detail of our non-contemporary 2 worship service, I end up feeling as though my faith is suspect. So many times around Christians I find myself frustrated with the walls our different tribe put up to declare, “We’re not even sure you’re Christian.” I wind up shutting my mouth and hoping no one engages me 3.
Because of my sense of alienation, wider Christian gatherings tend to terrify me. I find it difficult to juggle all the different social and theological assumptions people project, and quickly shut down. I’m literally afraid I’ll ask a taboo question, or make an unwelcome observation. Some of this is certainly my own psyche rising to the surface, but much has been learned from experience. Christians who step out of the expected tribal boundaries tend to be either beaten into submission or sent exile. People are worried another tribe might dare to move on to “their turf.”
The truth is, this isn’t even a “Christian thing,” it’s a human one. We human beings are tribal by nature and, for all the illusions we project about individuality in our culture, those who deviate from the tribes are instinctively punished. The modern phenomenon of “twitter shaming,” using social media to call out the mob on people who do undesirable things, shows us how powerful this tribal mentality can be. Human beings, it seems, have a tendency to feel secure only whey they are surrounded by people who are like them. Given the nature of humanity’s tribal mentality, I spend a good deal of time in public trying not to say anything.
This is one of humanity’s greatest tragedies, made all the more sorrowful because I know this tendency for tribal-insecurity exists within my own heart.