In my new job, I now find myself part of a community that is both deeply and wonderfully familiar, and a little foreign around the fringes. My Christian roots are decidedly “post-Evangelical”, although I now balk at using too many labels to define my faith in God, except to say that I’m still learning and I’ve recently had a hermeneutic breakthrough.
All this to say that I come from a tradition with a flat and patriarchal hierarchy (no elders with collars or hats or robes, but still all male), and I’m getting used to being referred to as laity (not directly, but that is the bucket to which I now belong.)
I am loving the differences. I am loving learning about the differences, even as I am enjoying the security and natural ease that comes from being among the like-minded. Until recent years, I hadn’t realised how I’ve been holding my breath in the workplace, or
“reining my Christianity in”. Mainstream sentiment in Australia already seems hostile towards religion, but especially towards Islam and Christianity. It’s been the biggest culture shock for me, coming from a country that celebrates and emphasises distinct cultures and religions. To be “overtly Christian” — especially in the workplace — therefore seems like an open invitation for questions on my fairness, motives, and tolerance; an open season for potential discrimination suits and assumptions about my intellect.
In recent weeks, the topic of a more “overt Christianity” has cropped up several times in various forms at work and at home. At bible class recently for instance, I wondered if my decade-old approach of trying to Live By Example rather than Talking the Salvation Message has actually been a giant cop-out that I’ve justified to myself after living in Australia this long.
Since migrating here, I’ve come to realise (to my huge surprise) that on most policy issues, I am decidedly left-leaning (even if Labor leadership right now seems about as impressive as wet lettuce), but I also care deeply about issues supported by the Right. Just yesterday, I admitted in a public forum to a long-time friend that I am a Pro-life Feminist. To some circles, this sounds as paradoxical as a Thinking Christian. To other circles, the bemusing paradox is the fact that I am a Christian Feminist.
And then a couple days ago, I was asking about the collars that clergy wear and the origin of the collar, and we ended up digressing to how modern clergy go without the collar nowadays. Yet if every ordained priest wore their collar in the street, said Emma, there would be hundreds of them just walking about doing their own thing – and society at large might suddenly realise that there are actually more Christians in their midst than they thought. Than even we might think.
In this age, the war-cry on social issues has been for greater tolerance – and by tolerance, it increasingly seems to mean the suppression of even personal convictions, judgements, and lifestyles. “The intolerance of the intolerant” has been used to suppress differences of opinion by characterising dissent as hate, and to elevate (left-leaning) neutrality – rather than dialogue – as the greatest good.
But it’s a fallacy – no one can please everybody. Even among the tolerant, there is no One True Correct in political correctness. We all believe nuances of different things across the board – which means at any given time, someone is going to get royally pissed off with you if they ever got to hear what you really believe and think.
Which brings me back to collars and overt Christianity.
I don’t have a collar, and I don’t even own a pendant of the Cross. And maybe it’s the mellowing of age, but I no longer feel the imperative to jump into the fray on parenting forums about seatbelt laws, let alone hot button issues like same-sex marriage and that plebiscite. But I want to be authentic about who I am, what I believe, and why. And that takes more courage than I currently feel, all the more so when Christians seem to be lying so low in our community that the national narrative about us is that we’re nothing more than a hypocritical, whiny, fun-killing gay-hating hick minority taking our sermons from fire-brimstone pedophiles, instead of a sizeable population that is just as conflicted about lots of issues,that doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but that is earnest about community and being a champion of the downtrodden – “the widows and orphans in distress”.
If you’re a Christian reading this, please help me by “putting on your collar” – not just in your home and church, but in the streets, in your workplaces, in areas of life where we’re assumed to be intolerant until proven “not that kind of Christian”. It helps me recognise I have a compadre. If we all shine a little beacon to say “I’m here, just doing my thing”, it makes the way clearer and the journey less lonely.