Reclaiming My Christianity

When I lived in Raleigh, NC and met people for the first time, the conversation often got around to something like this:

Them: What do you do?

Me: I’m a minister.

Them: Well God bless you.

Me: Yes she does.

Them: She?!...

Or like this:

Them: What do you do?

Me: I’m a minister.

Them: Praise the Lord!

Me: Um...yeah...I’m not that kind of minister.

Or my personal favorite:

 

Them: What do you do?

Me: I’m a minister.

Them: Amen to that! What denomination?

Me: Unity.

Them: Is that like Unitarian?

Me: Not exactly. More like Christians who want to be Buddhists but we’re not willing to give up God yet.

Them: Um...Gotta go...I see someone I know over there.

 

In 1996 Christianity and I had a serious falling out. I left my very Evangelical-style church life because I could no longer do what was being asked of me to be a follower: suspend my intelligence; ignore historical fact and scholarship; reject and condemn my friends. In 1997 I found Unity (or it found me). It was a hesitant return to church, especially since Unity’s teachings seemed so foreign compared to what I learned growing up. I eventually embraced Unity’s teachings, to the point that I became a minister. Much of that was due to the fact that I never stopped loving church. For many years after 1996 and even when I became a minister, I stopped calling myself a Christian. That word was firmly associated with a theology and way of living I no longer subscribed to.

 

However, I couldn’t avoid the obvious. Christianity, by definition, is based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth. So is Unity. In my early Unity days I did all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid any association with Christianity. When I was first ordained, my Raleigh years, I cheered when Unity rebranded itself with the tagline “A positive path for spiritual living”. When I was asked for ideas to get more millennials into church I said stop calling ourselves a church. Yet here I was preaching and living the message of Jesus, albeit through a different lens. Didn’t this still make me a Christian? Sure, the content of my sermons was different from the ones I grew up hearing, and now I included much more than excluded.

 

So I had a choice: I could continue to create a schism between being labeled a Christian while meeting the definition of a Christian, or I could make peace with the label and begin to reclaim it for myself. Since life is lived from the inside out, I chose to be at peace. I chose to become comfortable with calling myself a Christian. It’s been a process. For a while, I dabbled with the ‘spiritual not religious’ moniker, but that wasn’t quite accurate. The spiritual part was definitely true but I couldn’t keep saying I wasn’t religious. I am! I follow a set of beliefs and practices concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and of God. These beliefs also happen to be best represented in the life and teachings of Jesus. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck,...

In some of my recent Facebook posts I brought attention and opposition to the Nashville Statement. It’s a new doctrinal statement by a coalition of conservative evangelical leaders laying out their beliefs on human sexuality, including opposition to same-sex marriage and fluid gender identity. In my youthful misguided days I would’ve wholeheartedly supported that statement. Today, I vehemently oppose it. What’s also different is that in my opposition to it, and in my distancing myself from the group who wrote it, I do not distance myself from the teachings of Jesus. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said "...'love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:30-31]. There was also no qualifier to neighbor.

While I refuse to align myself with those who seek to exclude in the name of Christianity, I also refuse to turn the word Christianity over without being a voice for those of us who want to live Jesus' teachings through another paradigm, specifically the New Thought approach that includes Unity. Many in Unity still struggle with calling themselves Christian. It’s too easy to just not use the word anymore. I’m also not saying we have to. But to avoid it so we’re not lumped in with those who would sully its name might not be the best reason. To abstain from embracing it because it caused us harm in the past is an invitation for forgiveness. Choose what you want to call yourself, and choose it for the right reasons.

Today, I’m happy to call myself a Christian again…a New Thought Christian.