It happens at least once every year. Somebody asks me something about Jesus.
Have you accepted the LORD Jesus Christ as your personal savior?
Can I pray for/with you?
Do you believe in God?
Do you call yourself a Christian?
These are complicated questions. And they’re really personal questions. Sometimes they are asked of me antagonistically, and, like most other people, I resent those kinds of interactions. More often than not, however, I think they’re asked in order to get me to “come home” to God. Or something.
I think I hate these kinds of questions mostly because I don’t have an easy answer for them. And although I happen to think that that’s just fine, the person/people asking never seem to think it is.
Take today, for example. I was approached by a young blonde woman and her two friends. “Hi!” she said, cheerily. I hesitated. I was in my university’s student union and had already been approached by a guy selling candy bars for some club or camp and a girl who was looking for her backpack she claimed she’d left at the table where I was sitting (and I’m pretty sure she thought I nabbed it). I just didn’t want to deal with anyone; I was busy getting work done.
“My name’s Heather!” she stuck out her hand, and also introduced her two friends, an Asian girl about my height, and a slightly shorter brunette. I shook her hand. I was still hesitating somewhat. What did they want? I didn’t want to donate to something. I don’t make enough as a grad student teaching assistant to afford to donate to anything right now except the “keep Kate sheltered and fed fund.” “What’s your name?” she prompted.
“I’m Kate,” I answered. “Are you…” I paused and scanned their faces, “advertising for something?”
“Well, actually,” said the blonde, “we’re just telling people about our Bible reading club…”
That was when she lost me. I hear “bible,” “Jesus,” “God,” or “Christian,” and I immediately start panicking and looking for a way to get away from whoever has just begun talking to me. It’s nothing personal; it’s just that every religious person who has ever approached me has tried their darndest (and I mean their DARNDEST) to get me to declare my unabashed love for the big JC, or something. I’m never disrespectful, but I’m firm. I just don’t feel it’s necessary to share my own religious insecurities and ponderings with complete strangers, to be perfectly blunt.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my religious identity and for a long time. I was raised Catholic by a mother who converted when I was five and an Episcopalian-turned-atheist/agnostic father. I’m now dating a Jew, and we’ve talked about conversion. I don’t know exactly what possessed me to stop the blonde midsentence with the words, “Oh, I’m Jewish,” but I did it.
Now the accuracy or inaccuracy of that statement is up for grabs. However, I’m headed to temple tomorrow morning, so I think that at least lends some veracity to it. At any rate, it wasn’t anything these girls had said to me up until that point that made or makes me angry. It’s what they followed my statement with.
“Oh, hereditary or practicing?” asked the Asian girl. My brain scrambled. “Both,” I lied. Only about the first half. But really, what kind of question is that? It seems a little personal for a stranger to be asking me what ethnicity and religion, simultaneously, I lay a claim to. What right does she have to even ask? She should have left it at whatever I said and moved on to greener pastures.
But then came the real kicker. “Well, thanks for telling us the truth! Have a nice day!” The blonde was bubbly as ever. I wished them good luck and turned back to my work. It didn’t dawn on me until a few minutes had passed that she was implying I was a liar. So maybe I kind of was. No one I’m blood related to professes Judaism. But I am actively thinking about conversion and I am going to temple tomorrow. So maybe it’s a trade off. Besides, the question caught me utterly off-guard.
BUT STILL. How dare you passively-aggressively imply that I’m a liar?
This isn’t the worst interaction I’ve had with evangelicals. Not even close (one time I ran into a guy who literally would not take no for an answer and followed me down the block. Then he wanted to add me on Facebook. I gave him a fake name: Kate Johnson. He had the audacity to ask whether I was telling him the truth.)
Christians who are forward about their faith don’t have some sort of monopoly on truth-telling. Why imply that everything I say is a lie? And furthermore, even if it is, did it ever occur to y’all to quit asking me incredibly personal questions? Yeah. That’s what I thought.