We identify ourselves and others with many different labels. Where are you from? What school do you attend? Which sorority or fraternity are you in? The answers to these questions communicate a different story to people about who we are and what we believe. These labels can also come with baggage.
I am from South Carolina. Some people assume that I am a hick or a racist, and others think that I must have great hospitality skills and that I always wear pearls. I am a Kappa Kappa Gamma. Some people think that means I am a slut or a party girl, or that I am devoted towards helping others read, or that I am one of the more posh women on campus. I went to Emory. Most people have never heard of it, so the sorority label doesn’t mean much.
The labels we use for ourselves allow other people to associate meanings and values to our lives that may or may not be true.
The label “Christian” carries its own baggage and even more misunderstandings, so how do we navigate telling others that we now believe in Jesus?
Jesus Freak Label
My mom always told me to be careful of “those Christians.” My uncle recently said, “Well at least you’re not an evangelical.” A friend of mine called me, “A different kind of Christian.” Who are “those Christians,” and since I am an evangelical, who are the bad evangelicals, and how am I different? I am asking rhetorically, because we all have an idea of who “those people” are. To me, they are the Christians that stand on the corner with negative signs; they are the ones who wear a hundred WWJD bracelets and always have a ten pound Bible under their arm. And even though these men and women are well-meaning, these are the people that make us afraid to admit that we are Christians or that we follow Jesus. Most of us are petrified to be labeled with people who are a bit freaky with their faith.
To counteract this label, start by showing your friends your faith. Show how God has redeemed you. If you claim that you are a Christian, back it up. Show that you love God, by loving them. Show that you accept God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. Live a life that actually signifies that you know Jesus.
Second, show how God has redeemed you and is continually redeeming you, but not by focusing on others. Maybe you are called to not drink before you are 21, but that doesn’t mean your fraternity brother made the same decision. Maybe you don’t sleep with your boyfriend, but don’t make the freshmen feel dirty or bad about their decisions.
There was a young woman in Kappa Delta here at UGA who accepted Christ and as part of the many changes in her life, she decided to get baptised. One of her friends came with me to the church in Atlanta where she was getting baptised. The friend said, “I love how she is an example, she doesn’t try to preach to us; she just shows us how to live.”
“Those people” or “Jesus Freaks” are offensive when they don’t back up their statements with their personal life change, and try to preach to everyone else instead.
The Boring Christian Label
One of my friends in college said, “I love how you are still fun.” I was so confused. Why would I stop being fun? I asked her, and she said, “Because you know you are the Bible study leader in our sorority, but you don’t act like it.” I wanted to ask how a Bible study leader is supposed to act, but I was afraid that she would point out all the ways that I wasn’t a great leader.
One of the labels for Christians is that we become boring overnight. “The Christians in the sorority all live on the second floor and just watch movies.” Or the idea that you shouldn’t really invite a Christian to a party, because he won’t come, he has to go bowl with his youth group.
A relationship with Jesus means that he is sanctifying you, not taking all the life out of you and making you boring. You are still you! Show people that maybe you aren’t going to do a keg stand, but you might still kick their butts at beer pong, using orange juice. And maybe you aren’t going to use a fake id to get into the 21-and-up club, but you will meet them at the mixer before-hand and still have the same dance moves. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you automatically turn into a long-haired Youth Group leader that sings Kumbaya at a lock-in, so don’t act like it.
The Hypocritical Christian Label
This is the hardest label to dodge, because it is true. By definition we are hypocritical. We claim to love and follow a God, but we don’t even have the ability to do without his help. As a Christian, you will mess up and other people will be watching you to see you fall. Instead of running from this label, admit to it when you fail. We are called to ask for forgiveness, so when you sin, ask for forgiveness. Let people know that you don’t consider yourself perfect.
One of my sorority sisters in college, who isn’t a Christian, was studying scripture in the Kappa Bible study I led. A group of us, including her, went to a fraternity party one night, I ended up staying at the house till 3 the next morning. When she confronted me about it, I gave her all these reasons why it wasn’t a big deal. The guy I was hanging out with wasn’t a boyfriend, we didn’t even kiss, we just watched movies. I yelled at her for being judgemental. Another friend asked, “Why didn’t you just apologize? If you had just admitted that you also struggle with how to live out what we are studying in scripture, she might not be so pissed at you, plus isn’t that true?”
She was right, all I had to say was yes, I messed up. I am not perfect and I need to be held accountable because following Jesus is hard.
When you become a Christian, your brothers and sisters will try to catch you messing up to make themselves feel better. When you do fall from grace, you have an opportunity to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and show them that following Jesus means we know we aren’t perfect.
Following a Jesus that Defies all Labels
When you come out of the closet, try some of these steps to show what it means to follow Christ for you.
- Let your friends know the decision you made without preaching to them.
- Share your journey of mistakes and joys with your friends if they want to listen, respect them when they don’t.
- Invite your friends to service projects, Greek Conference or other non threatening ways that they can see a community follow Jesus.
- Continue to hang out, if they are doing something you are now morally uncomfortable with, consider giving them a ride home and hanging out at a waffle house afterwards.
- Apologize when you fall short.
- And always live authentically.