The very first emerging Christianity event I ever attended was Big Tent 2010 in Raleigh, NC. It was there I was first exposed to the phenomena of Christians who didn’t want to be called “Christian”, preferring instead something like “Christ follower”. I wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I asked. Come to find out, these folks felt the name “Christian” carried too many negative connotations and baggage because of things that have been done in the name of Christianity. While that may have the first time I ran into the idea, it certainly hasn’t been the last. Every now and then, I see some progressive Christians struggling with that name. It’s not really surprising, considering how many people have been hurt by the church and that a lot of those who have chosen to stay engaged have gravitated to a more progressive understanding of faith; I’m in that group myself. Well, the “hurt by the church” part, not so much the “Don’t call me Christian” end of things.
Before you read any further, let me warn you that I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers and step on a few toes. So, take a minute and either close this or gather yourself for what could be considered unabashed asshattery. If it starts to get to you, repeat this mantra as needed:”Serenity now“. Okay, the appropriate warnings have been issued, so let’s get on with it.
I’m not a fan of changing the word that progressive followers of Jesus are known by. For me, it’s kind of like the NALT thing, a little whiny and a lot divisive. It’s like saying “I’m a Christian, but I’m not like those people“. Instead of reaching out to our conservative brothers and sisters, changing our name builds a wall between us and slams the door in their face. For folks that love to talk about tolerance, progressives can do a pretty good job of othering. But, maybe the issue isn’t the word, but what people think when they hear it.
Instead of changing our name or reclaiming the word “Christian” (I see the second to be just as divisive as the first, by the way), maybe we ought to think about showing the general public there’s more than one way to be a Christian. I know that’s not exactly a new idea and there are plenty of people working on doing just that, people who are doing good things and are beginning to get noticed. It’s a promising avenue.
Look, even if (and that’s a big “if”) you could get all progressives to agree on a new name, we’d be the only ones using it. Because it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves; if we talk about Jesus, people are going to call us Christians; it just goes with the territory. And, I’m okay with that.