Why I'm Still a Christian- Jemar Tisby
A brief elaboration on my interview with the Holy Post for those who are struggling right now You didn’t sign up for this. You didn’t sign up for the hurt. The confusion. The betrayal. Maybe it was the way your church treated women. Maybe it was the way a minister you respected abused their power. Maybe it was the way your fellow parishioners followed a political party like a religion. For me, it was how a lot of Christians responded to Mike Brown, the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-Black police brutality. We said “Black lives matter.” They said “all lives matter.” They deflected, minimized, and villainized those of us who insisted that the church be leaders in calling for racial justice and not repeat the compromise and complicity of the past. But I was defiant. I wrote articles, helped start a Black-centered Christian nonprofit, I spoke at churches and Christian colleges, and eventually I started writing books about racism in the U.S. church. In return for my efforts, organizations rescinded their invitations for me to preach or speak. I had to step away from the ordination process in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and our nonprofit made a decisive shift to focus on the concerns of Black Christians rather than arguing with bad faith actors who wanted to debate the reality of racism.
Church Hurt All of this church hurt proved profoundly disorienting. The communities that I had called home for many years suddenly felt threatening and hostile. I no longer had much in common with people I once considered friends. My framework for understanding God and religion trembled and rattled. I couldn’t read the Bible like I used to. I couldn’t bring myself to pray with any passion. I couldn’t even go to church. Honestly, those struggles continue to this day. I am decolonizing my faith—distinguishing between what Frederick Douglass called “slaveholding religion” and the “Christianity of Christ.” I have come to question the theological tools that I learned to use in seminary. I find it hard to trust Christian leaders, even finding it difficult to pick up books about faith and spirituality. I have struggled to feel healthy enough to enter another faith community when I have been hurt by them so many times. Amid the repeated shortcomings of the people who call themselves Christian, Phil Vischer, host of the Holy Post podcast, asked me “Why are you still Christian?” The interview came as part of the “Why I’m Still Christian” series they are doing. They’ve also spoken to Lecrae, Kristen Kobes Du Mez, and Russell Moore. When they released my interview earlier this week, I was taken aback by the overwhelming response. People texted, DM’ed, and commented to let me know how much they resonated with feeling like they were wandering in the wilderness of the faith. In the podcast I not only shared my struggles but my hope as well. When Phil asked me why I’m still Christian I said, “It’s because Jesus is so good.” Church folk, including me, mess up in all kinds of ways, and we’ll keep doing it. We’ll always fail to represent the faith we profess, and in the process people will get hurt. I do not say this as a sign of resignation but an acknowledgement of reality. The criteria for credence can never be the perfect piety of the people. It doesn’t exist.
Seek Jesus In the Christian view, only one person was ever perfect, and that’s Jesus. That’s my one piece of information, wisdom, and encouragement—seek Jesus. Wrestle with his words. Talk to him even when it doesn’t feel like you’re getting an answer. Focus on his love, grace, and comfort. It’s okay to feel bewildered right now. It’s okay to feel displaced. It doesn’t feel good, but you are exactly where you need to be right now. You are on a journey to become more of who you were meant to be by becoming more like Jesus. You don’t have to have the formula figured out. You don’t have to resolve every mystery. You can live in the ambiguity, and it will be alright. I’m not just spouting “pious irrelevancies and vain trivialities” as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it. I am reminding you of a promise. Remember one of Jesus’ many names is Immanuel. Do you recall what that means? It means “God with us.” Immanuel is not an abstract principle, God’s promise became a person in the form of Jesus Christ. God is with us through the Jesus. Jesus has not turned away from you. He does not co-sign the harm you’ve endured. He does not distance himself from you because you feel confused about him or his followers. Jesus dwells with you. Jesus is with you right now. His is the sweetest, warmest, kindest presence you’ll ever feel. Just the slightest sense of Jesus’ presence may remind you why you are still Christian. If you feel far from Jesus, just take a deep breath. Calm your mind. And invite Jesus into your circumstances. You’ll actually find that he’s already there.