I never walked the walk
Author and former L.A. Times religion reporter William Lobdell, in this interview, mentions “cultural Christians” — professing believers who may enjoy certain aspects of the Christian lifestyle or culture but who are essentially (behaviorally, in most ways that matter) the same as the non-Christians around them. That is how I was as a Christian.
Consider the following:
- I never willingly ‘tithed’ a full 10 percent of my income to a church or any other charitable effort. At certain points in my life, I ‘tithed’ reluctantly; even then, I looked for loopholes to reduce my ‘tithe liability.’
- I never spent significant time, money or energy on feeding the hungry, fighting injustice, or otherwise helping strangers (or friends) in need. I certainly have not given up all worldly possessions!
- I never gave a stranger my coat.
- I never turned the other cheek to an assailant.
- I never sincerely forgave anyone for a major transgression against me.
The only area of life where I showed much obedience to God was in overt religious behaviors, such as church attendance, youth group leadership and evangelism — and those only sporadically, not throughout my life as a Christian.
I really amped up the religion during Operation Desert Shield, 1990. Camping out in Saudi Arabia, waiting for a war to start, I felt I had a lot of time on my hands. So I went to chapel services every chance I got, hung out with the chaplains, and got together nearly every night with Christian friends for Bible studies, impromptu worship services and very deep discussions about God.
I also became a bolder evangelist, sharing my Christianity with almost everyone I encountered (inside the camp, at least). In my mind, at the time, there was no higher priority than helping my buddies get squared away for the afterlife, since we were all probably heading into the “mother of all battles.”
One problem with this approach, in my case, was that I was less than proficient at my main job (interpreter) and my secondary job (ammunition loader on a Bradley fighting vehicle). I should have spent least some of my free time improving my Arabic and practicing loading ammunition. Even if I had been highly skilled at both, I should have been motivated to (apologies in advance) ‘be all I could be.’ Being a good soldier, for the sake of the whole unit, was as much a moral duty as being an evangelist. But I was cocky and lacked self-discipline, and saving souls was much more exciting than doing homework.
For all my efforts, no one even had what I would consider a genuine conversion. So in that situation, given immense freedom to spend my time however I liked, I chose to narrow the range of my ‘work’ to religious activities that, frankly, didn’t do anyone any practical or spiritual good.
Several years later, as a civilian, I had the good fortune to be hired as a copy editor at a regional newspaper in Southern California. Eventually, I moved into a position where I was allowed to do some entertainment reporting. Again, I donned the evangelist hat. I strove to cover Christian musicians, and movies and television shows that had something to do with religion. I felt it was my duty to ‘use my position’ to advance the Christian worldview, and unfortunately, this went largely unchecked. Eventually, a subscriber wrote, in a letter to the editor, “Christians aren’t the only ones who read the paper.” (That was an eye opener. I ratcheted back the evangelistic campaign and started focusing more on ‘witnessing’ purely through being a good reporter and a nice person in the workplace.)
Apart from those experiences, the only things that have set me apart from a typical nonbeliever have been my church attendance and my participation in home Bible studies. In the past several years, I have not even done those things regularly.
I say all this not to point out my inadequacy as a person but to dispel the idea that I’ve abandoned a dynamic, effectual ‘Christian walk.’ If I ever was a believer, my belief took me only to a point of selective obedience that had little positive effect on the ‘unsaved.’