Anonymous

I recently stumbled into a blog called jesus needs new pr via twitter (I love twitter. You need to join, seriously). Today, Matthew offered a thought-provoking post that compares porn and the church. He does so by telling of his own experience walking into an adult store for the first time and the anonymity of that experience. He writes,

Because in reality, the porn industry has more in common with the church than some might realize. Not only do they sell a lot of the same ideas, many of us who go to church every Sunday, do so as anonymous people. Sure, church members know our names and faces and certain parts of our stories, but they don’t really know us. We fear what would happen if they really knew us. So parts of our lives remain anonymous, invisible to the outside world. And many of us, have become so used to hiding behind “fake smiles” and “I.P. address” that we’re okay with being anonymous. Frankly, we prefer it. So I ask, are you living anonymously?

But even more thought-provoking for me than the post itself is the first comment left by a woman who goes by ttm, who writes:

I’m struggling lately because I am craving anonymity in my small group. I’m tired of being honest about what I really think and having people in the group look at me as if I am strange and fetish-plagued for what I believe about the Bible or God or politics or the world. I’m tired of being told that my views aren’t valid because they don’t match church group-think. I’m tired of my views being used as litmus tests for my salvation and measures of someone else’s idea of spiritual maturity […]

When I’m honest and really seeking to have questions answered–looking for the next wrinkle in my story or still entangled in the last one–these people make me feel dirty for doing it. When I’m not honest–when I sit there silently and they think I agree with the B.S. being spouted in the “name of God”–my own conscience makes me feel dirty.

So if I speak up, I’m labeled strange and dirty (“Liberal” or “Heretic”) and if I don’t speak up, I feel strange and dirty (“Hypocrite” or “Coward”). What’s a girl to do? The only sensible thing seems to run […]

But there aren’t very many Christians that I find myself running toward these days. Most Christians only want to be my friend if I’m theologically brilliant, financially able and willing to support their pet causes, and agree with every jot and title of their assessment of what makes a “TRUE” Christian. Otherwise, I might as well go lurk at the adult store.

At least there I might strike up a relationship with someone a little more like me–flawed and seeking something more, but not needing to shop in the costume section because I’ve already purchased, used, and tried out every available mask.

I realized after reading ttm’s words that in my own way, I’ve also been living anonymously – for many of the same reasons. So the question I want to ask is not, “Are you living anonymously?” (even though that question is obviously important) But “Why are you living anonymously if you are?”

And what does it say about the church when it’s the last place that people seeking answers want to go?

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5 thoughts on “Anonymous

  1. This is a striking comparison. I have chosen an anonymous entity for just the same reasons, although as a clergyman, I also think about protecting my livelihood. It’s really a shame. The church depends on people like me to spend time thinking freely, but it gets threatened if I suggest thoughts outside of the conventional.

    People are quick to say these days that ministers are human, too, and they shouldn’t be put on a pedestal. But they don’t want to see their ministers be frail or struggle. A few years back I revealed to my congregations some of my depressive issues, and THEY went crazy. I’ll never do it again publically–I’ll lie if I have to.

  2. I’ve had a lot of conversations with other people about Christians and their attitudes to relationships, personalities and what we expect others to be. I know just where this girl is coming from, having lived that way for years myself. I did so because I knew that my true self would have been systematically attacked as evil, fallen and in need of complete change in the church where I was. Keeping quiet meant I just got the general guilt-trips (wolf in the fold, lukewarm, not contributing to the body etc), not the very personal, specific ones. I still have to be careful not to openly criticise my old church by name or to my acquaintances or family still there because I know that my family may be pressured to cut me off. For my own good, of course, that I may experience God’s judgement and see that that church is the only way I can be saved…

    Looking at the wider church, I’ve seen lots of Christians who are so much a part of the specific culture that they don’t even realise that there might be other points of view that are perfectly legitimate on a whole range of things, not just on hot-button topics like creationism, but a whole, all-encompassing set of assumptions about the only right way to live your life and how people operate. The expectations to match that culture are very strong in some places – not just in specific insular sub-cultures like where I was. I tend to find that the people who I really get along with and understand are those who either came to it late or spent some time away from it, because they have some perspective outside the culture.

    Somehow, I lucked out (why me?, I can’t help asking), and found a place where some of the people are like that, but not all, and specifically not the senior pastor. I would probably have a standup fight with the assistant pastor and his particular brand of assumptions within two weeks if he were in charge, but there are others who are perfectly fine with someone who asks questions and expresses their issues, and I have done so consistently since I started there, so people are used to it by now and even have some respect for it. It possibly helps that most people know my background – maybe I’m just a token odd person!

    1. Aww, thanks CG! It appears that I’ve decided to stick around, so there’s no getting rid of me for the moment 🙂 I’ve discovered it’s both much more fun and much easier to just be me, and let the consequences be what they may.

      Actually, there’s an interesting discussion to be had in the concept of anonymous church-going, and that is what exactly should church be about? I’ve got this weird belief that there’s no point going to church unless it’s part of your community, or to put is slightly differently, you are looking to be part of the community of the church. I recently had a conversation with a friend who started going to church a couple of years ago (he was a nominal Catholic before that, hadn’t been to church for years). He specifically chose a mega-church on the basis that he could just go, and not actually have to interact with anyone. I just can’t do that – my problem is finding people with whom I actually want to hang out and share my life with, rather than feeling forced into an artificial relationship. Somewhere there’s a happy medium, but it seems to be particularly difficult to find in the church.

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