It’s no secret that both of my degrees have something to do with theology/Christian ministry. If people ask me what I went to school for, or what I have my degrees in I tell them, and Kristen does as well. What is interesting is how some have reacted to this knowledge over the years.
Most of the time when it comes up in conversation with people I don’t know or don’t spend a lot of time around the reactions aren’t too interesting. They either have no idea of what my degrees are for, and if they do they usually think I’m going to be a priest. That’s fairly close, so we eventually wind up at an understanding.
Kristen has had a more interesting reaction to this information happen over the years. A number of times this has led people to be very concerned about their behavior or language in Kristen’s presence because of what I went to school for. This reaction is probably because Kristen interacts with them enough that they worry, but don’t necessarily know me all that well. Of course, this hasn’t been the reaction of everyone, but it has been a rather consistent reaction that has come up throughout the years.
To be honest this reaction gives me mixed feelings. It somewhat amuses me to think that people really care that much about what I think about them simply because of what I went to school for. I mean it’d be the equivalent of apologizing to me for every poor health decision you make because Kristen has a job in the medical field. It sounds pretty silly right?
As time has gone on though, this reaction has started to make me uncomfortable. It’s a reaction that reveals the impression Christians and that pastors and Christian leaders may give off. That we are highly offended by swearing, certain types of jokes, and maybe even more than that. Now certain types of jokes may be offensive and swearing may not be my favorite way of communicating, but at the same time I’m not sure I need to be apologized to, especially by proxy, for it.
My worry in all this is that this is a reaction to the way Christians and Christian leaders react to the world around them. That we’re quick to be offended and even be upset with others for not upholding our values. That we’d rather have people craft and hide behind masks instead of being honest with where they are right now.
If this is true then we’re encouraging dishonesty simply so that things can appear proper, sanctified, holy, or whatever word you want to fill in there. Isn’t there something profoundly wrong with that? It is this possibility that really troubles me about the reaction to what I studied in school. I mean I’m not even an official pastor at this point and that’s already the reaction?
The funny thing is, there isn’t much I can do to change this in any widespread manner. People have their impressions of Christianity and there is little I can do to change that for people I haven’t met yet. It comes from their experience or what they’ve heard or read about.
The only real solution is to get to know people, this is really the only way to have people know if their fears are validated or not. The only way people may move past the labels we represent, the subject we studied, or the profession we have is to replace it with knowing us. I’m not sure that makes me feel better about the reactions I get to my degree nor does it hinder my discomfort with the title of pastor before my name if that ever happens (but that may be something to talk about another time), but it is really the only way to combat it.
If we want to be viewed as people who are safe and worthy of respect and openness, we have to prove it. The reputations of both safe and unsafe Christians precede all of us. I have to be able to show what type I am, or at least if I’m more one than the other. It may be a rather slow and messy way to go, but it’s really the only one that I can think of.