Voices of M-A: Sharing My Christian Faith at a Secular School
I have grown up practicing the Christian faith my whole life. My parents attended Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) before I was born and I still call it my church home. From singing songs about Jesus’s love for me to coloring bible story pages at Sunday School I never doubted that this was where I belonged. These were people that loved me and helped shape my faith.
Throughout elementary school and even middle school I attended church on Sunday, listened to my parents’ rules (which didn’t seem much different than those in my friends’ families), and enjoyed being a student in a thriving Menlo Park school system. I knew that I was different from most students at my school in my faith, but I also knew many people who called themselves Christians or went to church with their families. My faith has always been a part of me, but I never thought much about in in regards to the people I went to school with.
I entered high school as I was experiencing a spiritual growth, and my faith became an integral part of my daily life. This new reality differed from elementary and middle school, as I was no longer just a Christian on Sunday, but this was my new identity every day. While this strengthened my resolve to obey God and love others, I also noticed a growing difference between me and my peers.
I began to see people making decisions that I was uncomfortable with, I heard some of my teachers expressing their agnostic views, and above all I began to notice a subtle contempt towards Christians. I observed two commonalities among non-Christians in their perception of us.
Some people labeled us as homophobes, hypocrites, and conservatives who had a narrow view of the world. Whether it was in class discussions where people repeatedly criticized Christians or even just when we spoke about common societal issues such as a woman’s right to have an abortion. It was obvious that the opposing group was wrong, so I never spoke up. The stereotypes people have towards Christians do stem from views we have, they have just been radicalized. I feared that when my classmates heard me express my “Christian” opinion, they would see all of the negative perceptions people have of Christians, just because my beliefs had some relation to these stereotypes. This became a barrier for me to share my faith. I was afraid they would think I was judging them or that I felt superior to them because of my moral beliefs.
MPPC is an accepting community, with members with all different beliefs. However, when I visited more conservative churches, or spoke with conservative Christians, I became uncomfortable, as if I was an outsider because I had more moderate views on topics such as gay marriage and physician-assisted suicide . Their views starkly contrasted the views of my classmates and I felt like these conservative Christians didn’t even want to acknowledge that they could have valid arguments.
I wanted to defend my peers and even agreed with them about some of the criticisms of my faith. I know it is healthy to question my beliefs and not blindly follow religious leaders. However, I felt like non-Christians were poking holes in my faith, pointing out the flaws and I couldn’t help but agree with them.
This angered me. I felt like there were these two different worlds I belonged to. But I had this desperate need to please both of them. And each of them was holding onto me tightly, pulling me apart. Whichever group of people I was with, while I knew my core beliefs, I slightly altered the way I relayed them in order to relate more to that group. Rather than learning how to defend my faith, I felt myself giving in, but secretly judging both groups for their lack of understanding of the other.
However, the second reaction of non-Christians that I observed hurt me much more. When I brought up church or Jesus or the Christian Club that I was going to, I would see this smile emerge on people’s faces. They would laugh and then try to make a joke about it. Some people are just uncomfortable with me talking about God in such a personal way, and I understand that. But others are just so completely convinced that God is either nonexistent or not present that anyone who believes in Him is somehow irrational or even stupid. I have always loved learning and intellectual discussions, and I believe God gave me this passion in order to carry out His will. However, when I start discussions with people about my faith, and they give me their well thought out, memorized, maybe even researched explanation of why the very thing that I base my whole life on is a complete lie, it’s hard for me to express my beliefs. Because I don’t have scientific proof for God’s existence, and I am unable to substantially argue against them in a way that will please them, they think this justifies their laughter and lack of interest in continuing the conversation.
One thing that did surprise me was that when I shared my beliefs with classmates in subtle, personal ways, by telling someone I would pray for them or expressing my genuine concern over their struggles, trying to act like Jesus would, I got a lot of great reception. I saw respect and even intrigue. Maybe they didn’t want to go to church with me, but they asked questions or told me they admired my devotion to God.
Despite all of these obstacles, learning how to speak about my faith to non-Christians has been life-altering. God calls us to share our faith. If I stayed in my Christian bubble I wouldn’t be able to have my faith challenged and then have it have it grow stronger as a result. And I would just be further perpetuating the stereotype of Christians as a judgmental, condemning clique.
Throughout this journey, I have been blessed to have a supportive group of friends who remind me that I’m not alone. All of us wrestle with trying to live out our faiths in a high school environment. They have shown me that the best way to share our faith is through love. Rather than focusing on which views are right, if we remember to show God’s love and grace, the small disagreements do not matter comparatively. This is not easy, especially in a secular school with people from all different backgrounds and strongly-held beliefs. However, I know that my unique position allows me to reach both groups of people, and hopefully begin to bridge the gap between them.