By Ashley Lamb
It seems like “millennials” like to claim identities.
(Except for when we don’t want to be labeled. And except for the label “millennial.”)
Because of my educational background, career path and general passions, I like to claim identities related to social justice, such as feminist, ally, advocate, and the like.
Here’s what I struggle to claim: Christian.
Saying it feels strange on my tongue and makes my insides clench. As I claim it, I feel a myriad of caveats, justifications and explanations rising from my chest and spilling from my mouth that I cannot control. I recently read that “the most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not explain herself,” but this sure feels like something I must explain — both to those who don’t share the identity and to those who do.
My religious upbringing was largely in a white, upper-middle class, conservative, evangelical church. I believed “all the things” the Christian leaders in my life told me because it was largely the only voice I heard — and it was certainly the loudest.
They told me that as a woman, I would need to “submit” to my future husband as the spiritual leader of our household. I could never hold leadership titles such as “pastor” or “elder,” and I could never speak onstage unless it was Mother’s Day or I was accompanied by my father or husband. Of course, if I were to be onstage, I should ensure that my clothes were not too tight, too revealing or too sexy. Heaven forbid I cause one of one of my brothers in Christ to “stumble” because I have boobs. If there were ever questions about sexism or inequality, we were reminded that “men and women are equal in the eyes of God,” but that there are different expectations between the two as they hold different roles in the church and in society. (Does something smell a bit like “separate but equal” here, or is it just me?).
They also taught me that LGBTQ+ individuals were making a “choice” and could be “healed” from their sin, and that poverty was in many aspects a “moral problem,” but by far the most essential belief is that we were right. We had the answers, and anyone who believed otherwise was misled at best, a “false prophet” at worst. When 18-year-old me met people like 25-year-old me, there were fervent prayers about “backsliding” and “lost souls.”
“Here's what I struggle to claim: Christian.”
As I moved through college, I began to drastically reconsider many things I had always believed and assumed to be true. I started out with beliefs related to social issues such as race relations, poverty, criminal justice, LGBTQ+ issues and women’s equality. Somewhere around my junior year (when the above picture was taken), many of my most tightly held beliefs began to crumble as I started to delve deeper into heavier theological issues.
I won’t get into them too much here, but it will suffice to say that there are many Christians who would not hesitate to label my beliefs “heretical.”
I admit that in many ways, I do feel like a “lost soul.” Being a part of a church community has been an integral part of my life since before I can remember. From growing up in Western Michigan, to spending six years in Ann Arbor for college, and now living in Northern Michigan, it is something that I have always craved. I’m not sure how to go about life without it. The church is where I have forged most of my deepest and most meaningful relationships. Although my husband and I have found a church where we feel welcome and where we know our beliefs will be heard without judgement, the reality is that I will probably never again feel at ease entering a Christian community that I am unfamiliar with.
One of the caveats I feel I must explain: I recognize this struggle is one of privilege. In the U.S., I am still the majority in the basics of my religious beliefs. The religious holidays I observe are woven tightly into our culture. My Sabbath day gives me free parking, a day off work and brunch specials. I don’t fear hate crimes or that a political leader will create a registry to track and control me based on my beliefs.
My “otherness” has become increasingly obvious to me as I hear “liberal” used as a derogatory word by people who love me and could never imagine that I would fall into that category because I go to church on Sundays. It becomes increasingly more uncomfortable as conversations with friends and family revolve around beliefs they assume we all share. There is no space for dissent because who could deny the truth?
I remember a key moment in my spiritual journey. It was my freshman year of college, and I was at the peak of my religious fervor. I was contemplating the afterlife and the importance of “sharing the gospel” with people so that they could spend eternity with God in Heaven.
I recall thinking to myself: This is what makes life worth living. If I didn’t have this belief, my life would be completely meaningless. I can never turn away from this faith, because after having experienced such an important calling, I’ll always know something is missing if I walk away.
It may sound depressing, but honestly, at the time it was invigorating and empowering. I was certain that I had found the deepest meaning of life and that it would guide me until the day I died.
Fast forward only five years, and I’ve found myself very close to that place where I said I’d never go — my faith is nearly unrecognizable to the faith I’d known before. My beliefs and the way I practice them are so radically different, it feels strange to even call myself “Christian” anymore.
“Somewhere around my junior year (when the above picture was taken), many of my most tightly held beliefs began to crumble as I started to delve deeper into heavier theological issues.”
This is what I claim.
I am an unapologetic feminist.
In the Christian sphere, my feminism means that I also am egalitarian. I believe that it is detriment to the gospel and tantamount to spiritual abuse that women are not permitted in leadership in so many churches across the world, and that they are taught that their bodies are dangerous and they must “submit” to the leadership of their spouses rather than being equal partners.
I believe that racial reconciliation is one of the most important things that our society can work towards. I believe that the universal Church — all people who call themselves Christians or claim to follow Jesus and/or the Bible, regardless of denomination — should be on the forefront of that movement, making active efforts to reflect the diversity of God’s kingdom and seriously questioning why Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.
I desire to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, and to those who also claim the identity “Christian,” I fully affirm them as members and leaders of the Church body.
I believe that we as Christians can learn so much from our Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and atheist brothers and sisters if we can only learn to open our hearts and minds.
And yes, I am a Christian. As screwed up as the Church is, and as much damage as it’s done, I still believe in it. I have seen the Church do good. I have seen incredible communities form and unbelievable healing happen within. I truly believe that at its best, the Church is something special. When it’s healthy, I haven’t found anything else quite like it.
I was wrong when I thought life without my narrow little faith would be meaningless.
I still don’t know where exactly I am, or where I’m going for that matter. I know that I’m moving towards a faith that is bigger, more inclusive and less defined. I hold nearly everything with open hands.
In so many ways, my life has never been more meaningful.
Ashley Lamb is an enthusiastic consumer of good books, good food and good conversation. She works in the child welfare system as an adoption specialist in Traverse City, Michigan, where she lives with her husband and their two fur-babies, Lilo and Stitch.