“We have this totally warped idea of what Christianity should be like when it comes to the public sphere, and it’s mostly about exclusion….no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us. (How does ) a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like (Donald Trump) have any credibility at all among religious people.” – Pete Buttigieg

The Moral Majority, established in 1979, was predominately a Southern-oriented organization of the Republican Party’s Christian Right, but its national influence grew throughout the 1980s to the point where I was embarrassed to call myself a Christian. It was already hard, since I grew up in the Catholic church where only Protestants called themselves Christian. Catholics never did. Because of Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s reclaiming Christianity for the Democratic Party, I can finally come out of the closet. I am a Christian.

When I marched into a church confessional and announced to the priest I no longer believed salvation was available to Catholics only, he said, “then you are no longer a Catholic.” I expected more of an argument, but at age 18, I felt I’d been set free. And adrift.

Until that moment, through all the alcoholic parental rages, multiple midnight moves, changes in schools and churches, only one place made me feel at home—the pew on Sunday morning where I heard Jesus loved me. 

Daniel and Philip Berrigan were my heroes then. The brothers were Catholic priests who’d been convicted of destroying military draft records in protest to the Vietnam war. I searched for a pew in their radical faith, but stumbled instead into the despair of drug and alcohol addiction. Another patriarchal Christian (but non-Catholic) church found me and delivered the familial message, Jesus loves you. Desperate to belong, I swallowed their conservative biblical fundamentalism for four years before I fled that oppressive pew. 

I tried to be a non-churchgoer. It was impossible. I’m at home in a pew on Sunday morning. I sought a simple pew in a simple church. They are easy to find, those simple churches. I hopped from one to the other long enough to know people by their names, feeling satisfied but longing for a more high-octane Jesus message. A lot of post-Watergate Christian pulpits were delivering bromides—safe words and a kindly gospel. Where was the social gospel of the Berrigans, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King? Where were the Christian anarchists?

I lamented to a friend who suggested Fourth Presbyterian Church. For the first few years FourthPresbyterianChurchChicagoat Chicago’s Gold Coast Gothic Revival landmark, I arrived late and left early. I sat in the last pew, never opened the pew Bible, the songbook or recited the prayers. I didn’t belong there. I didn’t have the right clothes, right politics or right job. Indeed, I had no right to sit in well-ordered Presbyterianism.

Gradually I moved closer to the pulpit. I wanted to catch every word of Reverend Elam Davies’ sermons. Davies was slight of build, but a mighty orator. His spoken words came from deep inside his heritage, as if the whole of his native Wales was belting them out.

The first ten minutes of every sermon had me in sorrow. Sorrow for my selfishness, sorrow for my recklessness, sorrow for my sins. The next ten minutes had me laughing. Laughing for joy that Jesus knew all those sorrows and loved me anyway. The last ten minutes moved me to action. Action to protest policies that deprived people of basic human rights, action to help relieve indignities suffered by the victims of such policies.

When Elam Davies retired in 1984, I thought I’d be on the prowl for another pew. But each of the succeeding preachers have delivered similar bedrock messages that tell me every week: Jesus loves you. It’s been almost forty years since I first hid in that pew on North Michigan Avenue. I may not belong there still, but I no longer hide and the preaching makes me feel at home.

9 thoughts on “Out of the Closet: I Am A Christian

  1. Regan, I’m happy for you. To believe in anything, we must begin by asking questions. In the end, our quest for faith is not grounded in the church but in the acceptance that each of us must draw our own conclusions. Thomas Jefferson was very specific about this, “…it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Having rejected the fundamentalism of my childhood upbringing, I arrived at a different conclusion than you. And that is okay, because like you, I am comfortable in that place.

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  2. Of course you belong there, lucky you! Once summer is over & Ocean Grove isn’t an option who knows what I’ll do!
    Jesus and I love you so much!

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  3. I love this essay. Almost makes me want to try church again. Tomorrow jazz service sounds intriguing.

    Sent from my iPad

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  4. I call myself “Christian” cause I don’t do clubs and my prayers come from no book but my own heart, invoked by God’s own Spirit.

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  5. What a privilege to have heard you read your original version of this in class, and then read the much-improved-and-beautifully-written (that’s all one word!) piece you’ve published here. It shows you listened carefully to the questions your fellow writers in class had for you after they heard it Thursday, the piece you’ve written here is so clear. And look at all these comments! you really struck a chord with your audience. Proud of you…hallelujah!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another wonderful essay! Thxs for organizing the Beatle song fest. So great, my only complaint is it should last longer👍

    Jill

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