Am I ashamed?

Photo: Ian Keefe, Unsplash. Photo: Ian Keefe, Unsplash.

My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun.
I live without them and walk in the light.
I like the Christian life.
— Charlie and Ira Louvin

Six years ago, I pulled up to a stoplight and noticed the car in front of me had a vanity license plate that read, “Romans 1:16.”

My heart sank. Not Romans 1.

At the time, the whole world seemed to be arguing about same-sex marriage after the Supreme Court deemed it legal, and I was hyper-attuned to that particular biblical reference.

Romans 1 is the chapter that describes people who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness [and] malice,” along with other negative attributes.

That the driver of this car chose to prioritize what I believe to be a grossly misunderstood passage of Scripture that is used against LGBTQ people filled me with sadness and shame.

Luckily, I was wrong. I went home and looked up the verse and, as some of you already knew or guessed, it has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

Romans 1:16 reads, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”

How ironic that I was ashamed of a Bible verse that proudly proclaims being unashamed.

I’ve thought about that car with its Bible verse over the years; I don’t think it’s an overreach to say it’s haunted me at times. What does it mean to not be ashamed of the gospel? Am I ashamed?

I consider myself an unapologetic follower of Jesus with deeply held convictions that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, the Bible is true and the Holy Spirit is real.

And yet . . .

Very little in my life superficially identifies me as Christian: no bumper stickers, religious plaques on the walls or clothing with Christian slogans. I tell myself that I just don’t aesthetically enjoy those things. But I know there is an element of self-protection. What if people think less of me or assume things about me that aren’t true?

I don’t hide my faith. It often comes up in conversations that I am an active member of a church. But it is only in deeper conversations that I’ll say, “I’m a Christian,” and it is always, I’ll admit, with some trepidation that the other person will turn chilly or hostile or dismissive. Why is that?
I fear someone will think I’m nuts for believing a man came back to life and currently exists in a realm we can’t see.

I don’t want people to think I’m a hateful, judgmental person because I believe in heaven — and hell.
I don’t want to be perceived as a hypocrite who talks about helping the least of these but owns three cars (hey, we have four drivers now!) and remodels a kitchen that was functioning just fine.

It doesn’t help that in the U.S. politics and religion are intertwined, which makes everyone defensive.
These days it feels like people are careful to project the “right kind of Christian” image. I overheard a woman telling someone she was concerned her church’s food booth at a charity event was conflated with the church booth right beside her where people were passing out rainbow pins with the pulled pork sandwiches. Or the woman who told me her church had refused to financially support a nonprofit women’s health clinic because the church took a pro-life stance.

Maybe a timely bumper sticker version of Romans 1:16 would be: For I am not ashamed of other Christians.

Over the years I’ve decided to shift my focus from the shame part of the verse to the latter part — the gospel. What is the good news that makes me a Christian and proud to be one? I’ve tried to be prepared to articulate this in language others can grasp. (“By his blood he purchased me” just doesn’t compute anymore.) So here goes:

It is good news that a loving Creator set this world into motion and cares what happens to it. It is good news that we are sinners yet capable of living beautiful, righteous lives. It is good news that Jesus Christ established an upside-down kingdom, where strength and power come through sacrificial love, not violence, and where authority is held by being a servant, not one who dominates and controls. It is good news that God’s justice is mercy, God’s love is boundless and, always and everywhere, God’s hand holds us fast. This is the gospel, and I am not ashamed.

Kevin & Sarah Kehrberg

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

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