How Do We Speak in Public?

Cup_of_Coffee.GIFI was skimming through Thomas Long’s book Testimony this morning and was intrigued by the opening paragraphs.  Long begins the book by asking how Christians ought to speak about their faith in public.  (This is not a book about mission or evangelism per se.  Rather, he is simply asking the question as to how we are to speak of our faith in God in a public setting.)  I have not read this book.  I am simply thinking about its opening chapter.

A shrewd New Yorker, a person of faith, once wryly noted, "At fashionable dinner parties in this town, you can talk about anything.  You can talk about politics, you can talk about sex, you can talk about anything you want.  But if you mention God more than once, you probably won’t be invited back."

This book is about an important but potentially uncomfortable topic: how ordinary Christians talk about God and faith when they are not in church.  It is about how we put our faith into words when we are at places like dinner parties and neighborhood meetings, how we express our faith when we are talking to our families, with people at work, in social gatherings with our friends, and out in the community.  Talking about God outside of church is a potentially uncomfortable topic because it places many Christians in a bind.  On the one hand, we know that our faith touches everything about life.  It affects our relationships, our politics, the way we spend our money and our time.  How strange if our faith did not show up in our everyday talk.  On the other hand, everybody knows that God and religion, like sex and money, are touchy matters, and speaking about faith in public always runs the risk of offense or even social rejection.  Few people want to wear their religion on their sleeves — or their T shirts — and risk sounding like a "Jesus freak" or committing a social faux pas.  As the New Yorker said, "If you mention God more than once, you probably won’t be invited back."

(Thomas G. Long, Testimony, pp. 3-4)

Have you done much thinking about this?  Have you had similar concerns? 

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8 thoughts on “How Do We Speak in Public?

  1. fashionable dinner parties are very boring…but, the people that are there should not be denied the truth.  there is always the chance that a seed will be planted and you will be invited again and have to go back….but, a chance worth taking. 🙂

  2. One problem is that there are so many dumb (perhaps a better word would be … well, I can’t think of one) things said about God (and I’ve said my share) that sincere, thoughtful, caring Christians feel blocked from saying anything because what they say will immediately be connected with all the bad stereotypes.  It isn’t that they’re afraid or ashamed of truth; but they are ashamed of all the arrogance and ignorance that has been interjected ‘in the name of Jesus’.  I don’t blame them for not wanting to be associated with that.  But still many of my friends “preach Christ and when necessary they use words.”  They are very effective and I praise God for them.  Jim, this is one reason your blog is so helpful.  It helps us understand and communicate the faith more accurately.

  3. Darryl,You bring up such a good point.  How does one be proactive regarding our faith instead of simply reacting to someone else’s failure.  How do I communicate something about God at certain appropriate times without simply reacting. 

  4. I’ve actually been thinking about this recently because of my interactions with co-workers. Politics, sex, and mocking Jesus have come up in conversation around the office, and they all seem to be acceptable topics, but I know it would be seen as un-PC for me to talk about my faith in a positive way. A colleague went on a rant at a staff meeting about how appalled he was that the governor of Georgia was praying for rain on national TV. I end up feeling like we’ve gone out of our way to be tolerant of everyone and everybody, except Christians. 

  5. I have to say, these comments confuse me.  I am a very "out" Christian, and it’s never been a problem.  My church friends wring their hands and say things like "When people ask what we did over the weekend, why don’t we ever say that we went to church?"  I just stare at them.  I talk about spending the weekend on a silent retreat, which is significantly higher on the freak-o-meter than attending Sunday services.  And I quite frequently hear criticism of the conservative chuch — some overblown, much deserved — but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone mocking Jesus in casual conversation.  Do I live in a particularly faith-affirming bubble?  Geographically, that would be surprising.  Or maybe are we in the church very well trained to expect more hostility than actually exists.

  6. kristine,A lot of people reading this (I suspect) can relate to your interactions at work.  I appreciate the way you expressed this.  Again, I think many can relate.For me, I think issue becomes "How?" do I speak.  When communities were very, very similar with less diversity, the how was easier for me to answer.  One of my concerns is that instead of wresting with the "how" question, we see this as either a time to vocal or a time to be silent.  Sometimes, either one of these can be a reaction instead of a response that we have thought through. 

  7. Hi Kristen,You raise some good questions.  I commend you for being a person who desires to speak up about your faith and to engage with others. Probably the contexts of different ones making these comments differs.  I do suspect that there are places where there are strong Christian sub-cultures that may not really reflect the experiences of many other believers.  (In the city where I live for instance, there are a number of these subcultures.  I have to remember that many places in the world and in the USA are just not like that.At the same time, I don’t know that our response ought to be hand wringing.  In what ever setting we would do well to think about what we are saying and the way we are saying it.