A first column for a magazine. Do I dip my toes into the pool or jump straight in; amble into the shallow end or rush off the diving board?
Actually, the water metaphor is useful here because if anything characterizes my career, my vocation, my life over the past three years, it has been something akin to baptism.
I became a Christian back in 1984. For most of that time, I worshipped as a Roman Catholic — and a conservative one at that. Good Lord, in many ways I was the point man for orthodox, pedantic Catholicity in Canadian media. As a columnist, television host, author and speaker, I defended positions papal — sometimes in prose purple.
Then came that baptism to which I referred. I’ve tried to explain it numerous times so I won’t elaborate here, but it suddenly appeared to me — in one of those epiphanies that took years — that I had got things profoundly wrong. The Christian faith is not about closing the doors but opening them up so wide they almost break. It’s about inclusion, tolerance, justice, love; a constant reformation of character and a permanent revolution of relationship. Particularly on the topics of human sexuality and social injustice, I felt myself being propelled into something new and quintessentially Christian.
Like many spiritual epiphanies, this one led to the most difficult time of my entire life, and I say that with no risk of hyperbole. Because I now support same-sex marriage and because I believe in a modern, progressive sex-education curriculum, I have been accused of being an abusive father and a sexual criminal. Just last year, someone writing a Facebook post (on the page of a lecturer at one of the country’s leading evangelical colleges) alleged that I was a pedophile. Friends insisted I sue. I didn’t. Nor did I take legal action when these same sorts of people, all boasting of their commitment to Christ, trolled my children’s social media accounts and made repugnant comments. The testing time had become flesh-and-blood reality.
In the past three years, I have tried so hard not to be angry at those conservative Christians with their appalling accusations. And I have tried, in my writing and speaking, to put matters right. On the better days, I believe I have actually done some good. For some people, of course, forgiveness is not on the menu; that’s okay, my food is taken from another place.
Attempting to live an authentic interpretation of Christianity is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. In a paradoxical way, it’s fundamentalism: a belief in the fundamentally true spirit of Jesus’ teaching, rather than an obsession with Old Testament codes that were written largely for the specific challenges of an ancient and radically different time.
As a writer, what I must now do is to remind a complacent world that Christianity is not about clinging to the past, but running to the future; not about preservation, but liberation. Collectively, we must try to reshape the secular perception that we Jesus followers are about anger, nostalgia and formality. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. As Christians, when we jump into that choppy water, we know that there is a life jacket always with us. Forget that fact and we drown. I swim, therefore I am. Thanks be to God.
This column first appeared in The Observer’s December 2016 issue with the title “Swimming against the tide.”