My earliest exposure to Christianity, that I can recall, was attending Sunday school at our Lutheran church. My recollections do not go back farther than that. I can “see” myself sitting in the Sunday school classroom listening to our teacher. I remember him quite well. His name was George Howard.
He and Mrs. Howard always had us in the class over to their home often. They were a very nice couple. I remember staying in touch with them even after finishing their Sunday school class. Mrs. Howard I recall was older that Mr. Howard. I remember she was born in the late 1800s. She was the first person I had ever grown up knowing from the 19th Century.
I only slightly remember going through the Confirmation process and performing the traditional Altar boy duties. I recall that a young girl was my partner in these duties. We donned the traditional service robes, lit candles, etc. We might have read some Bible passages on Sunday mornings. I remember being very involved in church, classes, social events, etc, though I cannot say that they were necessarily voluntary until I was in my early teens.
I cannot say I even remember my Confirmation ceremony. Although , I later learned–much later, that my mother was what one might call a devout Lutheran, with her mother coming from Austria, the goings on at church provided my only role model for Christianity.
My mother and I would attend church every Sunday many times without my father who was off fighting in Vietnam. I can recall two events with my father during the Vietnam war–the last time he left for Vietnam and when he came home–to stay.
Looking back on it now, I cannot tell you whether or not I fully understood Christianity. I can tell you that the older I got, the more I realized I had no connection with church outside of my parents. Which, considering my mother was a devout Lutheran, I see it as quite odd that she did not model the Christian faith to me nor did my father. All I knew was that we were to go to church on Sunday mornings.
My first exposure to a non-Christian? That’s an interesting question. I’m not certain that I could give an adequate answer to such a question. Growing up in the 60s and 70s I wouldn’t be able to say. Such discussions just didn’t take place among my friends and I. Even going through high school and some college, I do not recall such discussions ever cropping up–as to one’s religion. All I was aware of in my youth was that we were to go to church on Sunday mornings.
In all honesty, since leaving the church scene in my later high school years and joining the workforce, I never gave God or church much thought at all. No, not proud to admit that but it is the truth. I was already working prior to leaving high school and never did anything else. My wife and I started a family when I was barely in my twenties. While the retail industry may not have been my first choice, that’s where I was and what I knew. Entering management relatively young, I spent the next 40 years working weekends, holidays, evenings missing all the children’s birthdays, school and sporting events.
I can only guess that I undoubtedly knew many non-Christians. As I sit here writing, I am just recalling something we did as a church youth group. This was probably the last thing I remember before we moved away and left the church I had grown up in. It was a number of trips that we made to other churches. While I cannot recall what specific denominations or religions we visited each week, I do recall us visiting a Synagogue–perhaps Mormons. I cannot recall more.
I do have a sister-in-law with a Jewish husband. I am not versed on his devotion to his Jewish faith. I know my nieces have learned some of it over their years growing up. However, he does not mind going to Catholic church with the family. (My wife and her family are Catholic).
I have a friend (Saul) that is a Messianic Jew and I know his father works with Jews for Jesus. Over the years my friend Saul and several others (all Christian but different denominations) have had some interesting discussions about religion, but nothing too deep.
Nearly a hundred percent of my interactions with non-Christians over the past decade or so has been through the internet–through various Facebook groups. This is where I learned that all Christians may have been created equal but certainly did not act it.
Many of the people (more often than not) on the internet claiming to be Christians have attitudes–bad ones. No, it’s not a confidence they have. They are not afraid to try and convince you that “they” were standing next to God Himself when He created man. I would consider many of them as of the likes of Calvin, in that they would quickly and happily burn you at the stake. If I had any notions or views of Christians that I was well aware of, these people are no doubt the ones who rub many other people the wrong way about Christianity.
I see an entire spectrum currently of Christianity, from those on the extreme left and religiously liberal, the extreme on the right and their refusal to bend and everyone caught in the middle. I really tend to ignore those with the “everything they say is written in stone” attitude. I will not engage them. They do not have any desire to hear differing views. Their only purpose is to “tell you how it is.”
It is also through internet interactions that I see those claiming to be non-Christian really take confessed Christians to town. Apparently, according to non-Christians, Christianity is fine unless you’re “educated” and “know” differently. I have rarely if ever heard a non-Christian say or write something good about Christians. I find it quite interesting to learn that most of these non-Christians are not just people of other faiths but merely Atheists and Agnostics.
I’ve learned over the years that there are a myriad of Christians. Knowing the difference between them helps me learn how to interact with them. For example, I’ve had discussions with Christians who simply do not want to be associated with the “Christian” label. They are not church goers but will attend a small Bible Study group. Then we have the extremes of liberalism and conservatism.
Now, If someone were to ask me what shaped my attitude towards Christians, I must respond with “Christians.” How could Christians attend church every Sunday morning and by Monday morning fail to exhibit any of their Christianity. By the time they reached work on Monday morning they had already shed their Christian faith. If I could point to anything that shaped my view of Christianity it would be this.
©2022 Clayton Moore for Mission in the Western World essay.
(As was previously submitted towards requirement for MA. Min.)