During my junior year of high school, I had an English teacher who wielded her red pen with the ferocity of a samurai wielding a sword. Our papers would come back bleeding red, but among all of her corrections, there was one we most dreaded to see scribbled in the margin: SNT. A “show-not-tell” comment meant that we had only described an idea rather than demonstrating it through example or story. We all hated SNT comments because they meant our teacher expected a substantial rewrite. In her opinion, telling constituted the laziest, most unsophisticated sort of writing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my faith in the way I think about my writing. Our country finds itself in a season of telling Christianity—a time when followers believe the hallmark of good faith is to posture about its importance and how far they would go to defend it. The past year has seen a string of Christian posturing: Bathroom bills. Religious freedom laws. Anti-Muslim sentiments. Kim Davis. Telling Christianity claims to protect the fidelity of the religion, but in reality it draws protective barriers around it that identify who is in and who is out.
The problem with telling Christianity is that it becomes a religion about religion. It puts all of its energy in supporting the facade of faith rather than submitting to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It becomes an empty husk. There’s nothing wrong with family values or child protections except when these ideals become the rallying cry of Christianity or, worse yet, become a wall designed to keep others out. Our values should be an extension of our faith, not the measuring stick we use to determine who is a Christian and who is not.
As my former teacher might put it, telling Christianity constitutes the laziest, most unsophisticated sort of faith. It draws neat lines with defined rules. It makes the Bible a reference book, with all answers easily accessible by finding the right passage. There is no critical thinking, because others have already done that for us, and there’s no great mystery, because God is easily known and understood. It’s comfortable faith. It’s easy. It’s inside the box.
Part of the reason Constantino and I wanted to begin writing about our marriage was to practice showing Christianity. In the midst of the Christian rules against same-sex unions and subsequent misperceptions about their inherently debauched nature, we wanted to offer our lives and our relationship as one example of what a gay union could actually look like. We wanted to invite people into the sloppy, imperfect experience of relationship and love, especially for those who have never witnessed same-sex relationship up close. I’ve never pictured myself going into ministry, and I’ve never had a strong draw to missions or activism, but more and more I see a calling to simply live by example, and to show other Christians that godly same-sex union is possible by being (uncomfortably) open with our process. Our relationship is far from perfect; it suffers the same pitfalls and challenges of straight relationships. And I guess that’s our point: to show others how normal it is.
What if we all became better showing Christians? What if we became less concerned with asserting our Christianity than practicing it? It’s harder than it sounds. Showing Christianity requires extending grace beyond which we are comfortable, loving in ways that are inconvenient, and even acting sometimes in a manner that may be unpopular. It requires tearing down the walls that make our world so comfortably compartmentalized: gay-straight, Christian-Muslim, black-white, conservative-liberal, have-have-not. It requires us to let go of the life preserver we know as rules and trust that God will buoy us regardless of where we drift in a boundless ocean.
“Show-not-tell” has become a kind of mantra for me over the past couple of years. I try to ask myself how I can show the people I encounter that I’m a person of faith without ever saying the words. It has caused me to think more critically about how I behave toward people and the choices I make. It has, in truth, revealed all sorts of ugliness in me. When my witness is stripped of Christian platitudes and justifications, and limited to simply how I treat other human beings, I’m confronted with all of the subtle ways in which I ignore, belittle, and dehumanize others—especially those most in need of God's love.
The secular world would have a far more favorable view of Christianity if we were better at showing them the fruits of our faith rather than telling them how they need to conform to belong. The Christian dialogue today would be less about creating laws to protect our faith and more about breaking down barriers to allow our faith to spill out into the rest of the world. But that kind of approach requires a humility in admitting that the current draft of our personal faith is faulty, and too many of us are unwilling to undertake so extensive a rewrite.