'Coming Out Of The Closet' ... As A Christian

For years, Ada Calhoun chose to downplay or hide her faith from friends, many of whom are liberals. But she recently decided to 'fess up and "come out of the closet" as a Christian. Host Michel Martin talks with Calhoun, who recently wrote about the reaction she received when she disclosed her faith and why she hid it for so long.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now a different conversation about conflicting visions of faith. When you think about somebody coming out of the closet, you might think of gays and lesbians choosing to disclose their sexual identities, for example.

But writer Ada Calhoun says she recently came out of a different closet. For years, she chose to downplay or hide her religious faith. But now, she is coming out loud and proud as a Christian. And she joins us to talk about it and the article she wrote about this for the online publication salon.com. Welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. ADA CALHOUN (Writer and editor): Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: Well, I dont know how loud you are you going to be.

Ms. CALHOUN: I know, I was going to say not very loud.

MARTIN: Not very loud.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: For some people, Im sure that this piece probably seems absurd. I mean you live in a majority Christian country. You dont live under a repressive, anti-religious regime. This is not North Korea. So, I think a lot of people would wonder how is it possible that you would feel uncomfortable talking about being a Christian? They can see, well, maybe being Wiccan or something that a lot of people dont understand.

Ms. CALHOUN: I did that in high school.

MARTIN: Okay. So, could you - so tell me about that. Why would it be uncomfortable to be public about your Christian faith?

Ms. CALHOUN: Well, the part of New York City that Im in. Its, you know, my husband is an artist and Im a writer and our friends are predominantly liberal, and I think Christianity has a very bad rap in this community. I mean a lot of our friends are gay, a lot of our friends fled heavily Christian parts of the country, come to New York as a kind of refuge for people who thought differently.

And so I think to come out around them and say oh, by the way, Im just like those people you grew up around, would be very threatening and so I havent really mentioned that around them. And its just been a very kind of awkward thing whenever religion comes up, where they start talking about how stupid people are who believe in God and...

MARTIN: Well, hold on a second. People asked me to come out - and I will tell you that Im thinking of a colleague of mine, for example, who professes Evangelical Christian faith who is a reporter friend of mine, who said that colleagues have said to her, wait a minute, you went to college and you believe that?

Ms. CALHOUN: Its very common right now. The atheism is really on the rise, I think the sort of vocal atheism because of all these new books and movies. And so I think the people may be who would have been agnostic before are now sort of militantly atheist. And it just has seeped into, you know, common conversation where they can make this assumption that if youre educated, if youre liberal, if you live in New York, if youre in the arts that probably youre not going to church on Sunday.

MARTIN: Well, what do you say, in fact let me read the first line of your piece. You said it was Sunday morning in my scruffy Brooklyn New York neighborhood and I was wearing a dress, walking through the subway, I ran into a friend heading home from yoga class. She wore sweats and carried her mat over her shoulder. Where are you going so early on all dressed up, she asked chuckling, to church? We shared a laugh at the absurdity of a liberal New Yorker heading off to worship the real joke, I totally was.

But what about that, taking it from the other perspective, there are those who would say, its absurd for you to hide something that you feel is important to you and how can these people really be your friends, if they cant accept you in your totality.

Ms. CALHOUN: Well, you know, I did eventually come out to her. She is actually editor of this piece. So Solange(ph) is a very old friend of mine. And, you know, we were having drinks one night and I said, you know, by the way, I just want to tell you like I actually was going to church. And she goes, wow, wow, like it just kind of blew her mind as this really crazy, crazy thing.

And she told me, why I was, you know, secretive about it and it was sort of an awkward thing where she went back and thought, like, about all the time, she may be casually just said, oh, you know, basically religious people are crazy because most of the religious people she knew were crazy. And we had, like, a really good conversation about it. And shes still my friend. And so, it is one of those things where it just kind of builds up.

Like, if you have been hiding it for a long time and to finally come out, its just is, its a little embarrassing. I mean its embarrassing to begin with because, like you said, people whove gone to college are sort of not supposed to be part of this, you know, crowd of believers.

MARTIN: But you also go into detail about the things that you say, from your own part, distress you about a certain kind of religious fervor - right-wing conservatives using the Gospel to push their agenda, bombing abortion clinics, the anti-gay-marriage movement. So do you find that what your search now is for a middle ground where one can express one's faith without being seen as one of them?

Ms.�CALHOUN: Yes, that's the goal. It just, it occurred to me that religion and this kind of conversation has been really hijacked by both sides. So you have these, you know, the militant Christians, who tell everybody who's not thinking the way they are that you're going to hell, and then you have the militant atheists now, led by this sort of new atheist movement of Richard Dawkins and all.

And you have the two sides just basically both being incredibly vehement in what they believe, and it leaves people who are still struggling to find faith feeling a little bit like a freak who's not represented. So that was why I wanted to do this story.

MARTIN: But on the other hand, there are those who would argue that if one has found something that is truly life-changing and profound, why wouldn't you share it? I mean, the Gospel of Matthew, which of course I know you're familiar with, says: Neither do men light a candle and put it on a bushel but on a candlestick, and it gives light to all that are in the house.

So I think there are those who would argue that you're really not professing your faith if you're not willing to at least own it and declare it.

Ms.�CALHOUN: Yeah, and it's funny because I talk to when I talked to my priest, I sort of was expecting her to kind of break out the bushel story and say you have to tell, you have to, like, mission, you have to tell people, and she said the opposite. You know, I think she quoted St.�Francis and said preach constantly. If necessary, use words.

MARTIN: Well, now that you're out...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What do you think is going to be different?

Ms.�CALHOUN: I think probably not that much. I mean, maybe I can relax a little more now, not feeling this obligation to hide it and things being a little bit less awkward, I hope.

MARTIN: Do you think there might be a middle ground, as it were, between how can we put it? sort of a bullying, a belligerent faith, and a passive faith that allows itself to be ignored?

Ms.�CALHOUN: That's my hope. I mean, I'm very happy not ever talking about it. I mean, I feel like socially, it's one of those things like, you know, finances or sex that you're not supposed to talk about at dinner parties, and I'm totally in favor of that. I think basically, like, I would really just as soon never, ever talk about it.

MARTIN: But isn't it fundamentally inauthentic to not claim a part of your which presumably has some deep meaning to you? I mean, it's like not talking about your kids, isn't it?

Ms.�CALHOUN: There's something to be said for not talking about your kids too much, too, I think. You know, I think a lot of things that are really personal you talk about with your closest friends. You don't necessarily share with everybody.

I just wrote a parenting book called "Instinctive Parenting" that's coming out in March from Simon & Schuster, and one thing I think is that the parenting culture has really taken over in this way, too, where people want to talk about their kids constantly.

And you know, again, like, most of our friends don't have children, and I think that can be pretty annoying, too...

MARTIN: Maybe that's your next book, an etiquette book.

Ms.�CALHOUN: I'm actually doing an etiquette right now. That's so funny. I'm working with Tim Gunn from "Project Runway." He's writing an etiquette book, and I'm helping him with that.

MARTIN: Humility's in the Bible, too, you know.

Ms.�CALHOUN: It sure is.

MARTIN: Just thought I'd mention it. Ada Calhoun is a writer born and raised in New York City. Her first book, "Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids," is being published in March. She joined us from our bureau in New York. If you want to read the piece that we're talking about, we'll have a link on our Web site. Just go to npr.org. Click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE. Ada Calhoun, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms.�CALHOUN: Thanks so much for having me.

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