• The Centre for Inclusive Leadership

I am Not Ashamed of the Gospel…

Our CEO and Co-Founder Paul Anderson-Walsh, opens up about his personal journey in struggling with his faith and how that went on to shape his professional life.


I was providing an analysis to one of our clients on their inclusion audit recently, and one of the most interesting elements of the lived experience was a data point that came up when we looked at inclusion through the lens of faith and religion. A significant number of the respondents had ticked the “prefer not to say” option.


Perhaps it was coincidence that they also registered very low scores on the psychological safety dimension of the audit. The findings took me back to my uneasy, not to say somewhat schizophrenic relationship with my faith in the context of my work over the last 30 years.


I was once again conscious of the fact that for many years I have covered my faith identity at work. I had, for a complex set of reasons been ashamed of my gospel. In this “Holy Month” I thought it might be a good moment to make peace with that - it is after all the period of at-one-ment. So here goes with my “first confession.”


“I was once again conscious of the fact that for many years I have covered my faith identity at work.”

It was the Sociologist, Erving Goffman who popularised the term “covering” back in the sixties to describe how people will often go to great lengths to conceal what they consider to be stigmatised identities. A stigmatised identity is an aspect of ourselves that we perceive are socially devalued and negatively stereotyped.


For, some, myself included faith as an identity was put on mute. As Mark Twain put it, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” I am very mindful of the trade-offs that I have made at various points in my life. For many people, the price of “inclusion” is to “exclude” any aspect of your identity that you feel might put your belonging status in a group at risk. When considering the issue, we must keep in mind the fact that the need to belong is a primal need, which some of us are prepared to pay a high price for.

It is self-evident that this type of belonging strategy comes at the expense of one’s authenticity. Inauthenticity is profoundly problematic. Many of us are presenting concealed versions of ourselves. Perhaps it is because of my (admittedly rather more eclectic brand of spirituality) that I don’t want to conceal it any longer, because it is so core to who I am.


Covering is hardly a new strategy … whether mythical, metaphorical or a matter of fact it is surely instructive that the bible’s account of Adam’s reaction to the rude awakening in what was the consequence of his eating of the forbidden fruit was that he was plunged into a form of self-consciousness which he responded to by seeking to conceal what he internalised as being stigmatised aspects of his very being which, hitherto, had not been a matter of the slightest concern to him:

"Shame can have a profound effect on psychological adjustment and interpersonal relationships. Shame may motivate not only avoidant behaviour but also defensive, retaliative anger.”

And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” - Genesis 3:7b-10.

It is important to note that what is triggered here is shame. Now shame is a distressing self-conscious emotion, that impacts our sense of self-worth and how we value ourselves in one’s own or others’ eyes. It is to be saddled with the belief that there is something dishonourable, undesirable about us. It is typically characterised by withdrawal from interacting with others. Shame can have a profound effect on psychological adjustment and interpersonal relationships. Shame may motivate not only avoidant behaviour but also defensive, retaliative anger.


Precisely how we deal with these disclosures depends on whether we view the stigma as internalised, experienced, anticipated or a combination of all or some. When the stigma is internalised, it means we believe that the negative stereotypes about the identity apply to us.


Ironically, evangelical Christians would doubt my Christian credentials because I believe in inclusion, but my fear is that you might question my inclusion credentials because I am identifying myself as being Christian. Now, this can get torturously complicated so bear with me. My internalised belief is that Christians are, bible-bashing, narrow-minded, self-righteous, religious, judgemental, and non-inclusive people who seem to relish the prospect that someday whilst they will go to heaven that the unbelieving others will go to Hell. Having been spiritually abused in my thirties I have spent more than 20 years working supporting people to help reframe Christianity for those who, had become disillusioned with their “faith”, because they had felt the sharp edges of performance-based Christianity rendering them burdened by performance-addiction, the need for meaning and acceptance, living with guilt, the fear of failure, anxiety and the deep-seated belief that our best might not be good enough, I have a heightened sensitivity about what I have not only internalised but also what I anticipate when the word Christian is introduced without a lot of disclaiming context.

"So, the fitters-in do what it takes to fit-in. They edit, they amputate, they cover of course, playing down outsider identities; “I was afraid, so I hid myself”; they put themselves on “mute” knowing that when in Rome [seeking citizenship, we only] do want the Romans do… they code-switch, conform."

So, on the one hand I have some internalised issues going on, but also, I have the expectation of the anticipated stigma that will take the form of negative treatment that I believe I might receive if others know of my identity. I want to be taken seriously, and I don’t want to be word-associated with what I presume that non-Christians might feel about Christianity. In his NT Times article entitled The Pressure to Cover, Kenji Yoshino’s struck a chord with me when he cited a [Harvard] religious student who said he feared coming out as a believer, as he thought his intellect would be placed on a 25 percent discount.”


So, the fitters-in do what it takes to fit-in. They edit, they amputate, they cover of course, playing down outsider identities; “I was afraid, so I hid myself”; they put themselves on “mute” knowing that when in Rome [seeking citizenship, we only] do want the Romans do… they code-switch, conform. Conforming – ad-norming and finally re-forming, morphing themselves into fully assimilated cardboard cut outs of the in-group figures; born originals they die copies. These forced adjustments are unsustainable and eventually backfire leaving people feeling the very thing that they were trying to prevent – alienated. It is alienation that fuels that first effect of psychological exclusion, frustration.


“What drove my faith was fear - the fear of exclusion - I wanted you to believe what I believed and feared for you if you didn’t. Today what drives my faith is love - the certainty of your inclusion whether you believe what I believe or believe anything at all.”

When I became a Christian (my path) some 30 odd years ago, it was that it was incumbent on me to convert others to my faith. If you weren’t a Christian, I was either afraid for you or afraid of you. I happily gave up a promising career in the life insurance business to “sell” eternal life assurance - but the idea never sat well with me. In fact when I tried to be a Christian, I hurt people but when I became a “Christ” I “healed” them. What the Tao Te Ching advised proved to be true, “Give up sainthood … and it will be 100 times better for everyone.”


What drove my faith was fear - the fear of exclusion - I wanted you to believe what I believed and feared for you if you didn’t. Today what drives my faith is love - the certainty of your inclusion whether you believe what I believe or believe anything at all.


Coming to inclusion has caused me to value spiritual diversity and get value from it too. So today, as the wonderful Moravian Indian saying goes, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”


Yours faith-fully.


IT AIN’T OVER TILL THE ‘FAT’ LADY SINGS


Following on from the thought provoking, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”, Paul shares a wonderful story of a lady he encountered on the train…


It was a Monday morning at the peak of the rush hour. I was travelling to work on the London Underground on the District Line. I could hear the vibrations of the rails, announcing the imminent arrival of the tube train and so, I focused myself on the morning’s imperative – the precarious ritual of securing a seat. As the tube train pulled into the platform, I espied two available seats and if I had calculated correctly, the train doors would slide open right in front of me and I’d be the first to step into the carriage, making a beeline for the seats.


As any veteran of the London Underground will tell you, making sure you’re standing where the train doors will open directly in front of you is an art form and one which you need to master if you’re planning to travel during the rush hour.


As any veteran of the London Underground will tell you, making sure you’re standing where the train doors will open directly in front of you is an art form and one which you need to master if you’re planning to travel during the rush hour. Shooting a fast side glance, I was relieved that I didn’t see anyone within my immediate vicinity whom I’d be obliged to offer my seat to. Not a pregnant woman or elderly lady in sight. Excellent. I was free to “compete” for one of the two empty seats. As the train lurched to a halt, it’s clear that I’d slightly misjudged where the doors would open but I was able to correct the miscalculation with a quick shuffle to the right. Just as the doors opened, I spirited myself through the sliding doors and sprinted for the seat furthest from the door. Made it! I sat down. It’s a twenty-minute journey to my interchange and so, I decided that I would read my Bible. I’d forgotten what passage I was reading mainly because I was still bathing in the reflective glory of the previous evening when I’d given a virtuoso debut sermon.


The Bible lay open on my lap but truth be known, I was so caught up in the remembrance of that first ever sermon of mine, turning all 35 minutes and 45 seconds of it over and over in my mind, blissfully unaware of the fall coming on the heels of my pride. The sermon had been entitled “Naked But Not Ashamed”. Everybody was very kind after the service and congratulated me on my exposition and my delivery. This was it for me. Everything else at that point was eclipsed by this one thought – “I want to be a preacher”. In the afterglow of that moment, I realised that nothing else gripped me as much as preaching. I took a quick mental inventory of my career and experiences to date and the forensic evidence seemed to point to a life which had been leading up to this. I had been in sales all my working life. In more recent times, I had moved into training and I loved it. I had and always had had what the nuns in the orphanage call “the blarney” – the ability to spin a yarn. I really could see a future in it.


Anyway, after a period of self-congratulation, I did finally settle into my Bible reading. Within moments, I was lost in the Word, foraging for my next sermon. And then, it happened.


The tube train pulled into Upton Park station. By now, there’s precious little room to breathe, let alone stand, for those poor folk who hadn’t managed to get a seat. Now, if you’ve never travelled on the London Underground, there’s one rule which is sacrosanct – we don’t speak to strangers. In fact, it’s better if you don’t speak at all. The official protocol is that you read a newspaper (which you can hide behind), bury your nose in a book or do a crossword puzzle (this, of course, was all in pre-Sudoku and pre-technology days). But what you do not do, under any circumstances, is engage people whom you don’t know into conversation; even eye contact is bad form. Oddly, it’s not that way on the mainline train but that’s how it is on the tube. So, shush!


Now, here we are, all buried in our books, hiding behind our newspapers or twiddling pens in our mouths with brows furrowed, seeking solutions to more than just the crossword puzzles. Needless to say, the code was being observed. We were all religiously minding our own business when it happened. Without any apparent provocation, a woman – a sizeable and conspicuous lady – broke, nay, shattered the silence. A total taboo, remember? Nobody was allowed to break the hallowed silence; absolutely nobody, other than the train driver who, from time to time, would squawk over his intercom, “Sorry for the delay, ladies and gentlemen, but we’ve signal failure up ahead and we’ll be held here for awhile,” at which point the passengers were permitted to sigh aloud, raise the eyebrows disapprovingly, tut collectively and then, mumble the profanity of their choice before returning to their reading matter.


Seemingly oblivious to the London Underground protocols, this anonymous and unannounced lady threw caution to the wind and began to sing out aloud and not just aloud, mind you, but LOUD! To my absolute bemusement, she’s singing a painfully discordant version of what was, at that time, my favourite chorus, “Let Your Living Waters Flow Over My Soul”. This lady seemed oblivious to the scandal she’s created. Instead, her massive voice filled the entire carriage. In the way which only Londoners can do, everybody tried to pretend that she wasn’t there and carried on reading. However, her voice, to me at least, became louder and louder and somehow, more demanding. I was furious. I hated it when Christians bring the game into disrepute at the best of times but this was certainly not the best of times. Well, her chorus wafted throughout the carriage, “Fadaaa, Fadaaaaaar, Fadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar; Geee-susssssssss, Geee-sussssssssssssssss, Geee-sussssssssssssssssssssss; Spearrrrrit, Spearrrrrrrrrit, Spearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrit ….”


Seemingly oblivious to the London Underground protocols, this anonymous and unannounced lady threw caution to the wind and began to sing out aloud and not just aloud, mind you, but LOUD!


It’s excruciating. You can imagine what’s going through my mind, can’t you? I was thinking of how I could slip my Bible back into my bag and replace it with my newspaper without anyone noticing, lest anyone would notice that I was reading a Bible and think that the lady and I were in cahoots.As I considered how best to effect this manoeuvre, an overwhelming sense of condemnation (which was the guilt by association with this lady) flooded my mind.I panicked and needed to act quickly. I considered getting off the train at the next stop but for one, that wasn’t really practical and for two, other more macabre thoughts ran through my mind.


I shot a glance around the carriage. Oddly enough, it’s clear that I was the most disturbed by the lady’s singing. I shot a furtive glance at the unwelcomed songstress. Sufficiently desensitised and being galvanised by the absence of any censorship, she’s now unbridled and in full and dreadful voice. She’s, in “black church” parlance, a Momma. A Big Momma. Well dressed, she even looked sane. Yet, there’s this insane drone which just got louder and louder. “Come now, Holy Spirit, come and take controllllllllllllllllll; let Your living water flow over my soulllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!”


It’s no good. I’d have to take some evasive action. Then, something happened. An audible voice came from heaven (audible to me, you understand; God knows better than to speak on the Underground!).


“Paul.”

“Oh, thank God.” He’s gonna either reach down from heaven and gag her or He’s gonna help me get out of Dodge.

“Lord, can’t you tell that woman to be quiet? What will people think?”


“Paul,” the Lord said, though this time, a little more firmly.


“Err … yes, Lord?”


“Paul, why aren’t you singing with the lady?”


“Duhhhhh, because I’m on the tube?” I replied indignantly.


“Paul, I want you to sing with her.”


“You gotta be kidding me.”


“No, Paul, I’m not kidding. I’m dead serious. I want you to sing with her.”


“No … well, sorry, Lord, I don’t mean to be rude but well, yeah; I mean, no! I can’t! It’s not right!”


“Oh, I see. But I thought you wanted to be a preacher?”


“Aghh … yes, I do!”


“Well, what’s your problem then?”


“My problem is that I’m on a train.”


Big Momma was approaching the chorus again.

“Fadaaa, Fadaaaaaar, Fadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar; Geee-susssssssss, Geee-sussssssssssssssss, Geee-sussssssssssssssssssssss; Spearrrrrit, Spearrrrrrrrrit, Spearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrit ….”


“So, what’s the problem?”


“Tell me, Lord, which part of ‘I’m on the London Underground’ don’t you understand?”


“But son, I thought that this is your favourite song?”


“Yes, it is (or at least, it was now!).”


“Well then, sing with her.”


Alright, you get the picture. I was under an unbelievable amount of pressure here. What could I do? I thought that maybe if I tapped my feet or smiled at the lady in a show of support, that’d do it. So that’s what I did but it didn’t appease Him in the slightest. Au contraire.


"Paul, I can’t hear you singing, my son.”


Oh my gosh. This was my worst nightmare.


“Fadaaa, Fadaaaaaar, Fadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar; Geee-susssssssss, Geee-sussssssssssssssss, Geee-sussssssssssssssssssssss; Spearrrrrit, Spearrrrrrrrrit, Spearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrit ….”


I thought she would shatter the windows.


“Paul ….”


I was undone. What could I do? I was so cross with the Lord but knew that I had no choice but to comply. So, very sheepishly, I began to whisper under my breadth, “Let Your living water ….”


“Paul, I can’t hear you.”


At last, I was spared. The train pulled into Mile End station where I had to change trains from the District Line onto the Central Line into the city. Quick as a flash, I jumped up and dashed across the platform to board the waiting train. I’d admit to you that I was feeling really conflicted. Though thankful for the remission I was, I must also admit that I was a bit disappointed and thought that maybe I’d let the Christian side down. I mean, I don’t really want to have to tell you that I was, at that moment, a little ashamed of being a Christian. As I made my way across the platform, I apologised to the Lord for not entering into the spirit of it all. But really, to me, that’s an intolerable thing to be asked to do. Yet, I resolved that if I were ever to be in that situation again, I would sing.


The Central Line train was packed sardine-tight and I just managed to squeeze inside the door. I was considering edging down inside the carriage where there’s a little standing room. People, for some bizarre reason, congregate around the door area on the tube!


Anyway, as I thought about moving in, I was literally moved as one last passenger catapulted herself from the platform into the carriage. I spun round and to my horror, it was HER!!! Oh, sweet Jesus! She had followed me onto the train. This was death! No sooner had the train pulled out of the station and disappeared down the tunnel, the rogue songstress cleared her throat and with some hesitation, she said, “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I’m so sorry to bother you; I really do apologise. I’ve never done this sort of thing before.” She had the attention of the entire carriage. Everyone, without exception, either looked or glared at her. She seemed less certain of herself than she had been on the District Line.


I thought that if I just looked at her like everybody else, nobody would know that we were together. Oh Lord, what am I talking about? We weren’t together at all! I guess what I really meant was that nobody would know that I was a Christian.


It’s funny. I was talking to friends who’re very well known celebrity types. I was saying that I felt their calling was to live in the world and convince the world through the way they live and that not all saved people had lost the plot; yet, my job was to go into the “church” and persuade Christians that most of us had, in fact, lost the plot.


Anyway, when Big Momma was sure that she had our attention, she began. I’d heard about these evangelical lunatics who preyed on innocent passengers …. Visibly shy, she steadied herself, “Ladies and gentlemen, again, I’m sorry to bother you but I feel compelled to tell you something.” Oh, here we go, I thought to myself.


She continued, “I got on the tube this morning and I was feeling very discouraged. I have many things and situations in my life that I simply cannot face right now. But then, as I was on the train, I saw a young man, a fine young man, and he was reading his Bible, clearly hopelessly in love with Jesus.” Wow, I thought, I didn’t notice anyone else reading a Bible on the train.


“So bold in his faith and so unashamed that whilst everyone’s reading their papers and their books, he’s reading the Bible and I thought to myself, if this young man can do it, why can’t I? And so, I started to worship Him right there in the train.”


Then, pointing to me, she said, “And this is the fine young man I’m talking about!”


Oh my gosh! I felt about an inch tall!


“So bold in his faith and so unashamed that whilst everyone’s reading their papers and their books, he’s reading the Bible and I thought to myself, if this young man can do it, why can’t I? And so, I started to worship Him right there in the train.”


She then said, “I’ve a message for you – Thus says the Lord, ‘Do not be ashamed of Me for I’m not ashamed of you.’”


She stopped all I needed was to hear the sound of a rooster crowing and I would have killed myself instead the train pulled into the next station and the automatic announcement squawked “mind the gap” … Ouch that sure sounded like a rooster to me. in an instant, she’s gone. Everyone returned to their papers and books but I was devastated. I felt such a fraud.


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