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September 2017
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Why I don’t tell people I’m a Christian

Through the years I’ve learned it’s better to brush over that part of my identity, until people get to know me better.

 

I am part of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations: a Christian movement that is easily recognized in the Netherlands by segregated schools, obligatory wearing of skirts by women of all ages, Sunday marches to church, in addition to a perceived lack of being able to have fun and an absence of party culture.

No, that is not me—but you get the idea. (http://www.refoweb.nl/nieuws/1193/dankt-god-in-alles/)

Until I was six, I attended a Christian school in the Netherlands. This school was not one of those ‘segregated schools’ I just mentioned. But, growing up in a rural area, this seemed to be a better choice to my parents than a public school. Also, many of my classmates had a similar religious background. Back then, the only thing that distinguished ‘us’ from the rest of the Christian children was that the girls had to change from their skirts into shorts for gymnastics.

My membership of the NRC also did not make a great difference in the way I was treated when I initially started moving around due to my father’s job. When I was six, I’d moved to Poland and was attending my first international school. The school consisted of a small and welcoming community surrounding the student body of only 60, and caused the transfer of a kid from a strict Christian community into an agonistic community to be as smooth as it could possibly be.

After two years, I moved to the Czech Republic. Not only was the school over ten times as large, the community felt that way in terms of difference. If my first move to Poland would be compared to the immersion into a bubble bath of which the temperature has been exactly set to accommodate all of your physical needs, this could be compared more to wanting to prepare a bubble bath and finding out that you don’t have anything to create the bubble bath with… not even a bathtub. While at my previous school birthday parties would be rescheduled to accommodate the various days of worship of all its pupils, my drawer was now filled up with invitations to birthday parties I could not attend. The birthday parties were, however, not the only thing I missed. Sleepovers, playdates and all sorts of events that involved going to a movie theater—which was a complete no-go in the NRC at the time— were some other things I was withheld from. Not being able to attend all those events already created a gap between my classmates and me. Never wearing pants, which did not seem to bother anyone when I was six, also only seemed to matter more as I grew older. My numerous attempts to explain to my classmates why I couldn’t “just co-ome”, or wear some jeans, or swear on my mother’s grave resulted in an automatic translation among my peers that I was “[not able to] participate in any fun stuff” and that it was not even worth it to try to involve me.

After four years in the Czech Republic, I moved to Poland again and I decided that I would be more careful in disclosing my Christianity at my new school. This was, however, harder than I had thought it would be. During a time when your parents still dictate your bedtime and what you will have for dinner, rebelling against the codes of conduct they have set for you is not easy. And so, the skirts remained as did the absence of all activities on Sundays. Oh yeah, and of course not being able to go to the movies. However, I now went about things a little more innovatively. I explained that I did not find pants as comfy as skirts and always found excuses for not being able to come on Sundays. Of course, I soon ran out of ‘Sunday excuses’ and movie date excuses. When I did finally tell my friends about my being Christian, they fortunately fully understood and often even attempted to accommodate their planning to my needs. This of course went with the occasional “you’re so boring” when I still wasn’t able to attend.

While my friends did not seem to mind those extra things that came along with me, I did notice a difference with my other classmates. This distance was finally voiced almost two years later when one of my classmates came up to me the morning after our grade’s first drinking party and told me, “I didn’t think you’d drink”. He was clearly not the only one who thought this as more classmates came up to me in the following week to tell me that they did not know I was allowed to drink. Nor that I was allowed to party. This was not something that I had ever mentioned.

At the time, I was glad I had been able to break that prejudice. The prejudices that my classmates had shared with me at that time, and even later on, did however stick with me when I eventually moved back to the Netherlands. With my new 17-year old freedom and the unfounded biases that had evolved once I had revealed my background at my previous schools in the back of mind, I now decided to fully hide my NRC background. And frankly, it was successful. Telling my friends about my Christianity after 6 months of friendship did, however, reveal exactly the reason that I had hid my background, “I thought all Christians were boring.”

The tales of my past are not supposed to be a sad story line of a kid who was secluded from time to time. Rather, it’s meant to show an insight into a perspective that is not often seen. It’s meant to show that people do judge and create unfounded biases, and that as the object of that prejudice, you sometimes just have to adapt.

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