💁🏻‍♀️ Dear Marie

🙏 How do you find a religious space in the tech world?

May 05, 2019

Dear Marie,

I work in the tech industry as a developer and while I love all the wonderful people I’ve met in this space there is something I can’t quite figure out.

Throughout the last ~7 years, I’ve found more and more comfort in reading the bible. I cannot explain why that is but it is something that is entering my daily life more and more as time goes by.

I want to pursue this feeling and I want to find a space for this.

The tech people I love to follow on Twitter, work with on open source projects or hang out with at conferences usually have two things in common:

  1. They are very vocal about being inclusive and about creating accessible web applications.
  2. Yet, a lot of them are aggressively atheist.

I don’t mind atheists at all just as I don’t mind any other religion. And I completely understand why people do not like religion and I am not looking to preach to anyone.

But I find myself being ashamed of this when I’m around people in the tech industry. I get the feeling that I am somehow less intelligent because I can find comfort in the bible.

I have yet to tell any one of my tech friends about this. (Even my bible app on the phone is carefully hidden.)

So, Dear Marie, how do I find a space for this — frowned upon — comfort in the tech industry?

— Johannes de silentio



Dear Johannes1,

First of all, thank you for writing in such a personal question, and for trusting me with a truth you don’t feel safe sharing widely yet. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond—I’ve been wrestling with this question, knowing what I want to say but not how to say it.

Faith is so very personal and intimate and private, and yet it can be so public. We don’t live in a vacuum and our choices cannot be wrestled out of their context. It’s messy. So much of life is messy.

Before I try to give you any advice, I’d like to share a bit about my own beliefs so that you know where I’m coming from and how I approach being a person of faith in the tech industry.



Here are the facts you might glean about me from publicly available information: in my Twitter bio, I include the phrase “loves jesus.” I follow a bunch of Christian theologians and clergy. I wear a small cross pendant every day. If you ask me about my plans outside of work, I commonly reference attending worship or having discussion nights with my faith community or volunteering with my church.

These are small snippets of information that I readily share because my faith is an incredibly important part of my life. I don’t want to hide it or minimize it. That would be untrue to who I am.

But here are things about me that I don’t share unless you ask follow up questions, and indicate that you welcome this kind of discussion: I am deeply, passionately in love with God. I believe in the risen and resurrected Jesus: a brown man who was born to a colonized people in poverty; who was somehow both fully and perfectly human and fully and perfectly divine; who taught that the kingdom of God is an upside-down place where all are welcome, where the oppressed are liberated, where the marginalized are celebrated, where every person bears the name beloved; who was executed by the imperial government and then rose from the dead, having defeated death itself and making a way for all of us to have a personal and intimate relationship with God for eternity. I believe in the Holy Spirit and feel Their active presence with me daily. I believe in the power of prayer, that overwhelmingly ridiculous truth that the Creator of the universe longs to communicate with us, to hear our voices and share Their thoughts in return. I love the holy scriptures, the Christian Bible. I am comforted and challenged and inspired by these writings. There are some passages that confuse and confound and outrage me but I find that this is a collection of writings worth returning to, worth wrestling with, because I believe that God uses them in extraordinary ways to reveal Himself to His people. I trust the marginalized clergy and theologians—especially the people of color, queer folx, and women—who have studied the Scriptures deeply and teach a theology more expansive and liberating than I have known possible, a theology of inclusion that makes my heart sing2. I love the church, the collected and diverse group of people whose only commonality is belief in Christ, who can hold space for each other in our differences and work in harmony to seek the way of Jesus together by loving God and loving others sacrificially, generously, and abundantly.

I recognize, acknowledge, and grieve the ways Christian ideology and the church as an institution has been and is being yielded as a weapon of oppression and injustice and domination—including the colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas; the persecution and genocide of Jewish people from the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust through the anti-semitic terrorist attacks of today; the persecution and genocide of Muslim people from the Crusades through the anti-Islamic terrorist attacks of today; the brutal enslavement, murder, and oppression of Africans through chattel slavery in the Americas; the championing of racist ideologies like Jim Crow and white supremacy from the pulpit in the United States; the persecution, harassment, exclusion and murder of LGBTQ+ folx worldwide; the denial of bodily autonomy and abortion access to women; the rampant sexual abuse within the global church; the creation of a “purity culture” used to police women’s bodies and sexuality via shame; and so much more.

I respect that people who have experienced trauma at the hands of the Christian church—whether from the inside or the outside—may have little trust for the church or me as a Christian. They may be wholly uninterested in hearing about my faith or my experiences. They may have harsh criticisms of the institution or the people like me who choose to remain a part of it. And that’s okay. I can hold space for that. If someone dislikes me or thinks less of me for my beliefs, it may hurt—but it doesn’t take anything away from my essential worth as a human being.




So. That’s me. But what about you?




You find increasing comfort in reading the Bible, and it’s something that seems important to you. You don’t identify yourself with a specific name like Christian, but you do say:

I want to pursue this feeling and I want to find a space for this.

It seems that, in particular, you’d like to find some kind of religious space within tech but feel that many of your current connections look at religious belief with skepticism and maybe derision:

I get the feeling that I am somehow less intelligent because I can find comfort in the bible.

Where does that feeling come from? Is that a general fear that you have, or is it based on specific things that people in your community have said? Really think about the exact conversations you’ve had so far or the comments you’ve heard. If there’s a written record, go back and read it with fresh eyes.

It’s possible that some of that feeling is a general fear of rejection. Be gentle with yourself. It’s normal to be afraid when you share a part of yourself and your identity that feels especially important to you. But you shouldn’t let that fear stop you from being known.

If people you only tangentially know have said things that bother you, you might have to decide whether occasionally feeling a bit uncomfortable is worth maintaining the connection. For example, you might follow someone on Twitter who mainly shares relevant stuff about tech that you find interesting but makes a snide comment about religion once a month. When you follow someone online, you follow the whole person. It’s your choice whether the content that interests you is worth the content that you dislike. If the discomfort outweighs the value, you can unfollow or mute. And that’s fine! You get to decide what matters to you. What’s not fine is trying to dictate to them what they should or should not say, or getting into arguments with them on a regular basis about their stated beliefs.

I am sure that there are folks who unfollow me because they aren’t interested in my occasional references to church or Christian faith. That’s a valid choice and I support it! It’s one reason why I’m so upfront in my bio. But I would not support people who try to jump into my mentions and tell me why I’m wrong (either because I’m too Christian, or not Christian enough, or the wrong kind of Christian). It’s possible to have a productive and healthy conversation about differing beliefs, but it requires so much emotional energy that I’m usually uninterested in having that discussion without a pre-existing foundation of trust.3

If there are people you are particularly close to who have said things about faith that you find upsetting, talk with them about how that affected you. Hopefully, you already have some of that trust between you. If you know that they generally appreciate you as a person, it’s unlikely that they’ll lose all respect for you in the moment.

You might say something like, “Hey, a few weeks ago you made a joke about people who read the Bible being unintelligent. That was pretty hurtful to me. You probably don’t realize this, but I find a lot of comfort in reading the Bible. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t make those kinds of comments around me.”

Honestly—this is probably going to be a scary conversation for you. That’s okay. That’s normal. It sounds like there aren’t many people who know about this part of your life. The more you start sharing about the beliefs and values you have, the easier it’ll be to have that conversation.

It might be easier to start discussing your experience with the Bible with people who don’t have strong opinions about religious belief, or with people of other faiths. I’ve found that the vast majority of the people that I interact with are not particularly religious, and don’t think much about my own faith. They might file it away as an interesting fact, or occasionally ask me about Christian things, but it’s honestly just not something we talk about most of the time and that’s fine with both of us.

I’ve also found some of my most meaningful conversations have been with people who also highly value their faith, even though it may look different. One of my closest friends at a previous workplace was a devout Mormon. In one of our first conversations, we acknowledged that we each thought the other was missing some very important information about God but decided we weren’t interested in debating the difference. It was such a relief to have a friend to discuss the details of living out faith—the logistics of religious fasting during the workday, trying to explain lifestyle choices to coworkers when they noticed a difference, the challenges of balancing church commitments and going above and beyond at work.

You say that you’d like a space for your religious belief in tech. What would that look like? Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Do I want to actively discuss and explore faith with other people?
  • Is it important to me to be able to openly discuss my beliefs on a regular basis, or would I prefer to keep my faith private?
  • Am I interested in having rigorous intellectual conversation and debates about religion and theology? Do I care more about asking questions or seeking answers?
  • How much does my ideal space intersect with my tech community? Would I want my “faith circles” and “tech circles” to be a Venn Diagram? Completely overlapping?

The best way to start making a religious space for yourself in tech is to simply start mentioning your religious beliefs. If you want to have conversations about faith, someone has to start them and it might as well be you. Pay attention to who is already talking about faith. See who else they’re having those conversations with. Or just talk about your belief in passing, indicate it’s a topic you’d open to discussing, and see who starts a conversation with you!

But do be mindful when you start sharing and pay attention to social cues. If people seem uncomfortable or uninterested, don’t force them into a conversation. If you’re the first person to mention religion in a discussion, see if they ask follow-up questions before diving too deep into that topic. Make it easy to steer the conversation in another direction if they want a change.

You might also look into finding a faith community outside of tech. It’s great when all your interests collide into one space, but having different spaces for different aspects of your life can be healthy. And who knows, if you meet other people who share your interest in religion, you might be surprised to then find that some of them are also interested in tech! A few ways to begin finding new faith communities:

  • ⛪️ Check out a worship service or social activities at a local church4.
  • 🗓 Find a meetup in your area with some religious focus—whether it’s for studying scripture or just organizing social hangouts.
  • 📱 Follow theologians on social media or read their blogs. See who else you know follows them!
  • 📚 Buy theology books from your local independent bookstore5. Read them in coffee shops and see if anyone strikes up a conversation.

I leave with you this prayer by the apostle Paul (glorious, irascible, cursing, infuriating, confusing, heart-breaking, and yet still beloved Paul6) to the church in Ephesus:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

— Ephesians 3:14-21 (New Living Translation) (source)

I have such great hope for you. I hope that you’ll find a space where you feel welcome to share and discuss your religious beliefs. I hope that you find the boldness to share this part of yourself with others, and the courage to make space for them whether they agree or disagree. I hope that you are filled with the fullness of joy that I have found and that it gives you strength to take those steps of faith wherever they may lead. 🙏🏻

Warmly,
Marie


  1. I just learned that Johannes de silentio is the pseudonym used by Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard when he published Fear and Trembling. The more you know!

  2. Here are some of the Christian thinkers, theologians, clergy, and artists I most enjoy following on Twitter. Many of them are LGTBQ+ and/or POC. Many of them have written books. You should buy them.

    I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Rachel Held Evans, the beloved progressive Christian author who passed away this weekend far too young. She left an incredible legacy, and I highly recommend browsing the #BecauseOfRHE tag on Twitter to see beautiful words of remembrance for who she was, and how deeply she impacted and uplifted other progressive Christians in her short life. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

  3. I want to note here that many otherwise-progressive Christian leaders who do not affirm queer people in their theology use “let’s have this conversation in person” as a way to avoid stating their beliefs outright online. (Read this excellent article by Kevin García for an example and an explanation of why this is so problematic.)

    To be clear, I am not advocating against the reasonable call for clarity, especially when the question is being asked by and for marginalized people within your own community. There’s a difference between asking someone (especially someone with a platform and influence) what they believe so that you can decide whether or not you feel safe around them, and demanding that someone engages with you as you attack them and their beliefs. The latter is the problem.

  4. I highly recommend Church Clarity as a resource to identify queer-affirming and egalitarian churches. They allow users to mark whether a church has clearly stated their policies about including and ordaining LGBTQ+ folks and women.

    In the United States, Australia, and increasingly in Western Europe, there are a lot of non-denominational Protestant churches. They often have a very casual worship service (think: stadium-style seating, everyone is drinking coffee and wearing jeans, and there’s a band with guitars and a drum kit on a stage). These churches usually skew towards young adults but are often associated with more conservative theology. If you’re concerned about going to a church that may not welcome women pastors or include and accept queer folks, you might want to scour these churches’ statements of belief before joining.

    If you’re not sure that a major Christian denomination is the right fit for you, I’d also recommend checking out the Unitarian Universalist spiritual tradition. These churches are a collection of people with vastly different religious beliefs who affirm each other’s individual paths and worship collectively. If you enjoy reading the Bible but are hesitant about the identity of “Christian”, this might be a more comfortable space for you.

  5. Some of the books I have been reading recently and very much enjoying include:

    A few of the books on my shelf that I plan to read next include:

  6. For those who haven’t spent much time reading the Christian Bible, Paul was an early Christian leader who penned some of the most famous letters to the church, many of which are canonized in the New Testament. These letters are beautiful works of art and describe both complex theology and practical applications of faith—but include some difficult “clobber verses” that have been used to oppress queer people and women and to justify slavery. Reading the Pauline epistles is a matter of experiencing heart-soaring joy and heartbreak in adjacent breaths. It’s complicated. We keep wrestling. We keep reconciling. We keep asking God to give us fresh eyes to see and fresh ears to hear.


Marie Chatfield

Written by Marie Chatfield, an amateur aspiring advice columnist, certified Emoji Enthusiast™, and purveyor of fine tweets.

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