The Superman Problem

One of the major problems with Christians in general and pastors/missionaries in specific is the unconscious (I hope) necessity for creating alter egos. What do I mean by this?

Let’s take a Christian. A good person who loves Jesus and is faithful in their obligations as a Christian. But he/she attends a church where there are certain taboos. The message is “Christians don’t _____.” And in this case, the blank is filled with various secondary issues like drinking alcohol or listening to ‘secular’ music or not wearing a shirt and tie to church.

(SIDEBAR: I have no problem with a church taking a certain position on these issues, although I do have an issue with the way many churches take the position.)

Now this Christian does not understand the nature of the taboo and in his heart does not agree with it; but to maintain respectability and to be included in the church circle, he creates an alter ego who likewise does not _____. He may even devise ways of showing that he supports this position while in his heart he does not.

Transfer this to a full-time Christian leader, for example a missionary on a foreign field. This missionary works in a culture where certain American controversies such as the three above do not exist. But when he comes home on furlough, these issues are very real. So, he takes the path of least resistance and conforms the best he can so he does not lose support or is otherwise impacted by his preferences.

I ask a lot of hard questions when I sit down with a missionary. One of the big questions I ask is, “What do you really believe?” I ask this question because I once sat across the table from a young missionary who told me he had to not talk about certain things in churches because then he would not get support. He knew that if he told pastors and churches what he really believed about one particular issue, he could not get their support; and he NEEDED their support so he was, in his words, “playing their game.”

What have we become that we force a Christian to compromise who he is, to hide thoughts that he believes God has given him, and create an alternate character to please us? That in and of itself bothers me.

But my question is this – where is he assuming the alter ego? Which person or character is the alter ego. For the missionary, is the alter ego the one here at home; or is it the one on the mission field? For the Christian, is the mask the taboo he secretly enjoys outside the church or is the mask the appearance of holiness? And can we tell the difference?

I am a big comic book fan – mostly Batman stuff – although I haven’t bought a comic book in over a decade. Most super heroes in comic books assume an alter ego as a superhero. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne’s alter ego; the Flash is Barry Allen’s alter ego. But Superman (and others who derive from him) do it the other way. Superman assumes the alter ego of Clark Kent. Superman is who he really is; and Clark Kent is the mask.

(Yes, Bill in “Kill Bill” explained this to the Bride, but every comic book geek in the world was aware of it before he explained it.)

So, for the Christian living a double standard; for the missionary being one thing on the field and another on furlough; or the pastor who does one thing in private study but preaches a different thing from the pulpit – which is the alter ego? Which is the fake you and which is the real you?

Wouldn’t you rather be the real you all the time – whether that real you is the ‘cool’ you or the ‘accepted’ you?

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One thought on “The Superman Problem

  1. I like this one. I love integrity, or that idea that you’re “whole” all the way through, from the outside to the inside. I think when we discover that our true wholeness lies in some areas of freedom that conflict with the part of churchworld we inhabit, it can be a signal that a change is needed.

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