Anybody who identifies as a Christian is probably well aware of the stereotypes associated with Christianity. I encounter this all the time because I attend a Christian college, one that is obviously Christian by the name of it. I’m familiar with the stereotypes, the image of Christians that pervades our society. Homophobic. Hypocritical. Judgmental. Bigoted.

I’m familiar with the face people make when they hear the name of my school and the surprise on their face as I answer the inevitable “So you’re a Christian?” with a yes. I’m familiar with the confused looks as they try to reconcile what they know of me with these stereotypes, and I’m familiar with the sudden overwhelming urge to defend myself and my character before they can attach those stigmas to me.

It becomes annoying after a while, the feeling of living on the verge of being attacked or judged for my faith. But that’s not the problem. Sure, it’s irritating, but I can live with it. The real problem is that these stereotypes aren’t necessarily false. In a lot of places, for a lot of people, for a multitude of reasons, Christians are each of these things and more. That feeling of having to be constantly on guard and prepared for an attack is something that many non-Christians face at the hands of Christians every day.

That’s why these stereotypes exist. We, as Christians, created them, and we continue to reinforce them with our behavior.

Someone recently asked me how I can call myself a Christian because “you’re just so chill.” I didn’t fit with their perception of a Christian. And that’s exactly why I call myself a Christian despite all the negative associations it brings.

I figure I have two choices. I can call myself a Christian and accept that homophobia, hypocrisy, etc. will be applied to me, or I can introduce myself in some other way, and skirt around my faith, hoping that it won’t come up.

I don’t like the second option. Firstly because I refuse to hide my faith — don’t hide your light under the bushel and all that. Secondly, because if I reject the label of Christianity, as so many people who do believe in a god do, then I have abandoned my faith to exactly the sort of people who bring those negative associations, the people who justify hypocrisy and bigotry in the name of righteousness.

I refuse to do that. Christianity is not about those things and the fact that it has become so sickens me. We argue amongst ourselves and with everyone else about minor issues. We forget that it is not our job to judge anyone’s sin but our own. We are supposed to love. Everyone. Everywhere. All the time. No matter what.

That’s why I call myself a Christian. That’s why I label myself the way I do. Sure, I believe in God and Jesus and the Bible. But I also believe that Christianity has become twisted and skewed, and the only way I have to change that is to follow it, really follow it. I’d rather put myself and my own reputation on the line, and have that be damaged than let others continually commandeer and corrupt my faith in the name of my God.

I hear a lot about the culture war in America between Christians and everyone else. I hear Christians talk about being persecuted while simultaneously supporting the denial of rights to others. But the war isn’t between us and them. It’s between us and us. We are our own worst enemy. We are the ones who corrupted the name of Christianity. So if you don’t like people making negative assumptions about you because you’re a Christian, prove them wrong. Not by arguing, but by being so Christ-like, so loving, that your faith becomes, in their mind, what Christianity is about.

It’s time “Christian” became more than a label, a way to announce a political opinion or a way to see who is on our side. It needs to be a way of life, a way of love. Because that’s the only way to not just break the negative stereotypes, but to get rid of the behaviors that cause them.