During the first two decades of her adult life, Barbara Curtis thought Christians were idiots. A radical feminist who protested war and lobbied for abortion on demand, Barbara got her kicks from yelling obscenities at the "pigs" during rallies. A sexually promiscuous, cocaine-snorting welfare mom, Barbara called herself a "fag hag" (a woman who parties with gay men). She lived to shock people, "to be different and avant-garde."
Today, the only visible residue of Barbara's past is the blurry rose tattoo etched on top of her right hand. "I got it done in 1969 at a place across the street from the Greyhound station where all the sailors went. It seemed like a good idea at the time," she muses, shrugging. "I wasn't thinking that someday I'd be a 58-year-old woman with this thing on my hand."
Barbara—now a Christian—doesn't hide her tattoo or her past. Nor does she flaunt them. Instead, she draws on what she's learned from her experiences as she lobbies for a new cause: challenging Christians to befriend non-Christians, and encouraging conservatives and liberals to interact. Her latest book, Reaching the Left from the Right: Talking About Social Issues with People Who Don't Think Like You (Beacon Hill), is one means to that end. "The only way Christians can change society is by understanding our culture," she asserts, "and by becoming involved on a personal level.
Barbara became a Christian "quite by accident." Twenty years ago she and her second husband, Tripp, attended a FamilyLife marriage conference where they learned about God's love for them and committed their lives to Christ. "We came home as different people. We weren't sure what had happened to us, but we knew something had changed."
For Barbara, everything changed. No longer drawn to being a liberal, feminist, moral relativist, Barbara spent the next ten years focusing on learning to follow Christ. As she taught her children about Noah, Moses, and Jesus, she learned about them, too.
While Barbara says becoming a Christian felt like "coming home," she found some aspects of Christianity troubling. "The biggest disappointment was discovering how closed some Christians are to the rest of the world. It was as if I had entered this other dimension that was supposed to take up my whole social life," she says.
Something about devoting three nights a week to church activities and church friends didn't feel right. The more comfortable and insulated Barbara became within her own church, the less ability she had to relate to people outside it. "There's no way you can impact your culture or bring anybody to the Lord if you are separated," Barbara explains. "It's certainly not how Jesus behaved. Jesus ate with the dregs of society. That's where we should be: out forming relationships and serving our communities."
Many Christians balk at forging relationships with people they perceive as "sinners," says Barbara. But some Christians who continually bash homosexuals and denounce gay marriage are having affairs and getting divorces. Compromised Christians don't possess credibility or a moral platform from which to speak to a liberal culture, she concludes.
Rather than focusing on the sinfulness of others, "we should be reflecting on what God would like to root out and deal with in our own lives," she says. "We should be a clear conduit so that God's message can shine through our lives and our actions."