As a young, conservative music minister, I held a secular job like many often do. A co-worker, well aware of my profession of faith, asked me to accompany him for a song he was singing at a wedding. I learned his mother was a Pentecostal minister, which was also my faith background.
However, this co-worker of mine swore like a drunken sailor. I assumed he was a backslidden Christian because no true Christian would talk like that, I believed. I agreed to play for him, partially because I was interested to see his childhood church and meet his mother, and partially because I hoped to win him back to Christ.
Following the wedding rehearsal that night, when he and I were alone, I probed, “So what happened to you?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, when did you backslide?”
His blank stare told me I’d crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed. “I’m still a Christian,” he said. “What makes you think I’m not?”
My body seared from my necktie to my hair in embarrassment. “Oh,” I said uncomfortably. “No, I didn’t mean that.” I was looking for a way to talk myself out of the situation I’d created.
The problem with my religious litmus test, I learned many years later, is that the Christian label is one of self-identity, most often based on subjective standards shrouded loosely in Scriptural interpretation.
In the United States, 70.4% of the population identifies as Christians, as does a whopping 90.7% of congress. The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world for a developed nation, and predominately dominated by a single religion.
Yet, The Atlantic reports, nearly 50% of Americans, including 80% of white evangelicals, believe discrimination against Christianity is a big problem. At face value, it would seem that the minority is bullying the majority.
In fact, the war on Christianity isn’t a war on the religion itself, but a sectarian fight over which version of Christianity is true. Of the 40,000 plus sects and denominations, most Christians agree that the Bible is their single source of truth. But exactly how to interpret that truth has become culturally divisive.
Fundamentalist Christianity saw an uprising in the 1970s when it, and professing adherents, was used for political gain. When Christian “truth” commingled with political ambition, Biblical purity got murky.
For example, Donald Trump’s profession of faith was all James Dobson needed to welcome Trump into the fold and throw his millions of followers, and their dollars, behind him. Dobson, and a host of other mega evangelists hype their brand of Christianity through congress and into legislation where, they believe, their version of the Bible should be touted. Never mind that Donald Trump represents the antithesis of the message on which they place so much value.
Even before the election, Christianity Today’s editor Andy Crouch said, “Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.”
Yet, these high profile evangelical leaders have much to gain by aligning themselves with the current political administration. Their fundamentalist theology, which espouses patriarchy and nationalism, while decrying refugees, immigrants, and gays is often the catalyst behind “religious freedom” bills. These bills place evangelical, fundamentalist beliefs above other Christian beliefs and doctrines.
The religious preference was so blatant for some religious leaders in Mississippi that, in 2016, they filed a lawsuit against House Bill 1523. They stated that they “do not subscribe to the religious views set forth in the bill, and do not believe the government should be interfering in religion by choosing some religious views over others.”
The Washington Post recently reported that key members of Trump’s administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, attend Bible Study classes at the White House. Their Bible leader reportedly said, “It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life. They are so teachable. They’re so noble. They’re so learned.”
In the mean time, others wonder how those “teachable, noble, and learned” leaders can so easily ignore injustice, inequality, and racism through their policies and statements.
Bill Prickett, an author and former Baptist pastor, posted on his social media page, “First and foremost: What Bible are they studying? Did they completely skip over the Gospels, and the teachings of Jesus? (e.g. the Beatitudes? How ‘bout the inconvenient idea of ‘do unto others,’ care for the ‘least of these?” Was any time spent on passages about love, compassion, mercy, or the ‘fruit of the Spirit?”
Exactly who identifies as a Christian and who doesn’t, along with how people choose what is important in their faith, is a battle as old as Christianity itself. For example, Galatians 2:4 identifies “false believers” and circumcision as points of contention. There has never been a single version of Christianity, which has not been redefined with every generation, and every culture. Clearly, it is not the religion that identifies men, but men who identify the religion. The question is, are we comfortable allowing our government to define it for us?