[9/4/10: I can’t comment whether Hemant Mehta agrees with what I wrote here, but I certainly agree with what he wrote here. He and I are very much on the same page about the burden of responsibility for those who claim to be allies but not act to support their positions. Even if you just think people like me are spouting nonsense because we have an internet connection, I hope you’ll read his post.]
Who are Christians?
This drives me crazy, because it makes it hard to blog about Christians. It’s a word that means so many different things to so many people, and for some people, it’s the only word that describes them. In reality, there is nothing I can say to generalize Christians as a group except that they believe Jesus Christ is their savior, and in some cases, even that might not be true.
This makes it very hard to write about Christianity. There are a lot of Christians who say a lot on behalf of Christianity (or some vague sense of Judeo-Christianity), such as Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, Rick Warren, Rush Limbaugh, and Pat Robertson. Glenn Beck certainly made it quite clear that his 8/28 rally was all about God (and I doubt he meant Allah). I take responsibility from time to time to call these people out (I quickly realized it was foolish to try to cover them all), and then I have to say, “This is what Christian leaders are saying.” There are surely many Christians who do not agree, but these individuals and their groups still unabashedly claim to speak on behalf of (all) Christians.
Catholicism doesn’t have this problem. It’s a specifically defined institution with a very clear hierarchy. And whether all followers buy into it or not, the Catholic Church has very clear specifications for who IS a Catholic and who ISN’T. And given that the Catholic Church is pretty regularly deciding what’s best for other people in a very public and powerful way (or demonizing gays as the scapegoat for all their internal problems), it’s not surprising I end up writing more about them. It becomes all too easy to point at Catholics and say, “Look at what your Church is doing. You realize you’re still supporting that?”
The Mormon Church is similar, but doesn’t face the same challenges. When you’re no longer a Mormon, the good folks at LDS make it quite clear. They’ve been surprisingly quiet since the Prop 8 mess, so there hasn’t been as much to say about them lately. Even when they are in the news, there’s little finger-pointing to be done. Mormons who go against their Church are excommunicated pretty expressly; they very much take accountability for their institution’s actions in ways many Catholics blithely avoid.
But then there are those Christians. There are Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, and Evangelicals, Quakers, and Mennonites, to name a few. I’m usually not too interested in what each of those groups do internally, because I see no point in trying to change the nature of individual religions. My goal is just to diminish the obscene privileges they have in society. Given that atheism defines the purview of this blog, I don’t think my time would be well spent arguing whether there is one better way to worship God or another. As a recent example: I feel bad that Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr was rebuked by the Presbyterian Church for presiding over same-sex marriages, but I’m not going to write about it extensively here. While I do care about the visibility of pro-gay messages as an LGBT activist, I’m more concerned here on the blog with the volume of religious voices, regardless of their content. I want to dismantle religious privilege and disempower faith. To chime in regarding an internal religious debate would suggest I think one religious explanation has more intellectual merit than another, when my actual point of view is that they all are equally lacking.
And so I’m left to write about Christians who are trying to control or manipulate the lives of people beyond their Church walls. So often, there is no other moniker to describe who these people are. They are Christians. This summer alone, I’ve written about local Christian organizations trying to evangelize through church camp and VBS (here and here), I wrote about the Christian Legal Society at Hastings School of Law (here), I’ve responded to WorldNetDaily’s Christian evangelism to its followers (here and here), I’ve responded to groups who privilege Christian beliefs about LGBT people over the science like AFTAH (here) and NARTH (here), I’ve responded to Christian counselors who think they know best (here, here, and by the way, the second girl also lost), and I also responded to a Christian evangelist who commented on the blog (here). I could have probably written even more, but Prop 8 and Netroots Nation swayed a lot of my focus toward LGBT activism. Still, I think I called out a lot of “Christians.”
If you, my reader, are a Christian, what should be your take-away? Many might say, “Well, I’m not that kind of Christian.” Great! I’m sure there are a ton of live-and-let-live Christians out there and even some who are very passionate allies of social justice. Unfortunately, there is a divide between the proactive and the reactive. In the United States, those who are proactive have a much louder megaphone, and arguably the most followers. These are the Christians who think it’s their mission to spread their faith and dictate that others abide by it. These are the individuals who claim that we are a “Christian Nation.” We’re talking about the AFA, FRC, WND, NOM, the Tea Party, and frankly the whole “religious right.” They define Christianity in this nation. They harness the privilege that religion has in our nation in ways no group ever has.
If you’re not that kind of Christian, I’m glad. But if you call yourself a Christian or you defend Christianity, know that those groups claim you and speak on your behalf. If you’re not happy with how they’ve defined what it means for you to be a Christian, you have a responsibility to stand up and correct them. As someone speaking out on the harm religion does to society, I cannot make exception for “all those other Christians” who don’t stand up for themselves when they are not pleased with what is said about Christianity. I’m not a Christian. It is that group of “Christians” who have to make an example of themselves.
This is one of many burdens Christians carry. Yes, you have an obligation to speak up for yourself and to repudiate and disavow those who try to define not just your faith but your place in society. I don’t care if you live in Washington, DC, or Coudersport, PA (I’m in probably a very small minority of Pennsylvanians who even know where Coudersport is); when people use your faith to foment their hate or discrimination, it is your responsibility to correct them, not mine. My job is simply to let you know that you’re still way behind.