Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Overlooked Christians

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend that's still bugging me. She is a spiritual person unaffiliated with any religion. Raised a Southern Baptist, she's very knowledgeable about fundamentalist Christianity. She's conversant with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, various pagan traditions and New Age ideas, but she hasn't found anything other than a belief in a greater power (not in the twelve step way), really more of an organizing principle, that exists both beyond and within this world that rings of truth within her. When we discuss religion, it's always fascinating, and despite that we both enjoy these conversations, they always leave us a touch saddened.

She's used to my ranting that the media tends to ignore Christians who don't fall within the media savvy, fundamentalist, evangelical fold. I've gone on many times before that if a Christian isn't protesting in front of an abortion clinic, holding a loud or intrusive prayer vigil similar to those held outside Terry Schiavo's hospice, or arguing a right wing Republican point of view with the TV talking heads, we're basically treated as if we don't exist. This has changed somewhat with books like Gods Politics by Jim Wallis and Our Endangered Values by former President Jimmy Carter, but for the most part, I feel that non-fundamentalist Christians are still seen as a very small and ineffective minority within the spectrum of Christianity.

She compared people with beliefs similar to mine to the Democrats. We have a lot to say that's right and important, but we screw ourselves up by not playing the media game well. I have to admit that she's got a point. However, if by playing the media game for the attention that the message of Christ deserves means co-opting the tactics of the people who see the message in a different light, I feel that more liberal Christians would be betraying the very principals that we hold sacred. It's a quandary.

Do I want to see some smiling preacher trying to act likeable telling people that they're going to hell because their politics don't support feeding the hungry, taking care of widows and orphans, and working towards peace and equality of treatment for all people? No, I feel that they would be usurping the position of God by exercising the judgment to which our Creator alone is entitled to hold.

One of the things that has irked me the most about many fundamentalists is the habit of saying that another self-professing Christian who disagrees with them isn't really a Christian. I've been asked more than once how I can tolerate a public figure saying that they're a Christian when their policies go against much of what I hold sacred. All I can do is look at my life and see my shortcomings. I know so many of my sins. Others I've buried so deep that it usually takes a prayerful epiphany for me to find them. Like everybody else I know in this world, I'm a bloody hypocrite. Despite my weaknesses and sometimes blatant rebellions, I know that my soul calls out for and has been answered by Christ. My hypocrisies may not match those that I see in others, including public figures, but I can still look at these people with the love that Christ wants me to hold and give them the benefit of a doubt that their Christianity, though it may be as flawed as my own, is sincere.

Beyond that, these people with whom I disagree are still my brothers and sisters in Christ, and my Biblically based beliefs mean confronting false or misconstrued Christian ideology privately. It's against Biblical principles to address these things initially within a public forum, and if it progresses to the point that a public confrontation is necessary, it's important, indeed essential for a church to be involved to help both parties involved understand and hold to good Christian beliefs. There's always the possibility that an accuser, as well an accused, could be wrong. Ideas like these don't make easy sound bites. They don't provide great visuals for front pages and cable news shows.

I agree with my friend though that more liberal Christians need to find a way to make their presence more felt and recognized. I've heard from her and others that different denominations need to make a stronger, more unified stand. The multiple denominations though aren't unified. The United Methodist Church is broad enough to encompass both President Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton. Episcopalians and Presbyterians find themselves facing a serious rift over the ordination of homosexuals. Many Christians have chosen to take action through organizations which are entirely secularly based, so the faith based motivations behind the work towards a political or public purpose go unseen.

I wish I had more answers, but one thing I know is that when liberal Christians are working in a public arena, they need to make the religious reasons for their beliefs and work public. It doesn't have to be shouting into a camera. It can be letting the girl you're escorting into a protested abortion clinic know that God loves her and knows that people often make difficult decisions. It can be letting the employer who mandates prayer for all employees at the opening of all business meeting know that your Christian beliefs mean praying in private. In the Great Commission, Christians are told to go and spread the Good News. I suggest we do this by letting people know these details and their importance in our lives of faith and action. It's purely grass roots, but it's where I and others can begin.


Blogger Virginia said...

Very good post! Its folks like you that I hang my hopes on that will save this country from the mean and destructive path it is now on.

You are absolutely right about the media... they always are looking for the extremes in a situation. Of course, the viewers of the media, we the public, need to put pressure back on to the media to get them to straighten up their act.

I wish everyone was as thoughtful as you.

Peace, Virginia

July 20, 2006 6:46 AM  
Blogger ckays1967 said...

Eloquent and just what I wish I could have put into words myself....

This is how I feel too and probably why we connect so well on religious matters.

Can I add an Amen?

July 20, 2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous tdehoff said...

A wonderful and insightful post. You have said whats in my heart, thank you for being able to put your thoughts into words that mean so much.

July 20, 2006 11:49 AM  

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