I remember, in my early days of faith, being consumed with the question of whether I was a “real” Christian. Sure, I had prayed the Sinner’s Prayer and all, but what if my “walk” didn’t match my talk? What if I was lukewarm? What if my actions caused more people to “backslide” than convert?
This fear was wrapped up in a false belief that there is only one way to be a “true” Christian. It may seem simple, but two millennia after Jesus walked the earth, Christians still can’t universally agree.
In these divisive times, when some of the nation’s most outspoken Christians are also the most incorrigible racists, sexists, and advocates for policies that harm the poor, it seems like there should be more to the “What is a Christian?” question than affirming a set of creeds.
It helps to look at faith as a spectrum, with Jesus on one end, and complete godlessness on the other, rather than as a coin with “belief” on one side and “unbelief” on the other. You can believe all the right things about God, about sin, and about salvation, which are enough to “count” as a true believer in most people’s eyes. That puts you closer to the “Jesus” side of the spiritual spectrum.
But checking off the right beliefs doesn’t mean that how you live no longer matters — it absolutely does. Leaving a legacy of poisoned fruit will do further harm to the Church’s overall reputation. I do believe that such people will be held accountable one day. That may or may not result in separation from God, but there will still be a reckoning.
At the same time, I believe that the people who sincerely acted in Jesus’ name, loving others to the best of their ability, will be welcomed into the Kingdom despite getting some theological points “wrong.” I believe God cares more about a person’s heart than whether they aligned with Team Red or Team Blue.
Jesus, as you may recall, was neither.
But the same Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” also told parable after parable about flipping the status quo and choosing mercy over the laws of the land. There is no contest between theology and character. Both are important. Faith without works is dead.
So what about the politicians who operate on a platform of faith and bigotry?
I would say they are technically still Christian — but further away from Jesus on that spiritual spectrum. So long as they continue to wear the title, and as long as humans lack the ability to read hearts and minds, they will remain “Christian” in my book.
But I still consider them toxic.
I still consider them dangerous.
I still believe their tables would be flipped over if Jesus came back today.
And I believe that other Christians have a responsibility to rebuke them when necessary.
As much as I would love to dismiss such people who harm my tribe’s reputation, I can’t — not in good conscience. Because doing so would mean I am confident that my understanding of theology is perfect, and I know that it isn’t. It would mean that I imitate Jesus in every difficult situation, and I know I do not.
Most importantly, it would mean that I am willing to dismiss the harm that was done to my ancestors, the Jews, because the perpetrators weren’t “real Christians.” That’s intellectually dishonest.
Christians are a batch of interesting people — some closer to Jesus than others. Some more theologically knowledgeable than others.
The only one I can judge completely is me.