Social Issues, Theology

“True Christians” and harmful politics

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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.

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6 thoughts on ““True Christians” and harmful politics”

  1. Christianity is very credal and is distinguished from Judaism in this regard. Judaism is tribal, based on a community and relationships and is non-credal. I suppose Maimonides did formulate a creed of sorts but if you are Reform that is taken with a grain of salt. Paul seems to have really screwed things up with his nonsense about Abraham believing G-d and it being accounted to him as righteousness. In that passage Paul changed the Jewish-Christian sect into nothing more than a creedal sect pushing one formula about who Jesus was and making that the only criteria for being right with G-d. When you actually look at the passage Paul was referencing Abraham’s “belief” consisted of getting off his tuchus and going to another city where Ha Shem would deal with him. It had nothing to do with reciting a theological formula to gain G-d’e favor as Paul was pushing on his followers. So you say .” I believe God cares more about a person’s heart than whether they aligned with Team Red or Team Blue.” I would go further and say G-d does not care one wit about your theology. He cares only about who are as manifested by what you do. James gives room for this along with other sections of the New Testament so you don’t have to believe Paul about anything except perhaps the one time he said he thinks he had the Spirit’s mind in what he was relaying.

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  2. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me that you’re able to share your thoughts so clearly. I so needed to hear this today (and probably tomorrow, and almost certainly again next week.)

    I think too many Christians have forgotten how to rebuke in love, or how to do anything in love. We seem to have gotten deeply into clanging gong territory as a faith.

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  3. “I believe God cares more about a person’s heart than whether they aligned with Team Red or Team Blue.” I think every religious tradition, at its best and most simple comes down to this, regardless of creeds and whether it had one God or many. I ancient Egypt they believed that the judgment of the deceased came with the weighing of the heart against a feather. A story from the Islamic tradition tells of a man who comes before The Throne and God asks, “Do you know why I have forgiven you?” The man recounts all his good deeds and faithful following of the practices of prayer and such, and is told no, those are not the reason. He is reminded of a winter night he found a freezing kitten and took it home, and God says, “Because you took pity on that cat, I take pity on you.” The stories that make this point are innumerable. It’s about love.

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  4. 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.

    Where do other religions fit into this view–ones that don’t regard Jesus as (a) god, but aren’t godless?

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  5. When GK Chesterton was asked to write on “what is wrong with the world today” his answer was short and like your’s” “I am.” I confess, I am the worst Christian I know, but what does “Christian” mean in these days of hijacked terms and meaningless words. Nevertheless, I walk with the One who made me for Himself.

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