Dear Liberal Christians: Do You Know This Is A Christian Nation?

So I ran across this video of right-wing “historian” David Barton saying

If you look at signers of the Declaration of Independence, they said America is a Christian nation. So were we? Yes. … Are we? … America’s 82 to 88 percent professing Christian. I would say that qualifies for a Christian nation.

(emphasis added.)

It’s worth taking a closer look at Pew’s numbers.

Evangelical Protestant Churches 26.3%
Mainline Protestant Churches 18.1%
Historically Black Churches 6.9%
Catholic 23.9%
Mormon 1.7%
Jehovah’s Witness 0.7%
Orthodox 0.6%
Other Christian 0.3%
Total 78.5%

I’m not going to delve on the difference between Pew’s 78.5% and Barton’s 82-88%; let’s just assume that Christianity has fallen by 4-10% in three years, more or less evenly across denominations. Nor do I want to pick on David Barton specifically. He merely provided a representative quote in the general ballpark of “most Americans are Christians, so it’s our way or the highway”.

What’s more interesting to me is that if we take all these different flavors of Christian and bake them into a tasty pie chart, it looks like this:

Now, I’m guessing that Barton is in that blue 33.5% wedge, which many of the people in the other wedges consider crazy, heretical, or worse. I haven’t been following Christians’ internecine sniping much, but I recall a lot of the blue guys saying that the green guys aren’t True Christians. And of course the Mormons and JWs are on the chart not because the bigger sects consider them Real™ Christians, but because they consider themselves Christians.

My point here is that if you’re a non-crazy-right-wing-holy-roller Christian, then you’re probably not in the same wedge as Barton and the crazy right wing holy rollers. But they’re speaking for you anyway. In the video above, for instance, Barton is saying that since most Americans are Christians (call themselves “Christian”), therefore laws should follow Christian (right-wing Evangelical) principles.

But for some reason, I don’t hear a lot of liberal Christians calling right-wingers on this, demanding that the conservatives stop speaking for all Christians. Except, I guess, when the craziness reaches Fred Phelps levels. In most cases, however, silence is perceived as agreement.

So if you’re a Christian who doesn’t agree with the Pat Robertsons and Maggie Gallaghers and Bill Donohues and David Bartons of the world, you have a few options:

a) Get the right-wingers to stop using the word “Christian” when they really mean “Fundie”. Good luck with that.

b) Pick a different word for yourselves. I’d suggest “Jesusist”, but that has too many esses, so how about “Yeshuist”?

c) Stop giving cover to the crazy Christians. Raise a stink whenever someone says something crazy and claims to speak for you.

Or, I suppose, you could d) agree that yes, unbelievers and gays should be second-class citizens just like it says in the Bible, that there should be no wall of separation between church and state, and like that. I’d just like to know where things stand.

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6 Responses to Dear Liberal Christians: Do You Know This Is A Christian Nation?

  1. Paul says:

    One of the things that’s been happening lately is that people in the blue wedge are a lot less likely to question the Christianity of the people in the green wedge, but instead claim that the people in the green wedge are “like them” when ganging up on the people in the red wedge, ignoring that there’s as great a variety among Catholics as there is among Protestants. The reason for this is that, at least on paper, people in the green wedge agree with them about gays and abortion, and those issues have become more important than the Catholic/Protestant divide. You saw this in the Evangelical embrace of Santorum. You see this in Supreme Court nominations. Evangelicals actually seem to think Catholics are more reliable defenders of the faith than they think other Evangelicals are.

    I think “Christ Follower” is a good phrase, personally. It’s not one word, but it also has meaning. It does seem the right-wingers have taken over the word “Christian” and that battle is lost, leaving (b) the only tenable option.


    • arensb says:

      A fair point. I agree I haven’t seen nearly as much “Catholics aren’t Real Christians!” stuff lately, especially since they started embracing the same anti-woman, anti-gay positions as the Evangelicals. Or, I guess, roughly since the ascension of pope Ratzinger.


  2. amb says:

    Oh, we know, believe me, and people fuss, and orgs like the Christian Left can be pretty vocal. But anger provokes anger, and diving into that fray can bring nigh anyone down to a very low level, very fast. I for one don’t like being there, and I *really* don’t like the kind of person that being there in the sqabbling turns me in to. I see what it does to the people I disagree with, for one. So while I am silent, that is why I do not jump into that particular mud pit. Yes, it can make me very angry. Acting on those impulses often isn’t going to help, though, it’s just going to add to the un-joyful noise. I have to find other ways to deal with it. I have to fight *my* fight, not their fight, or be a proxy for anyone else’s fight.

    To your lettered bullet points:

    b) Why should I change my terminology? I am a follower of Christ. My way of following is different from just about anyone else’s, even in my own church. So they’re more different than some. That doesn’t change how I see myself, or my relationship to the divine.

    a and c) I am as uncomfortable with the concept of me (or anyone) being in the class of “Good” Christians as I am upset with me being put in the class of “Bad” or “not real” Christians. We all have our faults, we all have our strengths. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the strengths. It is important to recognize the sacred and divine in everyone. Nevermind the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. “I do everything right and by the rules. I do good things. You and me, God, right? And I thank thee, God, that I am not like that tax collector over there.” As Madeleine L’Engle puts it, an idol is anything that pulls us away from God, just as an Icon is something that draws us to God. (Click here for God) For me, getting into the fight about who better represents God’s will for us builds up as bad an idol as one can stumble over. If someone does me the respect of asking whether or not someone speaks for me (generally, they don’t, though), I can answer. I do have some respect my audience is intelligent to know better than to assume that, though (-:

    d) hogwash and a non-starter. If I am not fundamentalist/literalist, I probably don’t buy that interpretation. You can’t have me in both boxes at the same time.

    I’ve got to find other ways to tackle the problem. I’m a fan of (e) prayer for guidance, peace, and clue for starters. And sometimes, (f) learning a bit from the bhuddists about the nature of transience. “This, too, shall pass.” We should discuss this over a good, ECUSA-approved beer for further alternatives at some point, but I have to go parent, now. (Something that also shall pass if I don’t nab the opportunity.) So anyway….


    • arensb says:

      orgs like the Christian Left can be pretty vocal.

      I’d never heard of this organization before, but I searched Google News and found five hits (counting HuffPo columns that list “co-founder of The Christian Left” in the author’s bio, and a link to their Facebook photo gallery as hits), so I guess it exists.

      So while I am silent, that is why I do not jump into that particular mud pit.

      So I guess the bottom line is that you’re silent.

      b) Why should I change my terminology?

      I’m not saying you have to, and I understand that you and others have a lot invested in that particular term. It’s just that people are going on about how tolerance of homosexuality is not Christian, and Christianity is at war with Islam, and access to contraception tramples on Christian values, and so on. If you let them go on and don’t speak up, then you’re letting your brand become tainted. You can either try to reclaim it (like the gay community reclaiming the term “queer”), or you can abandon it and go with something else (like the gay community claiming the word “gay”).

      I am as uncomfortable with the concept of me (or anyone) being in the class of “Good” Christians as I am upset with me being put in the class of “Bad” or “not real” Christians. […] If someone does me the respect of asking whether or not someone speaks for me (generally, they don’t, though)

      Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? Usually, when the press quotes some bishop saying that mandating that health insurance plans cover birth control is a violation of sacred Christian principles; or when a school board wants to hang the Ten Commandments in school because this is “a Christian nation”; or when preachers demand to be allowed to endorse candidates and still keep their tax exemption; I rarely see the journalist ask other Christian groups how they feel about this. It’s only when things get to Fred Phelps levels that I see the press routinely issue disclaimers about how his isn’t a majority view.

      At any rate, I think the gist of this paragraph is that you’re uncomfortable with distancing yourself from people like Pat Robertson or Maggie Gallagher or William Donohue or Phyllis Schlafly or Dan Cathy because that’s too close to idolatry, and they’re just following their own paths in search of the divine.

      d) hogwash and a non-starter.

      Okay. I just listed that as a possibility.


      • amb says:

        True. But to write up on a group and what they have to say, how far do they have to go? Rarely do they also ask the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jewish communities, the Sunni, Shia and Sufi Islamic communities, the various Hindu temples, the Sikh temples, the Zoroastrian community… if one writes something up fairly, the Journalist is not giving voice, she is letting the facts speak for themselves. Honestly, given the public response, it sounds like a lot, they do. And maybe some of those groups would rather go on record being defined for what they’re for instead of what they’re against. Which is the kind of press that the group of US Catholic Nuns going up against the RC church has been getting recently in spades, by the way.

        At any rate, I think the gist of this paragraph is that you’re uncomfortable with distancing yourself from people like Pat Robertson or Maggie Gallagher or William Donohue or Phyllis Schlafly or Dan Cathy because that’s too close to idolatry, and they’re just following their own paths in search of the divine.

        Annnnnnd that’s a miss.

        What I believe is very different from them. I honestly don’t believe they’re right- in fact believe it’s directly against Christ’s teachings. I don’t condone what they say. That is different what I’m objecting to, in the throwing the stink dept. I am NOT going to say “Because I believe this, I am a ‘Good Christian’ and because they don’t, they are ‘Bad Christians.'” I’m offended by the “Mommy/Daddy likes me best” games from both sides of the issue- which is essentially what that comes down to. I am *not* the one who should be making the judgements here. (The idolatry, in case I was not clear, is not the people, but being so in love with my own personal view of God, that the view becomes my God, and not the Creator. That’s a very, very bad trap, there. So because I see other people potentially falling into that trap, I should jump with all certainty into the one right next to it?)

        I don’t know them, I have never met them, they likely have their good sides. Some may have them very buried under anger, hate and fear, but denying its presence is a problem. We’re all challenged to see Christ in the people around us. Granted, some are more of a challenge than others. At the very least, all people are beloved children of God, therefore sacred, even when they don’t seem to be acting it.

        I don’t like what they’re doing. And in part because I don’t like what they’re doing, and what it does to them, I don’t want to do it, or have the same thing happen to me. I should think that would make plenty of sense. They are not listening when they scream about gays and the poor. They are not listening to the people they are condemning, and I have to wonder how much they are listening to the still, small voice of God. I’d prefer a forum where both sides can (and will) listen.

        Still, if the point is to feel good and self-righteous, I suppose that’ll work for a bit. But I doubt most people seeing the two sides screaming at each other will learn much about the love of God that we’re all supposedly trying to be celebrating in this Christianity thing we’ve got going, here. And– most importantly– I don’t see it doing squat for the people who need the help. Actions in “my own back yard” do far more on that count.

        So I guess the bottom line is that you’re silent.

        No, I’m not silent. I’m just silent in the area I feel you pressuring me to embrace, jumping down in a public forum saying “bad! bad! bad!” (i.e., “raising a stink”) See my comments about proxying other’s battles, above. You obviously think they’re bad, and you feel called to jump up and down and say “bad! bad! bad!” then perhaps the Spirit is calling you to do these things- if she is, great, follow, perhaps that’s your role. I don’t really feel called to that activity often, and when I do, in retrospect, it generally feels like it’s not the Holy Spirit pushing me there; instead, when I think back, she’s more likely to be tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me that the followup key is not my friend.

        I will happily talk one on one or few on few. That is not silence, nor is it on their terms.
        I will chose to associate with and support those who I chose to associate with and support, and hope that my actions serve as examples to others, as I believe we are all called as Christians to do. Perhaps my words and actions on a personal level, even if sometimes they’re wrong, will cause others to think that there are different ways to see, and perhaps then chose to act differently, perhaps less hurtfully or hatefully. That is not silence, nor is it on their terms. In some ways, though, it might cause me to act like a “Crazy Christian.” (given how many people seem to think I am just for believing, perhaps that’s just a given)
        I’ll occasionally try to tackle things with humor, not anger. (I’m guessing you having to look up TCL means you don’t see my- admittedly rare- shares of TCL on fb.) Oh- That’s not silence, but it’s also not raising stinks. I think the point gets across better sometimes to those who need to hear it with humor than yelling at them and telling them how bad and wrong they are. They are, after all, people.
        In thanksgiving and as a Christian, I donate money and time when I can to groups that further what I believe we’re called to do. Not silence, not their terms.
        I will and do pray that the Spirit turns the hearts of those who are so angered and fearful, for gays, for the chronically ill, for the poor and oppressed. Not silence, although I suspect not likely your terms.

        In the end, also, I believe that plenty of people doing that does make quite a difference, and over the years, it has done so, like glaciers carving and pushing rock. It’s not sexy on tv, like blowing up rocks with TNT, but it’s steady, consistent, progress. So it’s more under the radar, but then again, Xianity did start out that way, so you could argue that’s more true to form.


  3. Matt O. says:

    As a Christian, I’d like to apologize for the behavior of so many of my fellow believers (and for those who use the name of Christ for their own political gain and have nothing to do with Christ). For me, options a and b remind me of the scene in Office Space when Michael Bolton, when asked why he doesn’t change his name, answers “Why should I change my name? He’s the one who sucks!” I actually think that option c happens (not nearly enough, but I see it regularly within my friend group), but honestly you’re unlikely to hear about it becasue it doesn’t make for interesting news. The media has much more to gain from reporting on the ridiculousness of Christians than it does from the confrontation of those troublemakers from within the church. But I do think that Option c is the only way to go…


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