It’s no secret that the worst people in history have always cloaked themselves in righteousness-sounding words. Hitler was, according to himself, a “savior of humanity.” Slave owners claimed they were “benevolent benefactors” to their human property. Then there was Robespierre, leader of the French Revolution, who stood for “human dignity and equality” even as he butchered innocent people by the thousands. I mention him because I’ve been watching History Channel documentaries all day.
I have only scratched the surface of human hypocrisy by citing these examples, but you get the idea. There’s something in human nature that fiercely rejects Jesus’ call to honest self-examination, even among those who call themselves his followers. Thus, raging homophobes are “defending family values,” gossips and backbiters are “expressing their godly concerns,” and wealthy exploiters are “fighting Socialism.”
In all fairness, those on the Religious Left are just as guilty of this sort of false piety. One example is a liberal pastor I know, who spreads hateful nonsense about Evangelicals in the name of “promoting tolerance.” It seems odd that so many people, all devoted to such high ideals, are so eager to destroy each other – for the glory of God and the betterment of humanity, of course.
It’s because of these people that the word “Christian” has such a negative connotation in modern American society. The secular world has watched for centuries as “Christians” have been on the wrong side of history time after time. Let’s look at the score card:
• Democracy vs. monarchy
• Women’s suffrage
• Minimum wage laws
• Environmental protections
• Universal healthcare
With each of these issues, many or most of those who call themselves Christians have fought for the oppressors, and against the common people whom Jesus loved so much.
There have been many exceptions to this rule, of course. MLK and the church-people who supported him are perhaps the best known examples. Nonetheless, in the past 40 years or so the word “Christian” has been hijacked by the Religious Right, so that it has come to mean something very ugly in the minds of millions.
That’s a shame, because the word has a beautiful meaning. It refers to a person who actively seeks to follow the example of Jesus, a man who took the side of the poor and oppressed, who preferred peace to war, and who never, ever said a single word about homosexuals one way or the other.
He did, however, have some rather unkind things to say about the wealthy, a class which most Americans, myself included, fall into, though we don’t always realize it. Just ask an Ethiopian if we “middle-class” folks are actually rich.
Because of how the word has been perverted in recent decades, I will not say that I am a Christian.
But there’s another, more fundamental reason why I refuse to apply the term to myself: I simply don’t have that much gall. To say “I am a Christian” would be to put myself in the same league as people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Friedrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Francis, and others who lived up to the word’s true meaning.
I’m not like those people. I don’t live up to the meaning of the word, at least not consistently enough to be worthy of it.
I go to church, I take communion, I read Scripture, I pray, I believe in God, and I confess my sins. But none of that makes me a Christian. Instead, it makes me someone who has checked into a spiritual clinic, in the hopes of getting better one day. That’s what the church is supposed to be, you know: a hospital for sick people who need to get better.
Maybe one day I will be healthy enough, spiritually and morally speaking, to call myself a Christian. In the meantime, I will keep taking my medicine and following my Doctor’s orders. After all, that’s what sick people are supposed to do.