Opinion: The communities and identities of Christianity

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By JOHN BUTTRICK

Published: 06-22-2024 8:30 AM

John Buttrick writes from his Vermont Folk Rocker in his Concord home, Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com

In contemporary society, identifying as “Christian” invites more confusion than clarity. Last year, Pew Research reported that sixty-two percent of Americans say they are Christian. Yet, out of that sixty-two percent, only fourteen percent of the U.S. population identify as Christian social and theological conservatives with the ideology of the political right that often includes Christian nationalism.

This minority is dominating the Christian political conversation. They have effectively organized with and benefit from the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 agenda. The document calls for erasing terms including “abortion,” “reproductive health,” “gender” and “gender equality” from “every federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation, and piece of legislation that exists.”

Among the proposals being advocated are new restrictions on abortion pills, greater exemptions to anti-discrimination laws intended to protect LGBTQ people, and a more visible role for Christianity in public schools, including more prayer led by both teachers and students.

Seeking to infiltrate the government with these aspirations is not the way of the majority of Christians. In spite of the media reports, there is a broad spectrum of Christianity that includes very different approaches to influencing the government. The integrity of the majority of Christians is maintained by speaking to the government, not seeking to become the government. The majority recognizes the necessary separation between any specific religion and the government. A democratic government includes the voices of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and many others. These participants in a democratic government seek to include all citizens in a system of justice and respect.

The Christian faithful include more than white, political, religious right evangelicals. They include those who have an understanding that every person is valued by God and has a place in God’s creation. This understanding leads to a concern for any who suffer from the judgment of an exclusive faith group. There are many Christians and Christian churches that advocate for those who are oppressed. They advocate for women’s rights, equal public education for all students, a history that includes U.S. colonialist expansion and the inhumane treatment of native Americans, the history of slavery, hospitality for people at the border, and advocate for ways to overcome climate change, and for the humanity of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, the June 16 Gay Pride parade in Portland, Maine included churches of four different denominations. One carried a banner that read, “Our church is sorry for all the hateful things done in the name of God.”

While the Christian right depicts government as the enemy, there is a church that seeks to change the government to be more responsive to humanitarian law, and care for the disadvantaged. While the Christian right seeks to seal the border, there are Christians that seek to cultivate hospitality for the stranger. While the Christian right works to limit the choices that a woman can make, there are churches that respect and trust a woman to make decisions about her own body. While the Christian right demands a binary system of gender, there are churches that recognize and support the LGBTQ+ community. While the Christian right depends upon force to assert its beliefs, there are Christian churches that call for empathy, active listening, honest debate, love of neighbor and pacifism in relationships with other countries.

All iterations of Christians are grounded in an understanding that they seek to follow in the footsteps and spirit of Jesus Christ. But their theology leads then down many different paths. The labels on the paths never fully describe the complete reality of each movement. Therefore, whenever there is a Christian belief expressed or an action advocated, it is important to remember that there are nuances buried in the adjective. There are many different paths from which to choose. Everyone gets sidetracked once in a while.

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However, the first step toward the integrity of the Christian label is to understand the means and the destination of a particular Christian or Christian community. There is a community that declares its love through inflicting their judgment upon others, with no alternatives but to change to the community’s ways and beliefs. However, there are other Christian communities who express their love of others by acknowledging their dignity, their freedom to choose, their insights, and the sacredness of their life’s journey.

When I hear the word “Christian,” I look for signs of the latter.