“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
You know, it’s true. I know no one who truly is thoroughly Christlike; it’s a very hard ideal to attain. But in the aftermath of the incredibly moving Clergy for Tolerance breakfast this week, I feel the need to go to bat for Christians and their leaders. American Christians make up a huge and incredibly diverse group. Yes, there are people who call themselves Christians who believe in shooting abortion providers, who blame hurricanes on homosexuality, who use their beliefs to justify hatred of gays, Hispanics, and anyone else who is “other.” These people are what we call “crazy.” The hate-mongers are the fringe of Christianity. Unfortunately, those who hold these fringe beliefs are loud and hard to ignore. Too often, they are seen as representative of all Christians, simply because they are likely to claim that their faith justifies their hatred. Politicians listen because they see things through the distorted lens of money and press. That is precisely why, as I said yesterday, we need to make our own voices heard over the din.
Listening to Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal ministers speaking out against the extreme legislation in Alabama warmed my heart. As a liberal Catholic, I often feel that my own church leaders – to say nothing of evangelical Christian leaders – do not share my ideals on public morality. When Robert Parham finished his moving remarks, I turned to my neighbor and said, “Baptists! Who knew?” The reality is that most American Christians really do strive to be more like our Christ. For every Fred Phelps there are hundreds of ministers, reverends, sisters, priests, youth-group leaders, and church ladies who seek to love their neighbors and to care for the downtrodden. Seeing those leaders step up and speak out against the anti-immigrant movement reaffirmed my faith in institutional religion. It’s not for everyone, but it can and should be a powerful force for social justice. If each of those 300 leaders (not all of them Christian, of course) preaches and teaches that immigrants – like all other people – are Children of God and that laws like those in Arizona and Alabama are morally wrong, this will be a better state. It is time for the silent majority of Christians to be heard, and to show that we do not share the values of the hateful fringe. We may still be “so unlike [our] Christ,” but we’ll be closer.