This morning the papers carried the news that Ted Cruz had “won” the Republican slot for the presidency in the Iowa Republican Caucus. The picture of his victory speech showed him in front of an American flag and a huge cross. That’s because Senator Cruz boasts that he is a Christian and that it is his Christian values that propel his desire to serve as President. In his campaign speeches he has unabashedly laced “Christian” verbiage generously. It has excited fundamentalists. It has offended lots of other people.
This morning my Jewish friend, Deb, was aghast. She was highly offended at the picture. She was even more offended by the victory speech, which sounded to her more like a sermon at a Christian church or rally.
I assured her that it offended me also. I am a Christian and I know lots of other Christians who are offended at this campaign technique. You don’t have to be a non-Christian to be bothered by it.
Of late, the term Christian has undergone a serious and prolific transition from its original meaning. The term is an adjectival form of the word Christ, a Greek term which means “anointed one.” It is in the New Testament book called “The Acts of the Apostles” that the term is first used. In it, the author of the book (believed to be Luke) speaks at length about the “founding” of a community of those who believe in Jesus as The Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Their belief is matched by their acts to follow the example of Jesus by demonstrating Love and teaching it as the way of honoring God, the Creator.
However, some modern “sects, ” have adopted the word and adapted it to mean “people who believe as I do.” That can mean most anything. Consequently the term means almost nothing.
Those who handle snakes to prove that God won’t let the bite of a snake kill a true believer (a practice that fails regularly) call themselves Christians.
Those who believe that you must “speak in tongues” call themselves Christians and tend to think that those who don’t aren’t really Christian.
Those who believe that scripture must be read literally (Fundamentalists) and without interpretation see themselves as Christians and question the Christianity of those who don’t.
Those who have been baptized by immersion (beneath the water) may believe that those who are “sprinkled” with water are not really Christians.
These are radical examples. But there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of sects who have strange, restrictive understandings of what it really means to be a Christian. Social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women as clergy are popular topics which shatter the definition of Christian to some. Those who try to be generous and incorporate all who use the name Christian are frustrated and embarrassed. We (I am one) soon lose our sense of generosity and find ourselves rejecting the more unusual or restrictive definitions. Of late, there is a term, “Post-Christian,” which has come to be used by more progressive Christians to identify believers who reject the Fundamentalism and awkward expressions of the Christian faith.
We are offended by the claims of Christianity as the rationale for anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim, anti-science, and anti-feminist expressions of belief. Simplistic practices or beliefs that encourage pain and rejection of others in the name of Christ are hardly Christian. The very idea that the platforms of candidates for President of the United States can embrace such understandings is abhorrent.
I tried to assure my friend that what Senator Cruz was doing was outside the ancient beliefs and practices of Christianity as most of us understand it. It’s just unfortunate that the tag “Christian” is employed. It is the passion for the poor, marginalized, imprisoned, battered and slaughtered people of the world that drives us. Peace is more than the lack of war; it is a way of life that embraces those in need, those who differ from us, and those whose beliefs are diverse. Prejudice and judgment are offensive.
It’s hard not to be prejudiced and judgmental towards those who steal the name of Christian and employ it for self-aggrandizement. Being a Christian is hard. It goes against the norm that is emerging in this world.
Photo Credit: Joshua Cruey, Orlando Sentinal