There seems to be a persistent perception by some critics of Christianity that all Christians are alike. Mainly, the critics assume we’re all priggish, self-deluding, mean-spirited, hypocritical bigots.
This perception is something of a head-scratcher.
It demonstrates a notable unawareness of how complex humans tend to be. No two stock car drivers are alike, or two cowboys or two waitresses or two Germans or two gay people. Why would all members of a 2 billion-member, worldwide religion be alike?
Also, it’s demonstrably, factually wrong.
In my column last week, I wrote about what I, at least, based on my reading of the New Testament, believe to be Christianity’s core values: love and humility.
Naturally, I don’t imagine all professed Christians to possess these virtues. But a lot of Christians do. My implied point was that Christians should try to practice love and humility, even if they currently don’t.
Here are a few comments about that column from readers, these taken from the Herald-Leader’s Facebook page:
▪ “(Christianity’s) true message is conform or burn. Love doesn’t remotely come into the picture. That their hateful and exclusionary worldview is loving is delusion on the part of the Christian faithful.”
▪ “Really? Wow! That doesn’t match their ‘their God is not our God so we’re righteous in killing them’ attitudes and politics.
“They’re part of the ‘we aren’t good, righteous, proud, patriotic, ’Muricans unless we’re throwing people in cages, torturing or killing them’ crowd.”
▪ “Most christians are phonies, they have nothing to do with Jesus. The American christians are a right wing (often to extremism) political movement masquerading as a religion.”
I agree that certain Christians fit those descriptions.
But here’s the fallacy: the commenters assume that because some Christians are unloving and proud, all Christians are. I hear these claims frequently.
Unfortunately, much of the discourse about religion in this country, especially whenever religion intersects with politics, has in recent decades been dominated by a single segment of the Christian community.
That’s the so-called Religious Right, made up primarily, although not exclusively, of white evangelicals, along with a faction of conservative Catholics. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals who voted cast their 2016 presidential ballots for Donald Trump.
There are endless variations — and virtues — among right-leaning Christians, but in general they tend to oppose gay marriage, legalized abortion, illegal immigrants, the teaching of evolution in schools and government entitlement programs for the poor, such as Medicaid and food stamps.
They get a lot of ink in the press. They make a comparatively few people happy and lots of others hopping mad.
But the real news is that the Religious Right doesn’t represent all Christians. Never has.
Mainline Protestants, for instance, number in the millions and tend to lean largely left on social and theological issues. Mainline denominations include such stalwarts as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, among others.
For much of America’s history, these denominations were the primary face of Christianity. Their size and clout has declined in the past 50 years, but they’re still influential.
In Lexington, several mainline congregations have declared themselves “affirming” churches, meaning they welcome gay members. Some of their parent denominations ordain gay men and women as ministers and even bishops.
Similarly, numerous mainline congregations across the country have declared themselves “sanctuary” sites for illegal immigrants.
Mainliners have long been front and center in civil rights and antiwar movements.
Then there’s the Roman Catholic Church, our largest Christian denomination. It’s quite conservative on abortion, yet among the more liberal organizations in the country — religious or secular — on the death penalty, social justice for the poor and health care.
I’m not trying to parse which Christians are right or wrong on each issue. I’m trying to point out that Christianity and Christians are diverse and complicated.
Today we seem to face stereotyping from the secular public. Often the stereotypes are unflattering, but they’re based on incomplete information, if not on downright untruths.
That’s unfortunate. The good deeds of countless sincere, charitable, humble churchgoers get short shrift, while the strident performance of a comparative few militants is trumpeted as the norm for all.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.