When you say the word Christian, do you mean your faith? Or do you mean your tribe?
Let me ask that question in a different way. When you hear the word Christian, do you see a person? Or do you see a way of life? Is it a noun? Or, an adjective?
It’s an exercise in semantics right? Well, in as much as the teachings of the Christian Bible are semantics, I guess it is.
Our world is full of semantics. “Our country is great” can mean a lot of things. Great means powerful. It means rich and full of opportunity. Great could mean familiar and sustained. Great can mean free from tyranny and overburdensome rule. Great could mean a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness win out. Or, it could just mean a decent place to live in peace and quiet with the space to live with your own thoughts.
For me, great means the place that every living human soul in the world wishes they were born, but even more, wishes they could die in. Or die for. That’s what great means. And once, not too long ago, maybe even last week, that’s what America was.
The dreams of the world happen in American. My first ancestor came here as an indentured servant, to Brooklyn before it was even a British colony. My last came here over two hundred years later, from Ireland, working in the steel mills of Pennsylvania. For centuries, people came because of the promise of great. Because greatness meant one simple thing. All were welcome.
We wrote it down and it changed the world.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We screwed it up from the start. We didn’t include everyone. And we paid the price. We fought like hell over the last 240 years to get us to equal. And welcome. And we’re damn close. At least we were. It’s changed though.
About that first question I asked. When you hear the word Christian, what do you hear? I’ve heard the wasteful debate over whether or not we are a Christian nation with Christian values. We are. But we are more than that too. At our very core, we are a nation built on the fundamental value that all are equal. It is not at odds with my faith. My faith tells me all are loved. All are forgiven. All are welcome.
We are every bit in the middle of a great crisis of our faith and culture. But for a different reason than perhaps they’ve led you to believe. Our way of life isn’t at risk because more people want to come and live it. Our way of life is at risk because we’ve answered that first question wrong. Christian isn’t a thing. It’s not a tribe or a people to be protected. It’s a beautiful word that describes a bold fearless way to live. And the crisis isn’t that the knock on the door came and keeps coming from those in search of our shelter. The crisis is what we’ve decided to do when we heard it.
The teachings of my faith are clear and unambiguous. Matthew 25:
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’
In my faith, my God doesn’t ask. He commands. And he does not qualify my safety as a condition to obey. You can fool yourself into thinking that closing the door is protecting us. Maybe for a little while. And maybe from outsiders. But it can’t protect our way of life from the only enemy who could ever take it away for good.
This is not our way.
14 thoughts on “Crisis of Faith”
It was a time when I viewed a Christian as a person with a similar set of values that were found in other modes of religious practice-Baptist Episcopalian, Catholic, Lutheran and the list goes on. However today I must admit that a Christian is a person that practices his or her faith and is tolerant of others that are “Christian” and follow the same values of their politics. Religion and politics have always been linked. Story of pilgrims if you dig into the history, is a story of a group of people that practice their faith and very specific manner and escaped a political system that was not tolerant of that matter. However when they colonized America, they bought an intolerance of those that did not agree with them to the American shores. Is that really the foundation of our “Christian nation”?
Sean – very much enjoying the blog (and finding out your are a Jersey guy!) I’m Jewish and much of the public discussion of a “Christian Nation” seems to be uneasily tied up with “Americanism” and “nationalism” and this is then defined by espousing the pro-life position, or being anti same-sex marriage, or generally supporting conservative political views. My synagogue does much service work for the poor and refugees side by side with the churches in our community. The Christian values you espoused in the last paragraphs of this blog post are fortunately what I get to see day to day from my neighbors. We are all here to help bear one another’s burdens. Keep up the great work!
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Good, thoughtful response to the situation in the U.S., and in many parts of Canada, today.
So well said, Patrick. Thank you for your thoughtful writings.
“My God doesn’t ask. He commands. And he does not qualify my safety as a condition to obey. You can fool yourself into thinking that closing the door is protecting us. Maybe for a little while. And maybe from outsiders. But it can’t protect our way of life from the only enemy who could ever take it away for good.
On Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 5:08 PM, chartwell west wrote:
> Sean Patrick Hughes posted: “When you say the word Christian, do you mean > your faith? Or do you mean your tribe? Let me ask that question in a > different way. When you hear the word Christian, do you see a person? Or do > you see a way of life? Is it a noun? Or, an adjective? It’s an” >
In re-reading the post and comments I realized I mischaracterized Michael Ryan’s reaction to your post when I directly equated it with my own. Apologies for that.
Thanks bud! Been really enjoying your reads lately! It been an odd break between all the studying! Really like this one, really them all, but this hit home with the current struggle to wrestle with the mess internally. ! Keep it up!
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Hi, Sean, As a follower of Jesus myself, I had the same reaction as Michael Ryan to the assertion that we are “a Christian nation”. This idea is too easily co-opted by the very same people supporting the current unconstitutional and most un-Christian ban our administration admits is intended to give preferred entry status to Christians. It tacitly, at best, or even overtly supports the us-versus-them mentality pervading the current wave of hatred and violence against Muslims (and other religions, gays, transgenders, etc.) and the poisonous idea that Islam is “evil”. To say the US is a Christian nation is too easy to construe as exclusionary – i.e. it means we are NOT Jewish, Muslim, atheist, Hindu, etc. That said, I understand where you’re coming from in this post and the historical role that Christian principles playin the founding principles of America. I am fighting for them daily now, with every fiber of my being. It’s deeply painful to witness the ugliness of the “Christian” right. They have hijacked my beautiful faith. And I want it back!!!
Sean, You have cut to the heart of it. Far too many claim “Christian” as their “I am a” status and exclude others rather than using the word as a metric for how we act and treat others. At its very core, it should mean inclusion and compassion. At our core as Americans, we should define inclusion and compassion. -MCA
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I think I understand the underlying meaning of the assertion that we are a Christian nation with Christian values- for me, the understanding that this does not mean we have a Christian government is implicit in this statement. But you are referring to the actual Christian values most dramatically summed up in the great commission: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, sould, and mind, and lover your neighbor as you love yourself.” I think that this ultimate command, attributed to Jesus, has been obscured to many self identified Christians, and especially as it relates to political opinions. I’d go so far as to say that the co-option of the Christian faith by the Roman empire, and subsequent codification and legalization of the faith was the original relevant act of creating a world of alternative facts in service of a materialistic, oppresive political agenda with a false veneer of righteousness. A few dramatic examples of this phenomemon being the inquisition, genocide commited in the name of Christ in America and other colonies, and selling by the Church of indulgences for cash.
My question now is: How do I, as an agnostic who believes in the message and wisdom of the great commission and related teachings, connect with Christians in a way that will encourage their acceptance of a progressive political agenda that is truly based on the values expressed in Matthew 25, and all the other true and compassionate scriptural teachings of Jesus Christ? It seems that one of the key driving factors behind Trumps ascension was the support of the well organized and highly motivated fundamentalist, evangelical right, and that defusing the destructive, intolerant wing of that party is a key to healing the rift in our nation, and restoring reason and sanity to our federal politics.
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See, and that is the great thing about an ongoing debate. As someone who has tried everything from Christian Science to Quakerism to my highschool friends’ born again youth groups, your post has touched me like no other Christian speaker ever has. I can’t agree with Mr. Ryan that this post derailed your credibility. You are so exactly right; we’re arguing semantics and splitting hairs over entirely the wrong concept. So many people ask, ‘Are we Christians?’ and what they are really saying is ‘Who belongs to our group?’ and more importantly ‘Who should we keep out of our group?’. Thank you, thank you for your wonderful, thought-provoking posts. Reading yesterday’s post about the war was, oddly, the most uplifting part of my day.
Hi Mike, I appreciate the comment. And I would love to engage with you deeper. I actually wouldn’t have thought that characterization would be offensive. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t. So if you’re interested, shoot me an email at email@example.com. I’d like to understand more about your perspective. Of course it’s up to you. And I understand if you aren’t interested. Thanks for reading. -Dean
Sean, you really lost me on this one, and I was one of the one’s eager to fund your endeavor. As a quaker I find the debate about wether we are a Christian nation an interesting and useful one, a debate that goes back to the very founding of the country. To tell me that it’s only a tribal debate, and worse, wasteful, is well, tribal and exclusive. You were on a roll. This one derailed your credibility for me.