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Don’t worry about the church turning us into Christian America

Several members of my little congregation have confessed recently that they were ready to give up on the appellation “Christian” as a means of describing their own religious commitments. They feel as if this 2,000-year-old adjective no longer includes people of their ilk.Their disappointment, of course, is colored by our recent election that has pundits proclaiming the supposedly enormous power of the Christian Right to influence not just our elections but the political, cultural and environmental course of the next four years.Although I share some of their concerns, I am not about to accede all of Christianity to a, admittedly, growing and increasingly vocal segment of this ancient faith. The history of Christianity reveals a vast variety of interpretations of what it means to claim belief in Jesus as Christ. A drive through any town in America will bear witness to a plethora of interpretations of Christianity, from Methodism to the Mennonites, from Charismatics to Catholics. The point is, no one interpretation has ever proved perfect. Nevertheless, there are Christians who ignore this diversity of thought and are determined to lay claim to sole possession of the faith.

A quick visit to the website http://www.theymustrepent.com will reveal how a certain group of Methodist Christians are determined to subject the President and Vice-President, both of whom are Methodists, to censure by the church for their claims that their decision to go to war was guided by prayer. Nothing less than removal from the church roles seems to be their goal. On the other hand, a committed Christian in California is determined to oust John Kerry from Catholicism via the ancient rite of excommunication. Kerry’s position on abortion seems to be the motivator there.Apparently, these guardians of their faith have a rather narrow view of membership requirements. Those of us who believe that Christianity has room enough for divergent views and opposing opinions tend to shy away from either side of the spectrum. Indeed, we’ve found the more we remain in conversation with one another the more readily we discover that our similarities outweigh our differences. Most Christians I converse with have similar goals – moral society, peace in the world, a future for our children, a clean environment – but they have different ways of attaining them. I honestly can’t think of any Christian I’ve met who didn’t aspire to those objectives.

But when it comes to the implementation that the fireworks, or fire and brimstone, begin.It doesn’t take much to imagine our moderate Muslim sisters and brothers struggling with the same kind of polarization in their own faith. Folks who, like the vast majority of Christians, find their religion a comfort for troubling times but feel no need to foist it upon others, and these same folks are embarrassed and troubled by those who do.Besides, the briefest look around reveals that theocracies have never done much for religion. Most people resent being told what they must believe.More than a decade ago during a sabbatical, I served a delightful parish of the Church of England in London. As the name implies, the C of E is both affiliated with and supported by the state. As much good as the church does in England through charities, support groups, youth programs and more, most English men and women have no interest in being involved with the church. They prefer to be free of institutional religious requirements that often include doctrines and dogma that they deem no longer relevant to their own realities.



I suspect any attempt by religionists to bring theocracy to America will meet with a similar indifference. Proclamations will be made, pomp will be proffered, and the people will quickly dismiss the church as readily as they now dismiss politicians. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said the historian Lord Acton. A little more history under our bridge and we may soon confirm his conviction. So I wouldn’t worry that some Christians in America would like to turn us into Christian America. Too many of us Christians … and Muslims, Jews, Republicans, Democrats, atheists and agnostics, Hindus and Buddhists, and more … like it just the way it was intended.”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …” Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column.


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