"You Can't Be a Christian!"

You probably wouldn't believe the number of times someone has told me I couldn't possibly be a Christian. (It happened this week, after I posted my previous entry.)
Or, I often hear the more definitive: "You are NOT a Christian!"

In my case, this allegation is usually because I’m gay. It’s predicated on a strict interpretation of a few Bible passages in such a rigid way that excludes homosexuals from God’s affection (e.g., ABOMINATION!), God's eternal presence ("No homosexuals in heaven"), much less any possible involvement in God’s community. ("Christian and gay? No way!")

But let me add something here.
It’s not just me who’s the target of these assertions, and it’s not just about sexual orientation. (WHEW!)

There are some churches/denominations who believe if you're not affiliated with them, you “can’t be a Christian.”

Anytime I hear this one, I’m reminded of my pastor when I was a youth minister, who relates the story of being asked “Are you one of those Baptist who thinks you’re the only ones going to heaven?” He replied, “I’m worse. I don’t think all of us are going.”

Most Fundamentalists are convinced that if anyone doesn’t agree with their beliefs, or the way they understand the Bible, there's no way they could be a Christian. I’ve witnessed many conversations where these conservative Christians have said that a moderate or progressive faith is impossible. Sadly, these self-appointed judges are not shy about sharing...or SHOUTING...that conviction.

You're Catholic?
"You can't be a Christian."

You don't see the Creation Story as literal?
"You can't be a Christian."

You doubt the inerrancy of the Bible?
"You can't be a Christian."

You don't think Hell is an eternal torment for those who've never accepted Jesus?
"You can't be a Christian."

You have a woman Pastor?
"You can't be a Christian."

For these people, the test of authenticity has been reduced to a set of specific beliefs (i.e., THEIR beliefs!) or the absence of certain behaviors, rather than a relationship with the Person from whom they take their name.

But we should also note that this judgmental phenomenon extends beyond the walls of church/denominational dogma.

I’ve seen Republicans/Tea Party'ers who are convinced it’s impossible to be a Christian if you are a Democrat, particularly when it comes to those hot-button topics on the GOP platform, such as abortion, guns, gay rights and immigration. I’ve also heard Democrats who call into question the faith of anyone who would vote Republican/Tea Party, because of their inattention to important social issues.

Personal Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I do struggle with those who claim the name 'Christian,' and yet spew hateful words; they seem...disconnected to the loving, compassionate Jesus of the Gospels. And I don’t understand politicians who tout their Christian faith, while disregarding the needs of the very ones who captured the attention of Jesus—the poor, the oppressed, the foreigners, the outcast, the sick.

No matter who's making the assertion, for whatever the reason, I'm always uncomfortable with the declaration. I don't like it when it's directed at me, and I'm just as concerned when it's being lobed at someone else. (I know gay people who think anyone...or any church...who doesn't embrace full LGBT equality, who sees homosexuality as a "sin" or who doesn't support same-sex marriage, cannot be Christian.)

So I have a firm rule: if you tell me that you are a Christian, I will believe you.

Obviously, I may not agree with you on all the finer points of Truth, doctrine, practice or biblical interpretation, but you'll get no argument from me about the reality of your faith. (It should also be noted that while I'm open to discuss our differences, I won't argue those finer points of Truth, doctrine, practice or biblical interpretation with you!)

Clarification: Yes, I may have some serious doubt about the viability of your faith if I listen to you spouting hateful rhetoric, while ignoring the Gospel’s primary message of Love. And if I observe you involved in cruel behavior, or hear you espousing ideas that are contradictory to the essential message of Jesus, it might cause me concern. It will absolutely frustrate me if your religious beliefs are so blended with your politics that you present them as identical and inseparable, proclaiming them as requirements to be a faithful Christian and a patriotic American. I will certainly grieve if I know you are actively working against those people and groups that Jesus specifically instructed us to care for. (Or voting for politicians who do.) I'll be perplexed if you spend much of your time worried about the "speck" in the eyes of others.

In those cases, I might conclude you are wrong, or deceived, or delusional and I will say as much in our personal discussions. I'll definitely and persistently make my disagreements public, seeking to show another expression of what it means to be a Christian.
But I will never declare your faith as invalid.
I will never proclaim “You can’t be a Christian!”
I consider such an arrogant statement to be rude, dismissive and distasteful. It assumes an absolute and intimate knowledge (omniscience) of your heart that goes way beyond my natural ability. (i.e., above my pay grade, and outside my job description!)

But I should make it clear that you may be like that quirky relative I don't admit being related to, and I probably won’t display your photo on my mantle!

In my next post, I will respond to those who have who've asked me, simply and directly, "Are you still a Christian?"