There’s an area where most liberal/ progressive Christians and I would seem to be in agreement. And that’s about how screwed up it is for the Christian Right to spin their version of Christianity as the one true version of the faith.
When the Christian Right talks about Christianity as if their practice of it (bigoted, theocratic, intolerant, sex-phobic, hateful to women, hateful to queers, hateful to anyone who isn’t them, yada yada yada) is THE Christianity, the only Christianity, the Christianity that counts… well, the liberal and progressive Christians I know get almost as mad about it as I do. Maybe even madder.
But here’s the thing:
Liberal Christians do exactly the same thing.
And it bugs me almost as much.
I can’t count the number of times liberal/ progressive Christians have said things like, “All that hate and hellfire talk — that’s not Christian. That’s not the true message of Jesus. The true message of Jesus is love and compassion and tolerance. What the Christian Right is doing and saying — that’s not true Christianity.”
And you know what?
They’re just as full of it as the Christian Right.
I just don’t think it’s a more Christian one.
And I don’t think there’s any basis for saying that it is.
The Christian Left doesn’t have anything more to back up their claim of being the true faith than the Christian Right does. Sure, they can quote chapter and verse — but the Christian Right can quote chapter and verse, too. It’s not like it’s hard to find messages of hellfire and judgment in the Bible, or even in the New Testament, or even in the Gospels. When I was debating a liberal Christian over a similar issue, I did a quick flip through the Bible, and in just the first half of the first book of the four Gospels, I found six separate references to wrath, the hell of fire, the destruction of hell, and judgment day. Four of them in Jesus’s own words. It took me about ten minutes to find it. It’s plentiful, and it’s front and center. The Christian Right has every bit as much Scriptural support for their hellfire-and-judgment version of Christianity as the Christian Left has for their love-and-tolerance version. Sure, they cherry-pick the parts of Scripture that support their vision and ignore the parts that don’t… but isn’t that exactly what progressive Christians do when they ignore the wrath and damnation stuff?
Now, obviously I’m not saying that progressive Christians shouldn’t set aside the judgment-and-damnation stuff. The judgment-and-damnation stuff is beyond fucked up — it’s essentially a form of mind control that exists to squelch questioning and dissent — and it deserves to be set aside. And to be fair, most progressive Christians acknowledge that they’re cherry-picking. They’re not pretending to take every word of the Bible as literal truth while ignoring the parts they don’t agree with, the way the fundamentalists do. And that’s not an insignificant difference.
But when you ask progressive Christians why they believe their version of Christianity is the true one, the one Jesus wants us to have, when it comes right down to it all they can say is, “I feel it in my heart,” or, “That’s just what I believe.” They can quote chapter and verse to back up their ideas about what Jesus wants from them, and they can point to what does and doesn’t work in the world to back up their ideas about… well, about what does and doesn’t work in the world. But like all religion, their belief that they’re doing what God wants them to do ultimately comes down to the conviction of faith.
The problem with that, of course, is that the Christian Right is every bit as convinced that their version of Christianity is the true one. Their faith in a hostile, bigoted, pissily judgmental Christ who’s obsessed with who’s fucking who and how… it’s every bit as strong as liberal Christians’ faith in a gentle, loving, forgiving Christ who just wants us to treat one another with compassion. Their conviction is every bit as powerful; they feel it in their hearts every bit as passionately. And they have every bit as much evidence — which is to say, ultimately none — to back up their claim.
And I think progressive Christians need to cop to this. When the Christian Right acts like evil theocratic bigots, it’s much too easy to respond by saying, “Well, that’s not true Christianity, is it?” Yes, it is. The Christian Right are Christians, just as much as you are. And their hellfire and judgment version of Christianity is a huge part of the reality and the history of your faith. It’s not like they’re some weird obscure sect that believes Jesus is a space alien or something — they’re probably the largest and most politically powerful religious group in this country.
By all means, say that the Christian Right is wrong. Say that their vision of the world is hateful and bigoted and out of touch with reality and not one that you share or care to. Say that their version of Christianity isn’t the only one, even. Say any of that, and I’ll happily back you and stand by you. But don’t say that they’re not true Christians. They are Christians, by any reasonable definition of the word. You don’t have the one true version of the faith any more than they do.