If someone says to you “I am a Christian”, where do you think they are likely to fall on the political and social spectrum?
It used to be that people who called themselves Christians could not be that easily pinned down as to their social and political and moral attitudes because they could span a wide range of viewpoints, from extremely liberal to rigidly conservative. But in an article in The New Republic, Timothy Noah argues that things have changed, and that the label Christian has been increasingly co-opted by one narrow faction, and the media is going along with it.
What NPR and Fox and Sony mean when they say “Christian” is “Christian right” or “Christian conservatives,” terms that adherents don’t like because they think they’re pejorative. “Fundamentalist” and “evangelical” are imperfect substitutes because a) the two categories, though they overlap a lot, aren’t precisely the same; and b) some of these folks consider themselves political liberals. (The worldly Cold War liberal Reinhold Niebuhr called himself an evangelical Protestant.) What conservative Christians really like to be called is “Christians.” Hence “Christian rock” and “Christian college” and now “Christian film.” This strikes me as terribly presumptuous. Bruce Springsteen was raised Catholic but he doesn’t perform anything these folks would accept as Christian rock. Wesleyan was founded by Methodists and named after John Wesley but evangelicals would never call it a Christian university. “Christian” has become a euphemism for “acceptable to the type of Christian (in most instances Protestant) who frowns on homosexuality and wishes Saul Alinsky had minded his own business.”
Noah is right. It looks like conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical Christians are quietly stealing the Christian label for their own exclusive use and getting away with it.
Noah deplores this tendency, but from the view of secularists like me, this may be a good thing. If religious labels such as Christian, Muslim, Jew, and so on become identified with the most narrow-minded and intolerant segments of those groups, then religion as a whole risks becoming discredited as those views become increasingly marginalized.