Are you a Christian? How do you know? Has someone else validated that you are, indeed, a bona fide Christian?
Do you agree with all the official Christian positions on the issues of our time?
I ask these questions because there appear to be a lot of people these days who have decided they can judge who’s a real Christian and who’s not.
That’s Christian as in a follower of Jesus Christ, who famously said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Some conservatives, for example, have questioned whether President Barack Obama is a real Christian, even though he’s talked about his faith in Jesus and periodically attends church.
And activists on both sides of many of the issues we’re fighting over are quick to claim Jesus as an ally, making it hard to divine just one “Christian” position.
Last weekend, pastors and lay leaders in the Presbytery of Charlotte voted 146-107 to endorse a proposed change in the wording about marriage in the Book of Order, or constitution, for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
If a majority of the PC(USA)’s 171 presbyteries take the same position, as expected, the wording will change from “marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman” to “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.”
The PC(USA) denomination has already given its pastors and churches the OK to marry same-sex couples in states, such as North Carolina, where it’s legal.
So, is that the “Christian” position on gay marriage? Or are other, more conservative Presbyterian denominations – including the Presbyterian Church in America – right when they say their opposition to same-sex marriage is what Christians believe?
The fact is, Christians have been divided for centuries. There continue to be disagreements aplenty – doctrinal and otherwise – among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and the many varieties of Protestants.
Historically, most Christian sects have been more than ready to claim that they, not the others, have the corner on Christian truth.
In 2001, the World Christian Encyclopedia counted 33,830 Christian denominations. By 2025, it is estimated, there could be as many as 55,000.
The modern wrinkle in the United States is that the fight over what is Christian and what is not has gone ideological, pitting conservative Christians against liberal Christians. You’ll find signs quoting Jesus and the Bible at both conservative anti-abortion marches and at liberal “Moral Monday” rallies.
My Oxford Essential Dictionary has two definitions. The first: “Believing in or following the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.” It doesn’t mention baptism or church membership or whether the Bible should be read literally. Those are issues on which the most passionate Christians often disagree.
But, in this age of rancor, maybe there’s hope for peace in more of us trying to live up to my dictionary’s second definition of a Christian: “Showing the qualities associated with Christ’s teachings.” As in, say, love your neighbor as yourself and, yes, judge not, lest ye be judged.