Bill Endicott

Viewpoints: Rigid ideologues hijack the term 'Christians,' excluding all others

Published: Friday, Jun. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 19, 2013 - 9:55 pm

I took a call in The Bee newsroom several years ago from a woman who had a long list of complaints, one of which was that there was nothing but bad news in the newspaper.

That's simply not true, I told her. There is, to be sure, a steady diet of disaster and tragedy and sadness in the news. But hardly a day goes by, I said, that there are not stories about good people doing good things.

Just that day, there was a story on the main metro page about the Rev. Dan Madigan and his years of work with the Sacramento Food Bank.

The story quoted Madigan as calling on people to live their faith through compassion, love, respect and integrity.

My caller said she didn't care about that story. It was about a Catholic, and she said she wasn't interested in stories about Catholics.

"I'm a Christian," she said.

That response, disturbing in its stark bigotry, has been in my mind lately as I've thought about how we have allowed those on the religious right to co-opt the word "Christian" to justify or explain their intolerant behavior and especially their opposition to gay rights.

We saw it most recently in the decision by Southern Baptist and Assembly of God churches to eliminate their Boy Scout troops rather than allow gay youths to become members, as well as in their earlier criticism of allowing openly gay people in the military and their ongoing antipathy to gay marriage.

Just a few weeks ago, ESPN basketball analyst Chris Broussard invoked the "I'm a Christian" line to express his aversion to gay athletes in general and NBA basketball player Jason Collins in particular, shortly after Collins announced that he is gay.

As with my caller years ago and Broussard more recently, there is such arrogance in their declaration of Christianity, an implication that anyone not of like mind cannot be Christian and that their interpretation of Christianity is the only one that counts.

Unfortunately, all this adds up to the fact that Christianity has become virtually synonymous with right-wing politics and has been hijacked by the Republican Party. They cite ancient Scripture to defend their prejudices, even though those prejudices are at odds with the New Testament teachings of Jesus.

Andrew Sullivan, a politically conservative commentator and author who is openly gay and thus finds himself at odds with the religious right, suggested once in a Time magazine column that mainline Christians take back the word Christian and identify the religious right as "Christianists."

Christianity is simply faith, he wrote, but Christianists are an "ism" and represent an ideology and politics.

"The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist," said Sullivan. "Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque."

Those on the religious right have it all wrong when they attribute changing attitudes in contemporary culture to "left-wing political correctness," as Gary Bauer, president of a group calling itself American Values, argued in a recent USA Today column.

Bauer wrote that there is an institutional intolerance of traditional values. But he and his fellow conservatives want to reserve for themselves the right to define those values, which I see as narrow-minded, exclusionary and a distortion of the Christian ideals of equality, compassion and, yes, tolerance.

Right now, the focus of their obsession is the gay lifestyle, in which they seem to cling to a belief that all gays are predators and/or sex-crazed, which is ridiculous on its face, and in which they see gays and lesbians as a group, not as individuals.

The fact is that gay and lesbian persons, as with heterosexual persons, live many different lifestyles, and many are devout Christians, in the best sense of that word.

Fortunately, there are voices of reason and good sense in the religious community, and I found one in a recent interview by The Bee's Stephen Magagnini with the Rev. Kevin Ross of the Unity of Sacramento Church on Folsom Boulevard.

Ross said it is antithetical to his personal values and experiences to discriminate against another minority group and, for instance, considers the right of gays to marry a civil rights issue.

He described his church, which welcomes people of all faiths and sexual orientations, as one that follows the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "where we can live together as brothers, not suffer together as fools."

William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor for The Bee.

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