Tom McDonald

It’s being declared often these days. There’s even a book pushing the notion in its title: “America is a Christian nation.”

To which I ask: Which Christian?

Which version of Christianity are we talking about, the conservative Christian nationalists or the liberal Christian internationalists? They may share the “Christian” moniker, but they are, in reality, two separate religions.

In some Christian churches, there’s a civil war going on. New Mexico’s largest Christian denomination, the Catholic church, is becoming more deeply divided each day, with left-leaning Catholics putting social justice issues at the top of their faith-in-action agenda, while their counterparts on the right are singularly vested in one issue above all others — abortion, which they view as murder. That’s why there are so many conservative Catholics who disdain their fellow Catholic, the pro-choice Joe Biden.

The fact is, most Americans don’t belong to a church anymore. A Gallop poll last year found, for the first time in its history of polling, more American are unaffiliated with a church, mosque or synagogue. So even if you (falsely) contend this nation was built by and for Christians, you should at least admit that we’re not a Christian nation anymore. Even if you count both the conservative and liberal Christians as members of one religion, “other” is still the majority.

Count this preacher’s kid among those who left the church. My father was a United Methodist minister his entire adult life, but it wasn’t his faith that drove me away. Until the day he died, I admired his faith because it made him a better man. He felt called to love everyone, and he did. He didn’t judge people, nor did he believe in Hell — that’s something we create for ourselves, I heard him say, God would never punish us in such a way. In other words, God is a loving God, so there’s no such thing as eternal damnation.

He often said he didn’t believe in “scaring the hell out of people.” Rather, he believed in “loving the hell out of people,” and he did his best to live that way.

Now, does that sound like something a conservative Christian nationalist would say? “Yes, but …” would be as close to that kind of believer would get to saying such a thing. For a lot of evangelicals, the concept of Hell must be part of the conversation experience, because fearing God is an effective way to convert guilt-ridden sinners.

That’s why I don’t see one Christian faith on the American landscape. My father had more in common with a truth-seeking atheist than he did with a judgmental evangelist. And yet, amazingly, he loved both.

That’s why I’ve never stopped admiring his faith — and my mother’s, for that matter. They were grounded in a faith that made them better people. You don’t see that often among the other side of Christianity; mostly, they believe it’s their way or the highway.

As for Christianity’s sacred text, the Bible, it supports both sides of this religious schism. It’s not a single book, it’s a library, and if you want to find justification for pretty much anything, somewhere there’s a verse waiting for your biased interpretation. Even among those who claim to take the Bible literally, there are disagreements. “Thou Shalt Not Kill” seems like a straightforward commandment, and yet it’s still a matter of interpretation as to when it applies and when it doesn’t.

Of course, every Christian doesn’t fall neatly into the conservative or the liberal side of this religion. There are the not-gonna-judge-you conservative Christians, the moderate mainline Christians, the absentee and Sunday-only Christians, the liberation theology Christians and many others who still apply free-thinking to their faiths.

I wonder how many are like me — absent from any particular house of worship but a believer that love is the most powerful force on earth, and that God is Love. I still pray, but not according to the rules of any kind of religion, but because I still believe, as my parents taught me, that it’s good for the soul.

And whenever I’m ready to give up on Christianity altogether, I remember how my parents became better people because of their Christian faith.

Now that’s the kind of Christianity we need more of. The inclusive kind, the loving kind. Unfortunately, however, that’s only part of the equation in this divided nation in which we live.

 

Tom McDonald is founder of the New Mexico Community News Exchange, which distributes this column statewide. He’s also editor and publisher of the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at tmcdonald.srnm@gmail.com

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