Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Many Mere Christianities

As I was walking into a store a few nights ago here on the South Side of Chicago, a woman was yelling at a homeless man who had obviously just asked her to spare some change. She yelled “I don’t give money to beggars because I’m a Christian!” She then went on to lecture him on self-reliance, using scriptures such as “spare the rod and spoil the child” (taken from Proverbs 13:24) and others. Notably, “Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth” was not among the scriptures she was apparently familiar with…

Now, there is such a thing as just plain being wrong, and the sentiment this woman was applying to Christianity may fall in that category… or does it? What it highlighted for me is that there is not one “Christianity”, but rather there are many times many Christianities. Many times many. There was a sense in her language and tone that she was a member of the club, and this homeless man certainly was not. How dare he even speak to her, much less ask her for money? When I realized that, it struck me that her thought was not all that new… it was very similar to the doctrine of predestination in Calvinism. She was one of the elect, he was one of the damned… at least in her Christianity. Why should she give him money, if he was damned anyway?

As I was walking into the store, an African American woman who had witnessed this scene said to me “I don’t know what church she goes to, but I’m glad I don’t go there.” Apparently, it was also not her Christianity.

The amount of thought, ideas, values, and opinions that passes itself under the banner of Christianity shocks the mind. Many are convinced that their thought, ideas, values, and opinions are the one true way, and all the rest are just mistaken or deluded. Christianity includes the service gospel call to dedicate the whole of your being to the service of others, and it also includes prosperity gospel preachers who say that if you believe in the scriptures, you will be wealthy, happy, and rich. Christianity calls some to adopt a pacifist way of life, and it calls others to “fall in” behind a banner of Crusade. Christianity calls some to adopt a social gospel responsibility for caring for the poor and disadvantaged, and it apparently calls some to an exclusionary stance that only those in the “club’ deserve care.

For years, I had trouble accepting the label of Christian for myself… not because I did not believe and was not profoundly inspired by the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth… because I am and always have been. No, I stayed away from referring to myself as a Christian because there are many, many versions of Christianity that I do not want to be associated with at all. I shied away from the label not because of my Christianity, but because of all the other Christianities floating around out there.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe the Resurrection is a myth and metaphor. Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe Jesus was a divinely inspired man, but essentially a man, not God. Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe that divine truth has been revealed to many people in many lands, and we are called to learn from them all. Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe God is a reality to be experienced, not a being to be worshipped. Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I am as inspired by the life and teachings of the Buddha as I am by the life of the Christ… among others. Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe that we humans are still learning about the divine nature of reality… and that more remains to be revealed.

Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe that we are called to create the Kingdom of God here in this time, in this realm… not wait on some future heaven… that we are called to work for Salvation of us all now, not depend on an exclusivist salvation after death. Many would choose to exclude me from Christianity because I believe that all scripture was written by human hands, and that our experiences of life and of God are more important than words on a page.

For all of this and more many would exclude me from Christianity… only I believe that Jesus would have welcomed me at his communion table, as he would have welcomed anyone who came to him with an open heart.

There is no such thing as Christianity… there are many times many mere Christianities… mine is one of many… and mine requires I care for all, not just those who are members of my church, my class, my gender, or my race… and to walk humbly in the knowledge that I cannot encompass all truth, only my truth.

Yours in faith,


One Thought on “Many Mere Christianities

  1. The Syncretistic Deist on Monday March 10, 2008 at 9:07 +0000 said:

    Excellent article/essay.

    As one who loosely uses the label of Deist but is involved in both a Unitarian church and a United Methodist church I must say that your article/essay hit the nail on the head. I am from Oklahoma and one thing I learned early on was that there are many definitions of Christianity out there and most people in a particular group want to believe that theres is the real one.

    Of course, most will leave others alone and not cause problems except to proclaim that they have the correct service or beliefs or design and so on.

    The United Methodist church I attend is on the more liberal side (big surprise as attending one that is theologically conservative who be more than I could handle) of Christian theology but still embraces the historical tenets of Christianity. I attend because my wife grew up there and has many generations going back that attended there. Luckily, I am accepted there even though I have beliefs like yours in which Jesus was a man who was divinely inspired, the supernatural stories are myth/metaphor and God is to be experienced rather than worshipped.

    Last night at the United Methodist church there was a church wide meeting about the future of the church and there was discussion about worship styles and some made the comment that they have attended other types of services that were hallow and of course I had to disagree with that as I stated that just because a service does not inspire you does not mean that another is not inspired by it. There are many types of services that do not inspire me but I hope that I am not arrogant enough to believe that those same services do not inspire others.

    Christianity and all religions have variation because as humans we make the religion fit us rather than the other way around. As our world changes and becomes a smaller place the changes that Christianity will experience will open it up to a much more broad defintion (just look at yourself and others such as Spong) but there will always be those that state that there definition is the one and only.


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