Friday, January 15, 2016


I've been asked for a blurb about the state of Christianity in America. Blurbing is not my specialty. The average word count for a blurb is about 200 words. I could talk about the word blurb for 200 words. This might be above average.

I am a Christian. My faith is my core. It is my who, my why, and my how. I can talk about other things without talking about God, but he is never very far away.

I am also an American. I think about that less, but it's essential. Being an American means I take for granted certain privileges. I think and believe and say what I want, with courtesy but rarely law in mind. I might make someone mad, but no one is going to throw me in jail or worse.

I am a Christian American. I'm not going to spend hours finding all the data, but according to Pew Christians made up 70.6% of the US population in 2014. The article I found wants me to fuss about the decline from prior studies. We are not a Christian country, but we are a majority Christian country with an elected government. So.

My experience as a Christian is rarely, but not never, challenged. I go to Church without fear as often as I like. My Church community is huge, so I have several choices about which Mass to attend on Sundays. My faith doesn't make any demands of my wardrobe or style which would make me stand out in any particular way. School is out on almost all the days I go to Church. We crazy Catholics have a sprinkling of holy days which don't happen on weekends, but they are rare and not a difficulty. When I am out in public and no one knows or cares what my faith is, most of the time. Sometimes I wear a cross, but I am more likely to get a compliment on the style than a question about my faith if I wear something which identifies me as a Christian.

As a Christian, I note with interest that I disagree with Christians more often than I agree. I don't think it is because I'm an outlier. Christians are so diverse that there are very few true sentences which begin with the words, "Christians are." It can be really frustrating when I read about mainstream Christian leaders saying things which I think border on blasphemy. I want to scream, "This guy doesn't speak for me!" But I don't. (Usually. Sometimes I do. Ask my hubby.) I talk and write about my faith and I don't speak for them either.

I don't experience persecution. I have experienced, um, pressure from some other Christians. It is still true that not all Christians think Catholics are Christians. (It's cool though. We papists don't oust our bigots either and we have a few.) I remember when one of my high school dates took me to meet his family. When I got there I was seated with his dad and his pastor. They were really worried about my soul. It was a long and uncomfortable conversation which revolved mostly around free will. I was unprepared for the attack- and I certainly felt it as an attack, though they meant well. I hope they still pray for me. I could use it. Even that is rare and seems to be fading. Most of the time I feel free to believe and express my belief without fear.

That all being said, I am not blind; I recognize political battles which take direct aim at my faith.

Many Christians are worried about religious freedom. We are watching with varying levels of concern. The birth control mandate has been really frustrating because so many people completely miss the point. I was experiencing real anxiety after my third child and my doctor wanted to put me on birth control (not to control the anxiety, but to prevent another pregnancy.) I told her I was Catholic and she was very kind and understanding and recommended a specific birth control which she assured me was absolutely not an abortifacient. She wasn't being pushy. Even after all the media hype and uproar, she understood my faith position to be, "Abortion is bad. Birth control is abortion." She was startled when I said that birth control itself is immoral. She wasn't going to argue, and neither was I. It was just a brief and surprising window into each other's minds.

There are lots of stories about Christian persecution if concerned Christians want to look for them. And people do.
"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours." John 15:18-20
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard it explained that if no one hates me it is because I am a terrible Christian. It is right there for anyone to read. But I don't think it means we have to go looking for persecution or angry anti-Christian bigots. They are there. But in America they are in the minority by a huge margin and we are protected by good laws. We should be alert, but not paranoid.

Some Christians are worrying deeply about social and political changes. Gay marriage is legal; are we about to see lawsuits demanding that our pastors preside or our church building be used? Must a Christian baker who opposes gay marriage refuse to bake a cakes for those weddings? Should he? What about any other artistic service? A DJ? A florist? What about non-artistic services, like linen rentals? If I own a linen rental company am I allowed to refuse customers based on their sexuality? Should I? What are the lines? How do we balance discrimination and religious freedom? I know how I would answer any of these questions, but the answers are neither universal nor particularly helpful. (Doubtful, but possible; No; Not unless he's been asked to write or artistically depict something explicitly offensive; Same; Same; Same; No; No; The lines aren't neat; Carefully.)

Politically, we are redrawing all kinds of boundaries. And this is important to me both as a Christian and as an American. Religious freedom is not a fluffy bit of nonessential law. It is central to American identity and history.

I have never been afraid to go to Church. I have never been afraid to proclaim my faith. Sure, I've been in situations where my faith is going to be the butt of a joke and that is uncomfortable and not acceptable. I've even been in situations where I was to cowardly to defend my faith. But I have never been in a position where I felt like defending my faith would cost me more than embarrassment- and to be honest even that is rare. 70.6% is a pretty comfy cushion even if it is shrinking.

Being a Christian in America is a great gift. I love my faith. I love my Lord. I love living in a great country where I don't have to hide or risk martydom. I love being able to speak honestly and openly. I think diversity is good for thought and faith. Our system means that my voice is relevant and that is exciting. Our system means that 70.6% is a big deal. Being a Christian in America means that if I insist on embracing a counter-cultural identity I'm claiming more than Christianity; I'm claiming a specific iteration. Most Christians do claim a counter-cultural identity, even if they are white, able-bodied, and straight. And they aren't all crazy. If you oppose abortion, gay marriage, and birth control, you can legitimately claim to be counter cultural. If you oppose all those things and war and torture, even more. If you oppose abortion, gay marriage, birth control, war, and torture and you support immigration reform, welcoming refugees, and universal healthcare, you are in a tiny little club which makes nearly everyone angry. At least in my experience.

A piece of the reason it is so hard to claim to counter cultural is that America is America. Whatever we disagree about, we are proud of our revolutionary beginnings. Our culture takes pride in being counter cultural. Every generation has a hipster. Every iteration of generational rebellion eventually becomes formulaic, but soon there is a new one. Part of the American identity is rebellious and independent thinking. Our culture is proud of its diversity. We all want to claim that. What does it mean to be counter cultural here?

I am baffled, to be honest, when I hear about Christians getting worried about not being allowed to pray in school and such like things. That's silly. Of course you can pray. Anywhere you want. No one knows or cares if you do. What they mean is they are not allowed to lead the school in prayer or otherwise make non-Christians feel as though they don't belong, which is different. We are so used to being in the majority we don't even notice the minority.

The biggest attack to religious freedom is coming from Christian Americans. So comfortable, so distant from oppressions which brought their forefathers here, many Christians are sick of religious freedom. Calls to close mosques and register Muslims. Armed protests when and where Muslims take their children to pray. Defending these disgusting assaults on freedom. Christians are leading these attacks.

I have been thinking about participating with a group of women in declaring solidarity with Muslim women by wearing a hijab on Fridays. I am not committed, but I am thinking about it. I am disturbed by fear mongering and divisive rhetoric about Muslims. The day a law requires Muslims to register is the day this Catholic Christian registers Muslim. I don't know how many times the Bible talks about welcoming strangers because we too were once a strangers in a strange land, but I hear a scriptural command.

Fear is disfiguring. There is a growing bigotry vandalizing our values. The coward who hides his fear with aggression. That is not my faith. That is not my country. If we start losing the political battles and lawsuits giving concern it will because we abandoned our commitment to religious freedom. American Christians are powerful. When we live up to the ideals of our country and faith with confidence and clarity and hope and courage, we are better.

1797 words. Lets make it an even 1800. God bless America.