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.


  1. Hello! I´ve read your blog occasionally, but felt moved to comment on this post. Thank you for speaking for the other members of that "tiny club" that want to live according to what Jesus teaches without worrying about what political party those teachings happen to belong to this week. I am a (Catholic) nun living and working in Bolivia. Thank you so much for sharing your family and your faith. God bless. --Sr. Anna Kupin

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Sr. Anna. I can't imagine how you found my blog, but I'm glad you did.

    1. I think it was via an article you wrote about your daughter for Yahoo parenting. I´m glad I found it, too!

  3. The interesting thing is that the 70% number is probably a wild overstatement for a couple of reasons. The first is the ever present social pressure to call yourself a christian irrespective of any particular belief. To call yourself an agnostic or atheist is social suicide in much of the United States. Many fudge and say that they are spiritual christians who don't accept much of what the bible or any particular christian church says but because they were brought up in the church will continue to say that they are christian.

    The other issue is that there are many, many people who sincerely say that they are christians, who will go out on street corners proselytize, will ask you to come to their church, and have only the most skin deep understanding of christianity. By skin deep I don't mean that they don't merely have very little understanding of the bible and christianity but that they don't have any interesting heresy's. They may go to church every sunday and they may pray for all their loved ones but they say the words that god is three in one and have never even thought that it could be a mystery.

    Christianity then to many is a social compact. Devoid of content except for the bits of quotes that justify the social and political milieu that they live in. The clobber texts (a taste of the argument against proof texting they site with such glee over every issue of the day, whethor it be interracial marriage, slavery, homosexuality, and so on has a lot to do with memorization and little to do with understanding. I only include the the homosexuality as a tweak for you Beth as we've talked about it a couple of times. (But I will note that public accommodation is a pretty clear point in the law and if you bake cakes for everyone else you don't get to to scream Quelle Horreur at the idea that your obviously christian mixture of sugar, eggs, and flour is going to eaten at the nuptuals of two dudes. I know you agree but you are far too polite in your explanation).

    But I want to reiterate a basic point, they have no interesting Heresies. In a truly vibrant religous scene people have all sorts of odd ideas. You see it in the 1830's and the 1970's in the United States. People who are seriously searching will find odd ideas that they teach. Instead we have a moribund and limpid scene of people screaching that they believe that literal truth of the bible and can't recognize basic quotes in conversation. (Seriously, if you don't know that the O God O god why have you forsaken me is the start of a Psalm give up your pretensions of knowing the bible.)

    And that is in part why you find yourself in a small minority. Because you don't exist in a 70% christian nation. You exist in a nation of people who call themselves christian for a variety of reasons, some of them social, some of them political, and most of them out of self interest. Which doesn't sound very christian, does it?

    1. No heresies as proof. That thought is new to me and I'm going to have to wrestle with it awhile.

      I agree that many people are Christian socially, whatever that means. But I tend not to argue if someone claims to be Christian. I don't have a problem pointing broadly to problems and prejudices which contradict Christ, and I expect people to correct me. But if we insist that any specific failing is disqualifying, then we're going to disagree and run each other out. When people say they're Christian, I believe them. I'll claim bigots and hypocrites and idiots. I've been all those things. I'm getting better.

      I don't know what I got number is. Pew says 70%. Others give other numbers. I have no idea. What I know is that I feel both the cushy privilege of majority and the challenge of holding a minority opinion.

    2. I don't mean to say that I will sit there and truly judge someone as christian or not as I wouldn't ever claim to be one. But in general I see amongst people a fervent declaration of their belief in the teachings of Jesus and either a distinct lack of follow through in both research, knowledge, and action, that I have to question their statements. Or I see someone who goes to church regularly, doesn't try and push their belief on you or anything, but who seems to have such a superficial grasp of their own religion that I have to wonder. It seems that for so many its merely a pose, and if something else came along that promised the same social benefits, they'd switch as easily as changing shoes.

  4. Beth, you sound like a wonderful young women full of good intentions and a fetching desire for fortitude. I can see why your father is proud of you. I am interested to see how you sound after my comments.

    On the surface, you offer us an appealing view of the Church and of our country. Forgive me, but I must take exception. Your sanguine judgement of America is, I fear, hopelessly syncretistic and ahistorical.

    I begin, if I may, with a few premises:

    1. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.
    2. God is good.
    3. Through our own actions, IN HISTORY, we have fallen irredeemably (as far as we are concerned) from this fullness, and it is only by God's grace and mercy and through Jesus Christ and His Church that we have the hope of restoration/salvation.
    4. For the individual this salvation is accomplished by some form of true baptism, which is to be accompanied eventually by an act of metanoia in which the person takes responsibility for his mortality, repents of his sins and turns, in conversion, humbly toward God, his Maker.
    5. Just as the person, in light of his existential predicament, must repent and be converted, in order to proceed into the future in freedom and in a hope of an absence of error, so, too, must a nation, at some point repent of its sins and be converted in order to survive.
    6. The sins of a nation can include not only those of commission, but also errors of a theological nature that are integral to its founding and self image.
    7. These theological errors are much more serious and deep seated than are those sins of commission. These theological errors, indeed, are the ultimate source of all sins of commission, and, in their unexamined presupposition, are of the order of "Does a fish know that he is wet?" They are also presumptuous in the extreme.
    8. While God is mercy itself, this need for metanoia, both personal and corporate, is not optional. (To be continued.)