What is a Christian?

Ainsley Earhardt tells me that, compared to Rick Perry, I’m not a Christian. Never mind, that, according to Fox News’ own segment, at 2:36 for those who care to use a slider, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (emphasis mine)

At 4:14, the host asks does it matter what other people think about us? Let me interject my emphatic yes: as a member of a religious denomination that faced an extermination order in 1830s Missouri, as a descendant of a man who was forced to flee the USA to seek religious freedom elsewhere, YES it matters very much. (emphasis mine)

I don’t want myself or anyone I know to get stuffed into an oven or a nerve gas shower, to put it oh so bluntly. When groups start drawing lines between their version of an “us” and I’m tossed to the side with “them”, I know what comes of that eventually. That’s why I tried to be as vocal as I could in insisting that Muslims not be vilified after 2001. I’ve got many Muslim friends, and I’ve learned a great deal from them.

One of those things is that I’m Christian.

Here’s how the clever Muslims figured it out: I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. While another Christian in this conversation tried to point out that Mormons don’t accept the trinitarian doctrine, the Muslim cut him short:

“Does he believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?”
“Yes.”
“Then he’s Christian. I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. That makes me not a Christian. I observe Ramadan, so that’s your first hint that I might be a believer in Islam.”

Now, Mr. Perry is an evangelical Christian, which places his beliefs closer to those of a large chunk of the GOP base on the spectrum of Christianity. That’s fine. I have no problem saying this denomination is closer in doctrine to that denomination than some third denomination. That’s classification, and from it we understand the nuances of belief. A big chunk of evangelical Christian voters rejected Romney as a candidate in 2008, and they’re set to reject him again in 2012. Some will reject him because of his flip-flops on issues, others because they’re not fans of the health care plan he enacted in Massachusetts. That’s cool with me. We’re supposed to pick our leaders based on how we agree or disagree with their views. But far too many rejected Romney because he was Mormon. We also heard a lot of talk about not voting for Obama because he was black. I suspect we’ll find some overlap in those groups. Intolerance breeds intolerance.

I’ve got a former student of mine who’s attending at MIT. She’s of Swedish and Ethiopian heritage and is Muslim. She’s a wonderful, dynamic person who loves to smile. She’s deeply compassionate and cares greatly for others around her. She’d give the coat off her back to anyone that needed it, and I’ve seen her do pretty much that. Her sister, equally compassionate and optimistic, attends SMU. They’re striving against so much persecution and bigotry in their lives and, yet, they smile on. In them, I see them practice virtues I know Jesus Christ taught his followers to observe. Yet, they learned their virtue from a book other than the Bible. Does that make them beasts or demons? Absolutely not. They are my close kin in this vast human family and I feel much safer next to them than to the anonymous person I once let spew a stream of invective against Palestinians before asking him, “What about Palestinian Christians that oppose Israeli occupation of the West Bank?”

“They’re not really Christians” was his laconic reply as he narrowed his eyes and his face became hostile.

I know that hostility, that hatred, and it is not of Christ. If one is truly bent upon finding the Christians, look for those who bless those that persecute them, who love their neighbors as they love themselves, and who seek to bring peace into the world. Once you find people like that, it really doesn’t matter what they believe for me to want to have them as my neighbors, leaders, and fellow Americans.

Mark Goodin, a conservative Republican who ran Oliver North’s 1994 Senate campaign, said something very deep about campaigns. I’ll paraphrase him here. Elections are about dividing the other side into as many fragments as possible while governing is about bringing everyone together and forming a consensus to solve our problems. A major problem in America is that we’re too fascinated with the election process. Our media fixate on it because it’s exciting and controversial as people argue about what to do… but then we elect people who are only good at arguing and digging in their heels so they look good in the polls among their bases of support. The whole issue of whether or not Romney is a Christian is part of that dividing process. It’s part of the dissolution of America. It should not be a question that is asked, or if asked, one that should matter.

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