On the train ride back to Yale from Boston in the morning hours of Nov. 3, 2004, my best friend looked at me through eyes tearing with frustration and said, “Your people did this.” She turned her head to the aisle and spent our trip upset and without words.
I am a Christian. I also grew up in the American South. “My people” — both Christians and Southerners, according to my friend and many Yale students — are changing our nation with a conservative agenda. That agenda is not mine. Many Christians, like myself, strongly believe in separation of church and state; are Democrats and pro-choice; support women in ministry as preachers and teachers; and believe that God loves all people, regardless of race, creed, color or sexual orientation. It is possible for Christians to represent such God-like views and not be radical judgmentalists. It is possible for Christians to be loving, kind, conversational and respectful of persons of different faiths.
Despite my vote in the presidential election, my identity as a Christian became associated with Christian conservatism more than ever after Nov. 2. “My people” appear to be part of the Christian right because voices from the Christian left are often stifled or silenced. Some Christian students at Yale may feel especially conflicted about how and when to acknowledge their positions, because the public mood skeptically asks, “How can you still be a Christian and not be a radical conservative?”
Most of the time, I just have to admit that there are many people who call themselves “Christian” who have far different opinions from Jesus’ in their relationships with others. The definition of “Christian” should not include people who are so judgmental that they are not willing to leave “final judgment” to God. Also, persons who describe themselves as Christian will identify with Christ and his teachings, and each individual will be accountable for his actions as well as the titles he professes to uphold.
As a Christian, I am more concerned with people’s actions than I am with titles, and I believe that people can only prove their Christianity through love and commitment to Jesus’ teachings. Otherwise, they cannot consider themselves to be affiliated with the same kind of Christianity I profess.
The presence of the Christian right in the national debate has had the effect of lumping all Christians into an unequal affiliation, and thus a public misrepresentation, of Christianity. Critics rarely acknowledge the many Christians who fight private battles against the upsurge of Christian conservatism and frequently find their integrity challenged. These tests have occurred at a frightening pace over the past two decades. In one Southern community, the employment of a black woman to care for children in a church nursery set off an ideological rift between a pastor and a right-wing minority in a church congregation. That minority used this situation in a community struggling with racism to push forward the radical conservative agenda in which all persons must think alike and be alike in order to be accepted. The situation led to personal attacks and the dismissal of my uncle as pastor of this church in Georgia.
On an even more personal level, as the daughter of a minister whose opposition to new conservatism in the Southern Baptist Convention meant that he regularly confronted the use of racism in struggles for power, I experienced firsthand the threats and the conflicts of this ideological war — a war that eventually led to my father’s separation from his heritage. In my view, this new political Christian right is seriously wrong, because its view of God is so narrow that few are included except its own.
We must better articulate the more moderate side of Christianity as it exists today in the South and Middle America in order to counteract the popular assumption that the entire region is sold on the radical Rightist principles. The Christian Conservative movement has duped more mainstream and liberal Christians into silence, because we have been fearful about questions we cannot answer concerning the radicals who tout our faith but do not share our ideals. However, we must now stand firm and be unafraid to say, “I profess a different Christianity from the Christianity professed by the Christian Right.” Otherwise, individuals our age who find it difficult to sometimes hold onto any faith will begin to lose faith in Faith itself, and our generation’s predicament will be what was my own: not knowing whose side the church is really on. Our faith must be converted to God and not conquered by man.
The point of Christianity is missed when people do not live out their convictions and when faith becomes a borrowed opinion, flaunted in the disguise of that which it dishonors. If a distinct, clear voice is not given to mainstream, moderate and liberal Christians, our generation risks an increased misconception of Christianity — a misconception that already exists in our backyard and will continue to take hold of world opinion. Christians must refuse to allow the conception of Christianity to become a borrowed opinion — derived from a conviction based in bigotry, prejudice and ignorance — that dishonors the very thing it should represent. Many Christians are careful when picking their battles, but this is one battle I believe must be fought by this generation of students, or else we risk a populace that forever doubts the representation of true Christian faith.
Bess Hinson is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College and a former staff reporter for the News.