by: Kara Crawford
Mariann Devlin recently wrote a post for In Our Words entitled “The War on Christians: Who Is Really Leading the Attack?” In it, she looks at what conservative Christianity and Fox News and the other conservative news media refer to as the “war on Christmas,” which seems to have carried over this year thanks to GOP and conservative Christian leadership — though, arguably, this phenomenon has been going on for years, just more under-the-radar than it is this year. But that difference of understanding is irrelevant to what in the post I feel merits response.
I am in wholehearted agreement with the basic premise of her post – that the so-called war on Christianity and Santorum’s idea that Christianity is more persecuted than the queer community are utterly ridiculous. And that Santorum is obviously not really concerned with Christianity, but rather gaining votes by fearmongering and promoting hatred of the Other – in this case queer folks. Likewise, Fox News and the other networks do the same for the purpose of making money.
I also agree with the earlier points that Christianity is not the monolith that the media would lead us to believe, and that image taints secular society’s view of what Christianity is and can be, though I disagree with her idea that this is moot to the issue at hand, because I believe these are integral to the issue we are addressing.
What I take issue with is her second-to-last paragraph. In it, she writes:
Even though I’m an atheist, it’s my recommendation that intellectual and progressive Christians begin reclaiming the word “Christian” to mean something other than ignorance and prejudice — if Christianity has any hope of surviving the onslaught of both New Atheists and conservative fundamentalism (those unlikely bedfellows).
Now, in case this post, and this one, and this one, and this one, and my bio didn’t make it perfectly clear to you, I am, in fact, a self-avowed, practicing United Methodist – a Christian. And a progressive. And an intellectual. And a member of Queerville. Each of those identities makes up a part of who I am. And I’m not alone – much of my community is made up of people who claim the same identities.
In fact, the progressive and queer-loving Christian community is larger than you might think. According to a 2007 Religion and Public Life survey conducted by the Pew Forum, 56% of Mainline Protestant Christians agreed that homosexuality should be accepted, and while I don’t have the data to back it up, I am virtually positive this percentage has only increased in the last five years.
I don’t know of any statistics for Christians who identify or could be identified as progressive, but while I doubt it is a simple majority like the other statistic, I would be willing to venture a guess that it is at least as big of a group as fundamentalist Christians, if not an even bigger group. So, it should be readily apparent that queer-loving, progressive, and even queer-identified, Christians do, in fact, exist, and are not few in numbers.
But as for the idea of progressive Christians reclaiming “Christianity,” it is in process. In fact, I would argue that it must be re-reclaimed, because, frankly, the way I see it, it was the fundamentalist Christians who took the name from its progressive roots in the first place. I’m not going to trace back through the history of Christianity, but Christianity has had no small shortage of radicals and progressives in its history. And those radicals weren’t always on the fringes of Christianity; in fact, once upon a time, Christians were on the fringes of society.
Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and one who we claim as an important figure of the modern Christian radical/progressive heritage, was quoted as saying, “We want [people] to love one another. We want all [people] to have what is sufficient for their needs. But when we meet people who deny Christ in His poor, we feel, ‘Here are the atheists.’” And I couldn’t agree with her more. Those who oppress, those who do harm, those who espouse hate instead of love, who care more about the money or the number of votes more than the people affected – those people do not espouse Christian values.
My good friend Johnny Gall, another IOW writer, frequently blames the misappropriation of Christianity’s good name for the sake of un-Christian values on Constantine. But no matter who the original blame belongs to, what matters to me is that radical/progressive Christianity has a long history of trying to re-reclaim Christianity from fundamentalism. And I am proud to count myself among those continuing the struggle.
Admittedly, the movement is not perfect. And we could always be doing more. But the fact that it appears to outsiders of the movement that we might not even be doing as much as we are already, I believe, is largely the fault of the media. Mariann was absolutely correct when she stated that all the media cares about is viewership, and I would add, money. Not truth, not portraying any semblance of reality, but viewership and money.
And with the 24-hour news cycle and corporate media sponsorship as it is presently, all the media cares about portraying is spectacle, because spectacle draws viewership, which brings in money. And who are the Christians who give them that? None other than Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, Pat Robertson, and Terry Jones and his ridiculous Koran-burning stunt.
Is that fair? No. Is that just? Definitely not. Is that an adequate portrayal of where modern Christianity is at in its relationship to politics? My chosen extended family of progressive Christians and I would say absolutely positively not. But it’s business, and it’s the reality we’re up against.
So, if my earlier speculations are correct and progressive Christians are, in fact, as many as if not more than fundamentalist Christians, why doesn’t the media care about us and what we have to say? Because we’re not ridiculous enough for them, because we won’t bring in enough viewers for them, because we won’t make them enough money.
So I would like to invite outsiders to the progressive movement to re-reclaim Christianity from fundamentalism to enter into conversation with progressive Christians to find out where we’re already at in our struggle. Because our lack of presence in the media isn’t necessarily a lack of work on our part, but largely due to the media’s skewed priorities. So rather than believing the lack of what the media has to say about us, enter into dialogue with the source – the folks on the ground who know what’s going on and would be glad to cue you in.
And if you don’t know where to find us, you’re in luck. Because the networks of the progressive and queer communities are vast and intricate, and the likelihood that you know someone who knows someone who knows an involved progressive Christian is incredibly high. Or you can start with any of the IOW writers, myself included, who have shown our stripes as progressive, queer-loving or queer-identified Christians. Because while none of us can give you all the answers for all progressive Christians everywhere, we can at least give you a start.
We welcome your solidarity, and would greatly appreciate whatever help you are willing to give us, should you dare to enter into the work of “the Christians.” (We aren’t scary, I promise.)
In fact, you can start right now! You can sign this petition urging MSNBC to stop inviting the Family Research Council, an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian group so extreme they have been listed as a hate group, to represent Christianity, as the group is not representative of Christianity as a whole and using them consistently mars society’s understanding of Christianity.
It’s not the be-all-end-all of the work, but it’s a start. There are many other ways that you can continue to be in solidarity with us, and if you want to continue beyond the petition, all you have to do is ask. As you may realize, there is much work to be done, and we can use all the help and support we can get if we’re going to change the media’s treatment and society’s perspectives of Christianity for the better, if we’re going to re-reclaim Christianity.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.