In doing the work that we do, building relationships, allies, and coalitions is vital and important. Some of our best allies have been more liberal Christians who believe that inclusivity, intersectionality and diversity are good ways to advance our community and make it a better place for everyone to live. I am always delighted to get to work with people who may disagree with me about the big philosophical questions, but who can agree on treating people with dignity and compassion.
That being said, one of the things that I have started to find increasingly frustrating is the tendency of liberal Christians to distance themselves and their version of Christianity from Evangelicals. Saying things like, "I'm sorry they treated you that way. They are not real Christians. Real Christians wouldn't act like that". This type of attitude dismisses the pain of the people who have been wronged. By saying that the cruel Christians aren't really Christians, they are ignoring the institutionalized issues that create these types of bigoted individuals. It's laying the blame on the individual without recognizing that the institution of Christianity has some toxic elements that produce people with these bigoted views. In reality Christianity has systemic issues with oppression that many Christians have a hard time accepting.
Now, I admit I am not an expert on the bible. My point of view is simply that of an ordinary atheist, who interacts with ordinary Christians. I don't debate philosophers or Christian scholars. I can't recite every bible verse from memory and hurl them in a debate like weapons to discredit the other side. I don't know every fact about how modern Christianity evolved or how it's holy texts formed. I am aware of many of the basics, but I am by no means an expert. However, the fact of the matter is that for the majority of the history of Christianity, Christians have been conservative. That fact is as plain as day.
I wont try to outline every atrocity committed by the Christian faith, but here are just a few off the top of my head to illustrate my point. The first and the second crusades. The Inquisition. The Bosnian Genocide. The 30 years war. Killing, imprisoning, and torturing blasphemous scientists and discoverers. Defending and championing the American slave trade. The indoctrination and cultural cleansing of Native and African cultures. The oppression and cultural genocide of pagans and other early European cultures. The Witch Trials. Opposing women's suffrage. Opposing LGBTQ+ rights. Conversion camps. Rampant child sexual assault. Some of these atrocities are ongoing to this day. For most of it's history, Christianity has been anything but loving and kind. Christianity has a history of violence, war, and genocide. This history, and it's influence on modern Christianity should not be taken for granted.
Evangelicals make up the majority of Christians in America. A 2014 Pew survey found that Evangelicals make up 25.4% of the population, while mainline Protestants only make up 14.7%. In 2016 a French survey found that worldwide 1 in 4 Christians is Evangelical.
I am focused on Evangelicals because this particular branch of Christianity tends to be conservative, fundamental and is responsible for the vast majority of opposition to equal rights that many minority communities face.
Evangelicals have made religiosity a signal of moral superiority in this country, to the point where most modern politicians could never win an election running as non-religious. Non-religious Americans face a significant amount of discrimination because of the bias for those who are religious. People lose their families, friends, jobs, and community if it's discovered they are not religious. LGBTQ individuals who grow up in non-affirming congregations are often subjected to shame and guilt so pervasive that it effects their mental health, and frequently results in suicide and self-harm.
Many liberal Christians have a much more peaceful and loving view of their religion, but this does not reflect the whole of the Christian faith. Their liberal view of Christianity isn't because it's is inherently a peaceful religion; history has shown that to not be the case. You have to do a major overhaul of the religious text to interpret it as nonviolent. Almost the entire Old Testament has to be either ignored or interpreted as a metaphor.
The point I'm trying to make is not about whether or not Christianity is true or real, but rather what it's true nature is. You see, Christianity has a nasty history. A violent, cruel, bigoted history, that modern Christians should not simply ignore or dismiss. To do so is akin to an American saying that the KKK are not "real" Americans. Or, it is the same as claiming that the insurrectionists at the capital earlier this year are not "real" Americans. That the neo-Nazis are not "real" Americans.
Yes... yes they are REAL Americans, and that is a problem! It's a problem that we can't ignore as a country and we can't wish it away. We as a country are producing these people, and we need to figure out why, and put measures in place to fix those issues.
Similarly, Christianity and its followers need to come to grips with the violent and radicalized people that their faith produces and start to face that reality and come up with solutions to address the issue. They should not simply dismiss them as "not real Christians". They in fact are the majority of Christians in America.
I have heard many Christians say things like "I wont feel ashamed to be Christian" or "I refuse to apologize for my faith". And I really do understand this reaction. It's rooted in pride. It's uncomfortable to face these things, and I understand that. Things like nationality, and faith are things that people generally take an enormous amount of pride in. These things tend to become a key part of a person's identity. To hear that part of your identity that you are proud of, that gives your life purpose and meaning, can be viewed by so many people as toxic, would be a very difficult thing to face. But for a moment, replace the term Christian with something else. Consider how it feels for a Black person whose great grandfather was a slave, to hear a southern neighbor say, "I won't feel ashamed to be white", or "I refuse to apologize for my heritage.", in response to requests to remove symbols of oppression from public spaces. This is similar (although much more intense) to what may feel like when secular American hears, "I refuse to apologize for my faith".
I've learned a lot about being a good ally over the last year and I still have more to learn. So far, I've learned to work on setting aside my pride, and to look at groups and institutions I am apart of to identify the privileges I have been afforded and the injustices ingrained in those institutions that I have been complicit in ignoring. Many of us have been on this same journey. We have learned to set aside our pride as Americans, and look at what aspects of our system of government have been, and continue to be, oppressive to minority communities. Sometimes our pride gets in the way of being honest about what our institutions are doing to those on the outside. However, we must put away our pride and do the work of correcting these systemic issues.
Christians need to do the same with their religion. The institution of Christianity has produced a large number of bigoted, hateful, cruel people. It's up to the ones who choose to be different to find a way to change it. Those of us being oppressed can't change it. Those doing the oppressing have no desire to change it. The change must happen from within, and from those who are apart of the institution who are unwilling to allow the oppression to continue. Liberal Christians have a responsibility to accept what their institution of faith has caused and to work to correct it. It's not enough to simply take responsibility for yourself. Just like I have a responsibility as a white American who benefits from privilege to change the systems that afford me that privilege, liberal Christians also have a responsibility to change their institution for the better.
So please, Christian allies, stop distancing yourself from more bigoted Christians. They are "real" Christians. They are part of your institution. Your institution produces them. Do the work necessary to change that.
To take the first step and find out more about what it's like to be a secular American, please visit https://www.secularsurvey.org/ . This is the largest survey of secular American's ever conducted. It has insights in to how our lives are affected by Christianity, and living in an America where so many people are bigoted toward non-religious people.
Author: Tracey Benefield
Atheist Community of Lubbock