Christian or American First?

I want to share a passage from William Willimon’s book Fear of the Other. I will comment on only one part of it but I am sharing the whole thing because I find is so poignant.

Having had many conversations with many people of different religions and those who don’t profess any religious faith, Willimon says that he learned the following:

We Christians believe some really strange things that are not self-evident to everyone else. Being a Christian is not synonymous with being a thinking, compassionate American: we’re weird.
There’s a bunch of prejudice against Christians out there, some of it well-deserved.
Christians have made some big mistakes aligning ourselves so closely with American culture. When others look at us, they can’t tell the difference between “Christian” and “American.”
Jesus is so much more interesting and so much more lovable than Jesus’ followers.
Like it or not, others will love Jesus and sometimes reject Jesus because of me and my lousy attempt to follow him.

I want to focus on his third statement about what in my mind seems a confusion Christians have about being American. I am one of those weird people who thinks American flags don’t belong in a Christian church. I can imagine times when it would be appropriate such as when warriors are being honored, but I think Christians lose something in their pledging to something less or smaller than the larger Christian community which is world-wide. When it comes to their claim to being followers of Jesus, American Christians need to realize that they are more tightly bonded with Christians of Syria than with their fellow Americans.

Also, there is the other idea expressed above in that Christians somehow equate their being Christian as identical as their being American. For example, they look to political candidates to declare their religious affiliation as though it were a qualification for the office. As far as I know it is only Christians that do this and those that do have a particular brand of Christianity in mind. President Obama claims to be a Christian but his declaration is considered invalid by many because they don’t support him politically. And the reverse is also true. If they like a candidate, some will turn them into a Christian in their mind in order to validate them. This is ridiculous and unnecessary. What we want is people leading the country of good moral character and character is not something only people of faith possess.

I appreciate the last point Willimon made, as well. I don’t get into trying to make people become Christian. Getting myself to be more Christ-like is a full time, life-long endeavor.

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