Challenges to my Christian identity

Many challenges to my Christian identity have come from my fellow Christians who advocated versions of Christianity that horrified me and made me want to run for my life in the opposite direction. One such moment – equal parts mortifying and clarifying – particularly stands out. It was the evening of August 5, 2007. I was sitting on my couch watching a debate among Republican presidential candidates. 

The moderator asked one candidate, Tom Tancredo, what had been the “defining mistake” of his life. Tancredo answered that his defining mistake was waiting too long before accepting that “Jesus Christ is my personal savior.” A little time later, the moderator came back to Mr. Tancredo with a question about terrorism: “Last week you said that, in order to deter an attack by Islamic terrorists using nuclear weapons, you would threaten to bomb Mecca and Medina. The State Department called that ‘reprehensible’ and ‘absolute crazy.’ Tancredo doubled down. He saw his willingness to nuke the holiest sites of Islam as proof of his fitness to be president. He saw no conflict between killing over two million innocents and having “accepted Christ as personal savior.” 

I knew that there was a name for punishing innocent civilians for deeds done by others: “collective punishment.” I knew that collective punishment had been condemned by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 as a war crime. Tragically, collective punishment has had a long history, including within Christianity. 

So here was an outspoken Christian unapologetically threatening to commit a war crime as a plank in his campaign, notwithstanding the likelihood that such an atrocity would likely lead to a global nuclear war that would kill untold millions more.

“If this fellow wins the presidency, and if he follows through on his threat, the jig will be up for me,” I thought. “I will be done. I will have to stop identifying myself as a Christian as an act of protest against such idiocy and evil.”

That thought hadn’t even fully settled before another thought rushed in: “ Who am I kidding? Similarly horrific idiocies and atrocities have already been done by Christians and in Christ’s name, and not just once, but again and again and again across history. Maybe it’s time to be done with the whole thing now. Maybe every day I stay Christian, I add legitimacy to the next group of Christians who are about to commit the next atrocity.”

From “Do I Stay Christian: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned” by Brian McLaren