This past week, the Veritas forum discussed Christianity at Harvard. As a practicing Christian at the College, I was disturbed to read that organizers and audience members felt the participants in the panel "depict[ed] Christianity very accurately" and that the "same theme" emerged.
It is simply impossible to depict all of Christianity accurately in a few hours; moreover, all Christians haven't found a single theme in the thousands of years we've had to try. Although I wasn't able to attend the Veritas panel, I suspect the resulting unity was achieved more through exclusion than through a real consensus on such a complex and personal subject.
A quick look in any phone book under churches should be enough to figure this out. If every Christian--or even most Christians--could agree on a depiction of the religion or even it's main themes, there would not be so many radically different denominations. The Church of Latter-Day Saints (also called the Mormon church), is classified as Christian. So are the Roman Catholics, the Coptic Christians and the Christian Scientists, not to mention the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Nazarenes, Lutherans...the list could take the rest of this column. Even within denominations, there are ongoing struggles about some of the basic tenets of belief.
The idea that Christianity is a monolithic force has hurt the church in the last few decades. The religious right has co-opted too much of the public dialogue about Christianity, leading to misunderstandings about what the religion entails and what is or is not included in Christianity.
I am a Christian, and my vote is shaped by my faith. I am pro-choice, support gay rights and oppose school prayer. I believe that evolution is probably correct and in no way contradicts the Bible. As you may have guessed, I am not a Ralph Reed supporter. All of these stands are more than compatible with my faith; but I believe that these positions would not fit in the faith of many others who also identify themselves as Christian. I do not claim my personal Christianity represents all of Christianity. I would appreciate it if others refrained from claiming universality as well.
This belief in restraint has roots in my faith. A few weeks ago, I heard two very important stories during the service. In the first, Jonah, a reluctant prophet recently released from a whale's belly preaches death and destruction to the city of Ninevah unless they repent. The city repents, is forgiven and is not destroyed. Jonah is furious at being made to look like a liar. God reminds the prophet that in anger, he has forgotten that life is not his to give and take--and there are a great many lives in Ninevah.
In the second, Jesus told a parable of a man who was hiring laborers. He hires workers throughout the day, agreeing to pay each one the same amount. At the end of the day, he pays the latecomers first, and the early birds are angered when it comes their turn and they do not receive more money despite the longer hours they put in. The vineyard owner chides them pointing out that they got exactly what they had agreed to work for, and than what others received should be none of their concern.
The lesson that I drew is that should focus on my own relationship with God and leave others to do the same. I should not spend time comparing my Christianity to others' faith in an effort to figure out which is better. Instead, I should work to develop perfect truth--a Veritas--for myself.
Until I've achieved that ideal--until I can be wholly accurate it describing my own relationship with God--I won't begin to announce what others' relationships should be. I won't try to answer the question Veritas coordinator Kelly K. Monroe posec "How should we...live." Instead, I'll try to figure out how I should live--that more than enough question to keep me occupied for a lifetime.
Valerie J. MacMillan's column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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