But the damage was done. The Evangelical troops were released and Peterson is now under attack.
In Judges 12, the Bible says that the Israelites used the word "shibboleth" to distinguish friends from enemies. The word itself is actually a very common word, but the point is that the Israelites pronounced it differently from the Ephraimites. You say it wrong, and we kill you.
Down through the ages, American church folk (I can't speak for other countries) have come up with a number of shibboleths to try to distinguish "true believers" from those terrible outsiders:
- "Real" Christians don't read novels.
- "Real" Christians don't play cards.
- "Real" Christians don't smoke.
- "Real" Christians don't go to movies.
- "Real" Christians don't drink alcohol.
All this line-drawing has two terrible results.
The first is that it tempts people to say, "Well, I don't drink and I don't smoke, so I must be a Christian." No comment about Jesus, the Bible, or how one deals wit the poor or the rest of one's ethical life. No smoking and no drinking equals entrance into heaven. Or in our age, hatred of sexual minorities and hatred of abortion.
The second is that all this hatred and line-drawing is designed to keep people out of the sanctuary. There's nothing about a loving, welcoming Christ in all this—it's all about identifying and victimizing the outsiders.
No wonder that article said that the christian church (I'm intentionally using lower-case "C" here) is a major force in making atheists.
Reclaiming the language
Maybe the damage is already done and we just need a new word or two.
I miss "Evangelical." Its root is a Greek word that means "good news" (though you'd never guess that from the behavior of modern Evangelicals). In the 1970s, the label was used by a movement to distinguish Fundamentalists from a newer group wanted serious Bible scholarship and a radical devotion to Jesus along with reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged and showing real care for God's earthly creation.
I also miss "Christian" as a term that would unite Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and Episcopalians around the core values. Now it's not about core values; it's about who we vote for. And I always feel awkward when I say, "Evangelical Christian is not really the right word for me. I'm an Episcopalian who believes that Jesus loves all of us and invites us into his Kingdom."