The Common Good

How (Not) to Judge a Christian

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Religion, specifically Christianity, has taken a prominent place in our current political election season. Many are intensely interested in the faith and "Christian status" of the potential candidates and our president. This has led many to ask a dangerous question about these individuals, “Is he a Christian?”

The real danger in all of this lays not so much in the question, but the one who believes that the candidate can answer it. Many see this as a straightforward question, but it is not that simple. This question is deeply complex, and should not receive the kind of speculation that it often does. 

This is because every answer that is given to the question of one’s Christianity is rooted in the pre-existing beliefs of the one responding the question. Recently, Franklin Graham  -- son of Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- was asked about the Christian faith of President Obama, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich. He commented, "I cannot answer that question for anybody." Then, a few minutes later when asked about whether Santorum was a Christian, Graham answered, "I think so ... I think he is a man of faith." When questioned about Gingrich he replied, "I think Newt is a Christian." Meanwhile he was hesitant to say anything about Obama or Romney. Graham then outlined what factors into his opinion of one's status as a believer.

Graham explained that “moral values” and a “person’s political interest” were indicators that guide his judgment of one's faith. Many would agree with his sentiment. However, Graham, who is a Christian, holds certain political interests that are different than many held by his Christian brothers and sisters. Does this mean he would judge them not to be a Christian? Even his reference to "moral values" is difficult, as Christians have varying opinions on what constitutes moral values, and how they ought to be addressed. 

His logic suggests that one’s political interest and moral values are informed by their faith. Therefore, they can serve as indicators of one's Christianity. But this discounts a variety of other influences on one’s political thinking and morals. Factors like (but not limited to) gender, ethnicity, age, up-bringing, education, socio-economic status... the list could go on. All of these things shape the way one thinks about the world, faith, morality, and politics.

So what does one do with those who follow Jesus and have “political interests” that disagree with Graham’s? Who is right and therefore more accurate in their assessment of who is, in fact, a Christian?

Graham's thinking is dangerous. What he has failed to realize is that he, like many, is guilty of having a biased, preconceived "kind" of Christian and “brand” of Christianity. Often, these preconceptions fall along partisan lines. This was seen clearly in his willingness to affirm the Christian faith of candidates that share his political viewpoint (Gingrich, Santorum), but open the door for speculation on those (Obama, Romney) who do not. We can never forget that Jesus never demanded a “one size fits all” kind of faith. We must always allow room for disagreement and live with the tension of multiple opinions.

My Christian friends cover the spectrum of political opinion. They range from the distant fringes of the right to the outer margins of the left. They disagree on nearly every political issue, but all claim to follow Jesus. How to figure out which one’s are and are not Christians is hardly the point. The more we give ourselves over to making judgments the further we will move from the heart of Jesus. 

None of us, not even Franklin Graham, are in a place to make a judgment on a person's faith. Nonetheless, many continue to judge who is and isn't a Christian based on what candidate they vote for, their partisan affiliation, or what legislation they endorse. The more this is done, the closer we move to the place where politics, not theology, will be the foundation that informs our faith and beliefs.

Michael Hidalgo is the Lead Pastor of Denver Community Church, and lives with his wife and children in downtown Denver, CO. He blogs regularly at  A View From a Point .  Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelhidalgo.

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