Where Are The Normal Christians?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, Mary Beth, you certainly do not sound very much like a “normal” Christian to me.

Most of the so-called, self-styled “normal” Christians are all glued to the box raptly listening to John Haggee, and a few other Great Saints of Radio and TV Evangelism.

You sound more like one of those rarities in Christendom, an intelligent, thinking God worshiping, free thinker like Jesus was than one of those “normal” God bothering, self-righteous hypocrites that seem to crowd the US Airwaves Today.

G’donya, and there are far too few of you left I’m afraid.

“One of the more disturbing aspects [of the ‘New Christianity’ of America’s New World Order System] … is its tendency to create a … class … of ‘supermen’, the ‘miracle class’ … ‘GOD MEN’.” – D.R. McConnell – A Different Gospel

Christian leaders (so-called) : From top and left to right, Texe Marrs, Tim LaHaye, C. Peter Wagner, Mike Bickle, John Hagee, Francis Frangipane, Pat Robertson, Dr. James Dobson, etc., etc.


On the news, people of faith — like me — are cast as lunatic right-wingers. But we’re not all like that.


by Mary Elizabeth Williams


SALON — You see them on the news every night. Extremists. Hate groups. The lunatic fringe. And you cringe every time some new radical or abusive psychopath makes the papers again, because you know that strangers and even friends are going to be wary of you now. You suspect they’re afraid you’re like that too. You feel caught in the crossfire between the frightening, hateful fanatics who call themselves by the same name you do, and the bigots who tar you all with the same brush. You’re a Christian.

“The bad news is that we’re all part of the same body,” says Amy Laura Hall, an associate professor at Duke and the creator of Profligategrace.com. “The bad news is that somebody like George W. Bush and I are part of the Methodist church, and he’s condoning what I and many in the community say is torture. But the good news,” she continues, “is we’re part of the same body. Therefore we have a responsibility to keep engaging in political discourse, and conversation with people on all opposing sides.” Not that it doesn’t get exhausting, battling the scorn from both within and without.

As a practicing Catholic, I have lived my entire adult life being skeptical, questioning and critical of the backward policies of my institution, and the horrific crimes committed by its members and perpetuated by its authorities.

These days, I figure most people associate my religion with child molesters and Rick Santorum. But I have stuck with my faith – albeit a very different one than the traditional image of some papal ring-kissing, birth control-hating freak that tends to get more attention — because the values I learned directly from a Christian upbringing are the values I still try to apply to my life every day. And if you, as either a conservative Christian or a staunch nonbeliever, think that’s easy, it isn’t. It’s a struggle. But it’s an often wonderful struggle.

It’s hard to forgive people when they screw you over. It’s hard to not be materialistic or petty. It’s hard to follow the command to love your neighbor. You don’t have to be a Christian to get those ideals and to practice them, but if faith is the means by which many of us choose to express our values, it also doesn’t automatically make us all sheep, taking orders from some imaginary white-haired man in the sky.

“Christianity is the stream in which I was cast. It makes sense to me,” explains Paige Baker, the wife of an Episcopalian minister in North Carolina. But that doesn’t make it simplistic. “I am drawn by the transcendent. I find something magnetic in Christianity, something that calls me and draws me in despite my own doubts and questions and the days when I think, Why do I even bother?” she says.

And that’s what turns her outward to her community. “My political activism is totally rooted in my faith,” she says. “I don’t see how you can read the gospels and not be a progressive. How can you read Matthew 25 –  ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ — and not think all these people who are so sure that we’re supposed to be totally responsible for ourselves are wrong? This bootstrap mentality is so not Christian.” But she knows that’s the kind of Christianity that makes headlines. “What’s exciting about saying that our church welcomes LGBT families?” she asks. “What’s exciting about having a community garden where we donate part of the yield to the local food bank? But we do it because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. Not all Christians are fire-breathing, women- and LGBT-hating evangelicals.”

My friend Phoebe, a Quaker who lives outside of Philadelphia, echoes those ideals. “I bristle at the notion that there’s only one truth. I don’t feel that there is. But this is a truth that I’m comfortable with.” And she adds, “I feel like there has been a hijacking of Christianity by some very powerful Christians who preach greed and pride and are very comfortable condemning other people. The struggle for Quakers is that so much of it is quiet. There needs to be a movement that is loud and that is humble.”

I agree. Because while it’s lovely that Frank Bruni can write a thoughtful, much-forwarded opinion piece on a Catholic college dorm mate who wound up becoming a passionate defender of women’s health and an abortion provider, it’s sad to see the man’s assertion that “too many religious people … speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need” go utterly unchallenged.

It’s even sadder when someone like Richard Dawkins turns a well-intentioned weekend rally for atheism awareness into, in his words, an opportunity to “ridicule and show contempt” for religious traditions. At the rally, marchers chanted sentiments like “Evolution is not just true, it’s beautiful.” Hey, I like evolution too! I learned all about it in Catholic school. Over 78 percent of Americans profess to be Christian. And if you’re so certain we’re all Darwin-disputing Kirk Camerons, don’t pat yourself on the back for the sharp reason and open-mindedness there, pardner.

Says Phoebe, “I have family members who feel very rejected. They’re environmentalists and artists, and they feel alienated by what they perceive as Christian bashing. I think that’s a shame. A lot of these people who love to mock Christians don’t realize that they’re being ignorant. They’re not looking at the nuances of us. It does religion such a disservice, because there is something very beautiful in belief.”

I’ve experienced that beauty and comfort and community in my own life, time and again. This past weekend, I attended Baptist services with my children to mark the first anniversary of their grandfather’s death. The church, by the way, had been vandalized earlier in the week, defaced with an ugly splatter of paint across the front door. There is just way too much stupidity and anger out there.

After services, I chatted with the youth minister about Christianity’s current image problem. “Oh, you mean the whole ‘If you don’t agree with everything I say, you’re going to hell’ thing?” she asked. “Yeah, that gets old.” And my mother-in-law, a retired minister, agreed. “Certainly traditional Christianity talks about judgment,” she said. “But I think the stronger emphasis in the Bible is love and grace. Some of the last words Jesus spoke were of forgiveness. That’s my faith.” And she added that it’s a faith that we as Americans are supposed to enjoy without ramming down anybody else’s throats. “Roger Williams left Plymouth because he didn’t want to adhere to all the dictates imposed on people by the Puritan group,” she said. “When the state and the religion became the same, he fled. He established the basic principals on which our country was founded — the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.”

To be a Christian doesn’t automatically mean to be free of doubt. If you are completely certain you’ve got the whole God thing figured out, either as a Christian or an atheist, I suspect we don’t have very much to say to each other. Plenty of us wrestle with both existential big questions and institutional outrage on a consistent basis. Yet there’s something in the philosophical tenets of the Christian faith that still speaks to us. That’s not the product of rote genuflecting or parroting something a moron like Rick Santorum pulled out of his posterior. Instead, it’s something we recognize more in the hypocrisy exposing and sanity restoring of sometime Sunday school teacher and admitted “functioning Catholic” Stephen Colbert.

Jonathan Reynolds, who does musical direction and social outreach at a new interdenominational church in my neighborhood, understands that religion is inherently fraught with thorns. “It’s man’s natural inclination to screw up,” he says. “We want to judge people to make up for our self-esteem issues.” And institutions can be a great place for those flaws and abusive tendencies to ripen. “The church has become an edifice, when it’s meant to be a community of people sharing each other’s burdens.” But, he adds, “Where my faith gets practical and meets the road of life is when I reconcile it with my rationality. God makes sense to me. At the end of the day, do I have answers that make me feel warm and fuzzy? No. Look at what happened to half the people in the Bible — they did not have a good time of it. I’m cynical and critical, but nothing else makes as much sense as grace and love. It’s so stupidly simple and so complex.”

Grace and love — that’s it in a nutshell. That’s why it was jarring when a friend introduced me once to a group as a “recovering” Catholic, assuming my belief system was something to be gotten over. That’s why it was so hurtful when a fellow mother marveled to me, in the presence of our children, “You seem so smart. How can you be a Christian?”

“There’s an assumption that if you’re educated you’ll eventually grow and mature out of your faith,” Amy Laura Hall admits. “But there’s so much of a larger and richer conversation to be had about what it means to be people of faith, to seek justice and peace in our families and communities. I can’t stay politically engaged without hope. I just can’t do it. Without hope, what I see around me is all there is. I can’t move forward steadily and with resolve without my faith.”

I can’t either. More significantly, I don’t want to. I’m not out to convert anybody. And though I’m raising my children with our prayers and religious traditions, I’m also constantly challenging them to ask questions, express their doubts and figure things out for themselves. I’m trying to bring them up — in the truest sense of that phrase – in a community where we’re all free to look at the universe differently, as Christians and Jews and Muslims and atheists, without derision.

At a reading earlier this week, the author Stephen Elliott said something to the assembly that resonated deeply for me. He said, “Your truth is different from my truth. And we’re both right.” In a culture of arrogance and self-righteousness on either end of the dial, it’s a tough concept to embrace. But coexistence is only possible when we’re not screaming at each other, smugly pronouncing the other guy either sinful or stupid. All that many of us, as non extreme Christians, want is to simply be treated with the same respect and tolerance that our faith teaches us to give to others. Because whatever else we all believe, how can we ever go on as a diverse, thriving culture if we don’t believe first in each other?

Editing: Debbie Menon

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.”

Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.More Mary Elizabeth Williams


The views expressed herein are the views of the author exclusively and not necessarily the views of VT, VT authors, affiliates, advertisers, sponsors, partners, technicians, or the Veterans Today Network and its assigns. LEGAL NOTICE - COMMENT POLICY

Posted by on March 29, 2012, With Reads Filed under Life, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

15 Responses to "Where Are The Normal Christians?"

  1. Ann  April 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    No, it is not an anti-feminist springboard although I consider that movement misguided. There are countless women who have worked tirelessly in every field and one way or another made life a little better on this Earth. I just don’t see her as one of them. Also, how you define your spirituality is between you and whomever you worship.

    My point is that the writer admitted that she was struggling with complex issues – okay, who doesn’t? – but that does not give her the right to use a flamethrower on anyone and everything that is incompatible with her newly acquired and shallow version of things, and then having the nerve to pronounce.

    She’s dabbling into really complicated things and trying to make sense of it all and find her own way. That’s a big enough task for anyone of any background. But unless she has something more substantial than her own opinions and conversations with her friends she has no call pulling down the whole structure and lashing out in all directions. That is one of the most irritable Bolshevik traits. She has to be at peace with her own beliefs before she can start lecturing to everybody else.

  2. Tom Valentine  April 1, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Ann, I now see you are coming from an anti-feminist springboard. Fine with me; you may know more about the writer than I ever will. I prejudged your three-word zing. I consider myself an abnormal Christian, and invite anyone to scan my archives here at VT to learn what I mean.

  3. ricohands  March 31, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Jews Hate Christ, HE who invalidated the Old Covenant and gave us the NEW Covenant.
    Jews , the followers of the Pharisees Christ preached against, Deny that Covenant and are damned to Hell.

  4. Ann  March 30, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    The really irritating one was the spoiled and insolent pipsqueak who recently sat at a Congressional hearing and informed everyone on Earth that she required $3,000. annually for contraceptives and expected the American taxpayer to flip the bill. Her name escapes me at the moment, hope it stays that way.

    Wymmynz Libberz are annoying as gnats.

  5. Ann  March 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    What the hell kind of comment? Who the hell is she to judge who is a normal Christian and who isn’t? Is she a psychologist? No. Does she understand Canon Law? No. So from whence does she draw her expertise, that she can sit in judgement of other Catholics? Conversations at the bistro?

    Of her own admission she calls her leaders backward, but lovingly mentions and defends the abortion issue which she knows is contentious at best. She feels caught between fanatics and bigots and fears what her friends think. She puts child molesters and Rick Santorum in the same thought, which is puerile, especially from someone prone to calling names on people she doesn’t even know, while pronouncing on other Christians. Everything is going everywhere at once.

    Okay, fine. So she’s grappling with complex issues and trying to make sense of it all. Fine. Then let her work on that and lay off the lashing out. She’s just venting. I’m not impressed with her cut and paste thinking at all. Not that I care, but you did ask.

  6. Eileen Fleming  March 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Jesus was never a Christian; in fact the term ‘Christian’ was not even coined until the days of Paul, about 3 decades after Jesus walked the earth as a man.

    Jesus was a social justice, radical revolutionary Palestinian devout Jewish road warrior who rose up and challenged the job security of the Temple authorities by teaching the people they did NOT need to pay the priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God; for God already LOVED them just as they were: sinners, poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Military Occupation.

    What got Jesus crucified was disturbing the status quo of the Roman Occupying Forces, by teaching the subversive concept that God preferred the humble sinner, the poor, diseased, outcasts, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all living under Military Occupation above the elite and arrogant.

    The early followers and lovers of Jesus were called members of THE WAY-being THE WAY he taught one should be; Nonviolent, a Peacemaker and one who did the will of the Father. “What does God require? He has told you o’man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord.” -Micah 6:8

    IF only all who claim to be Christians did as JC taught-it would change the world-and that is what is meant by bringing in the kingdom and others name for JC are:

    The Prince of PEACE
    Emmanuel/God is With US
    Brother and Friend

  7. Eileen Fleming  March 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    ‘Normal’ is not what a true Follower of Christ could ever or ever want to be called!

    As Rev MLK, Jr. wrote from Birmingham Jail:

    “There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘

    “Small in number, they were big in commitment and by their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

    “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twenty-first century. ”

    That is why I am a struggling Christian Anarchist -i take JC very seriously but all the rest is commentary and During one of my seven trips to occupied Palestine since 2005, Mohammad Alatar, film producer of “The Ironwall” addressed my group on an Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions tour through Jerusalem and to the village of Anata and the Shufat refugee camp.

    That is in the very area where the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century B.C. critiqued the violent conflicts in the Mid East, which were already old news: “I hear violence and destruction in the city, sickness and wounds are all I see.” [Jeremiah 6:7]

    After we broke bread and ate a typical Palestinian feast prepared by the Arabiya family in the Arabyia Peace Center, Mohammad Alatar said:

    “I am a Muslim Palestinian American and when my son asked me who my hero was I took three days to think about it. I told him my hero is Jesus, because he took a stand and he died for it. What really needs to be done is for the churches to be like Jesus; to challenge the Israeli occupation and address the apartheid practices as moral issues. Even if every church divested and boycotted Israel it would not harm Israel. After the USA and Russia, Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. It is a moral issue that the churches must address.”

    In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, that King delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 [a year to the day before he was murdered] King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

    In 1986 the federal government ‘honored’ King with a national holiday.

    America was founded by visionaries, rebels, agitators, dissidents, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers who essentially told the King of England to back off of this land and leave US alone.

    The most revolutionary minded of all America’s founding fathers was Tom Paine, who articulated a flaming hope birthed in a vision of a new world driven by the spirit of independence from a British occupation.

    Tom Paine’s self published forty page pamphlet, “Common Sense” united a disparate and disconnected group of settlers to become compatriots who rose up in rebellion and formed a nation that can only thrive on dissent.

    “Soon after I had published the pamphlet “Common Sense” [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion… The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”-Tom Paine

    MINE TOO and i am eileen fleming and i approve of all of my messages!

  8. Excalibur  March 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Ann, as always, I find myself agreeing with you. (Although, perhaps, I was not intending to go straight in with the bayonet!) Many people in the modern age are arrogantly viewing their faith as a ‘pick and mix’ choice to select which parts of it they wish to follow. The inconvenient bits can be discarded as an unwanted fashion accessory.

    In this the zionist enemy has successfully ruined and polluted the minds of those either weighed down with vanity – or self assured in their own relevance rather than that of their faith.

    There is no such thing as a new and improved version of Catholicism – ‘updated’ by the absorption of relentless marxist subversion.

  9. Tom Valentine  March 30, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Debbie, this is an intelligent, reflective article that will, unfortunately not catch the full attention of far too many ‘sophisticated’ deadheads in our land. It is too difficult to contemplate the mob mentality we all face daily, and retain much charity. I now have to ask the very first commenter, Ann, not with VT, what the hell kind of comment was that? Do you think it was intelligent, or in any way warranted? It might be interesting, but hardly instructive, to see your reasoning, if any exists.

  10. Sami Jamil Jadallah  March 30, 2012 at 2:45 am

    I think we should expand the question and ask the question “where” are the normal decent, God fearing Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus? and ask the question whatever happens to the teaching of love they neighbor and peace on earth, love they fellow man? What ever happens to the true believers who made Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinudism survive these thousands of years? Whatever happens to the scholars, to the scientists, the thinkers who enriched our lives.?. certainly they are not the Hagee, Roberston, Pipes, Dershowitz, or the Bin Ladens…

  11. Debbie Menon  March 30, 2012 at 1:49 am

    @ Mike True.

    A perception which the ignorant and the blind, seem incapable of imagining or perceiving.

  12. Aletheia  March 30, 2012 at 1:24 am

    We aren’t all like that. Thank you for honestly pointing out the flaws and the lies and the phoniness that christendom has been brought to. I can only agree with your assessment, I look it in the eye, I’ll own it. But, some are wide awake of the evil schemes and the grevous errors. I’m truly sorry that we’ve made Y’shua look like … I can’t find the word. We’ll clean up the mess, some are at it. Please don’t turn away from him. Please, give s a chance, we’re finite beings – who, yes, should walk the true walk and talk the true talk.

    Yeah, and God bless VT. He loves and cares for you all. I appreciate you.

  13. LOB2065  March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am

    Normal Christians think that American Christians are weird.

    Rick Santorum believes it is wrong for adult women to use birth control. Does he realise that Italy’s birth rate is around 1.4 births per family. Does he realise that Rome, The Vatican, the head of the Catholic Church, is in the middle of Italy?? The Italians are using birth control and lots of it and so are the rest of us Chrisitans.

    Christians believing in not taking birth control is like believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and believing that they really are consuming the ‘body of Christ’ when they accept that little piece of bread dipped in wine from their priest at church.

    We thought that all of the best laughs were gone once Dubya left the building, but the latest bunch of Republicans are giving us fun filled reasons to tune into the run up to the US elections yet again.

    Christianity is a great reason for some parties. Easter justify eating at least one kilo of chocolate – I start eating chocolate easter eggs at the beginning of lent. Christians get a nice ceremony when we agree to legally tie up all of our assets with another person for life. We get a booze filled ceremony when we die (something Muslims no doubt don’t get).

    Weird religious behaviour in the US keeps the rest of the Christian world in laughter. For the porn capital of the world you say and believe the strangest things.

    Heard something funny the other day – pedophiles do not like being called pedophiles they prefer being called priests!

  14. Mike Kay  March 29, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    It is interesting, this column written by a woman, who has decided her spiritual need must complement her material one.
    It is interesting, how any attempt to legitimize the marriage of material and spirit plunges the seeker into a drive for relevance.
    Ultimately, the truth of any spirituality lies in the direct and personal relationship between the individual and the numinous. If one allows this relationship to be aired openly, especially in this sick society, one is a fool to expect anything beyond haughty derision, and hollow mocking.
    Religion, at its best, provides a place and an anchor for the worshiper, community, and a sense of shared experience. Religion can provide structure, and order. It can provide instruction, although this is often trite and exhausting. Religion alone cannot provide the spiritual spark that ignites the soul, yet it can provide a garden for that spark to flourish.
    We are a society run by psychopaths and perverts who despise everything about freedom and meaningfulness. Of course they mock Christianity, even as they pretend mightily to be of the faith! By their works you will know them.
    I believe the author is both genuine and honest in this piece. Thanks VT for publishing it. I don’t read salon, and probably never will, but I do find several of her points are valid expressions of the spiritual search.

  15. Ann  March 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Bolshevik prima donna.

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