Jesus at Graceland, Plate 2An article a couple weeks ago by the New York Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, deals with an earlier Times Magazine article I blogged about in February (WebCite cached article).

A recent New York Times Magazine article about the Texas State Board of Education said it was driven by a bloc determined to ”advance a Christian agenda.”

The board’s ”Christian faction,” the article said, was dominated by Don McLeroy, a creationist convinced that separation of church and state is a myth perpetrated by secular liberals. He and his allies believe the founding fathers meant for the United States to be a ”Christian nation,” though many historians, including conservatives, dispute that.

Benjamin Campbell, an Episcopal priest from Richmond, Va., wrote to say that The Times was helping ”a politicized minority of American Christians” hijack the generic name of the religion. ”A Christian agenda? Whose Christian agenda?” he asked. ”Christianity, like the other major world religions, is so old and so diverse that these various political and theological positions cannot properly be attributed to the religion itself.” He thought the McLeroy crowd should be called ”Christianists,” a term that has come to connote extremism on the religious right.

Hoyt’s correspondents bring up a salient question — one that Hoyt weighs carefully in the article. But I think the question is much less subtle than Hoyt makes it seem. He’s doing what he ought to as a public editor, conducting a “on the one hand, but on the other hand” analysis, but there’s a crucial point that essentially settles the matter more quickly than one might expect.

At the outset I admit that it’s very hard to say there is any such thing as a single distinctly “‘Christian’ agenda.” There are numerous Christian sects, cults, and denominations, and it can safely be said that they have very different “agendas.” Otherwise they would not be such markedly different organizations; there would, instead, be just one “Christian” church.

On the other hand, it’s clear that McLeroy and his cohorts in Texas — and their fierce religionist agenda — have a single motivation for what they are doing: Christianity. Their religion drives them. Their version of Christianity may not be the same as everyone else’s, but it is, nevertheless, a form of Christianity. A form of Christianity no more or less “Christian” than any other. It can safely be said that, if Christianity had not existed, they would not be doing what they’re doing (which is to rewrite American history so as to use it as a proselytization tool for their own vicious form of Protestant Christian fundamentalism).

So … does McLeroy have a clearly “‘Christian’ agenda”? Absolutely he does. His agenda is as “Christian” as the agendas of any other Christian on the planet.

Again, the agendas may not be the same … but they are no less “Christian” in their derivation.

I suspect what’s happening is that people like Hoyt’s correspondents are doing is to try to separate themselves from people like McLeroy. They are, no doubt, embarrassed that such people claim to espouse their religion, and don’t like that McLeroy-style religionists are making other Christians look like buffoons.

Unfortunately, an agenda driven by belief in Christianity is, by definition, a “‘Christian’ agenda.” That’s just the way it is. If Campbell and other Christians don’t like that that fierce religionist-Christians like McLeroy make them look bad, there’s something they can do … which is to stop McLeroy and his colleagues.

Sadly, though, it’s rare for more rational Christians to take on their irrational co-religionists. They appear not to want to “rock the boat,” as it were, and by their inaction, allow them to speak for them. So long as they do that, then in reality, McLeroy and his pals are — in fact — speaking for other Christians.

I will say one thing, however, and that is that I like the term “Christianist.” It vaguely reflects the term “Islamist” which is used to speak of certain extreme factions of Islam. This same resemblance is why I use the somewhat-wider term “religionist,” which as I define it, is someone who worships the religion to which s/he belongs, itself, in addition to worshipping whatever its deity may be. So I’m all for using “Christianist” to speak of McLeroy. Perhaps it’s time to give this term wider usage, even if Hoyt seems to think it’s too pejorative.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk.

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