Why Christian Principles are Rather Like Unicorns

This post is in response to a discussion I was having with an old friend on Facebook about the post on Scot McKnight's blog called Beck's Black Robe Brigade . It's just too long to post on Facebook so I'm putting it here.
**************You asked me, "What is the truth? Was our country formed on Christian principles?  So I ask you, "What are Christian principles?"  I'd say that Christianity is not so much a list of principles as it is a story and a relationship. At the core, it's a story about Jesus and his bride and a relationship with him and his bride. Christianity is about believing in Christ. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life."  Our country was not founded this basis. Our country was not founded on accepting Christ as your savior.

Anything that claims to be Christian and yet leaves Christ, the cross, and the empty tomb out--well, I can't call that Christian. 

If by Christian principles, you mean something like  "Love your neighbor as yourself" than I'd say that our nation was influenced by that principle, though I'd stop short of saying that we were founded on it. We have failed repeatedly to treat our own citizen with due equality, much less the rest of the world.

If by Christian principles you mean something else entirely, you'll have to enlighten me on what you mean. Outside of "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" and "Love your neighbor as yourself," I don't know of anything that could be called a Christian principle.

You also asked, "Has our country strayed so far from those principles that some feel they must rally against that trend and possibly in that goal overstate and shape the facts in favor of those principles?"  Well, to take that first part of your question "Has our country strayed so far from those principles?--"I'd have to say that I don't know what principles you mean. Off the top of my head,  I'd say our country was founded on the principles of "equality under the law" and "the rule of law" and "freedom of speech" and "balance of powers" and so on.

Have we strayed from those principles? Well, I would say that we have never at any point in our history managed to implement them well, but we have made huge strides.  By every measure, I think our country is better off now that it was 100 years ago or even 200 years ago. That's not to say that I'm satisfied with the status quo. In fact, I'm highly dissatisfied and actively working to change things for the better. My point is only that we have not "strayed" from anything.

As for the second part of your question "and possibly in that goal overstate and shape the facts in favor of those principles?"  Well, leaving aside the question of what those principles even are, I am sick of people who call themselves Christians doing sloppy intellectual work. Believing in Jesus is not a carte blache to be able to blabber about things one is entirely ignorant about and suffer no ill consequences. "Overstating and shaping the facts" bears an uncanny similarity to what some folks might call manipulation and deceit. Just because these people may have good intentions does not mean that what they are doing is okay.  As the old saying goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Having spent my entire childhood and young adult life steeped in Evangelical world, I feel rather like one of those lucky souls who entrusted their lifesaving to Bernie Madoff.  Basically, I got scammed.  Much of what I was taught is not worth crap, and the painful process of unlearning it all is still going on.

You said, "I believe in truth! But where is truth in the political arena of our country?" As you are long time church goer and a Christian leader, I'd like to ask you, "Where is truth in our churches?" The church taught me virtually nothing about theology. The church taught me absolutely nothing about Christian history. The church certainly did succeed in nearly ruining my ability to think clearly and logically. If it hadn't been for my seminary, I probably would have left the faith entirely. But thanks to a rigorous education in Greek, Hebrew, Christian history, and theology, I realized that I could reject all the crap I had been fed and yet still embrace Christ.  Christ is not a lackey of Glenn Beck or a pawn of the Moral Majority. Christ is not a tool to save America, nor is the message of Christian about stopping the gay agenda or fighting for so-called intelligent design in the schools.

Christ is actually about something far more profound that all our cultural paranoias.  Christ is about bringing people into a relationship with God.  Christ is about saving the lost.  Period.  End of story. Christ is not about anything else, and to mix his name in with petty and trivial issues is profane and blasphemous. I am sick to death of hearing people harping about how they are a Christian and then treating the gospel as peripheral. The way people talk, you'd think Christ died to prevent abortion clinics from opening. It's just sad and disgusting.

You say, "I chose to believe that God needs to be involved not only in our private lives but in our public lives. That includes politically."  Um, okay. I'm not sure where you are going with that. For me, there is no real distinction between my public and private life. I certainly vote on the basis on my conscience and my conscience is informed by my Christian beliefs. That's why I both donated money to Obama and spent about $17 to send my ballet by express air mail from Korea to the US.

But there are real and important distinctions between public institutions and religious ones.  The church has no right to use its power to manipulate people to vote one way or another. The last time I was at OOCC, the church you and I both attended, an elder there made an extremely offensive comment during the adult  Sunday School class.  At that time, I remained silent, but the pain I felt at the moment still remains with me. That elder strongly pushed his pro-conservative political views and the people around seemed to be nodding in agreement.  I was in my early 20's at that time, and I wasn't brave enough to speak up and voice my disagreement.

The only solution I know was to leave and never come back.  So, with many twists and turns in between and a variety of other reasons impacting my decision, that's what I did. Yes, I might write with a lot of passion but I still don't have the courage to openly confront a bunch of elders on Sunday morning in front of the whole congregation when I can feel that there is no one who has my back. Church should be a place where people can grow closer to Christ, not a place where people feel pressured to vote a certain way or hold certain political views.

You seem very eager to save American and bring America back to Christian principles. Are you also eager to push young people out of your churches?  Because that is what is going on. In placing a political agenda above Christ, many churches are forcing out those people, most of them young like me, who love Christ but have liberal viewpoints.

Well, I'm flying out to Yunnan, China early next morning and it's already past 10 PM here. Time for bed.  I'm not sure how my internet connection will be while I'm in China. If it takes me a few days to moderate comments, don't worry.

P.S. Christian principles are rather like unicorns because they are both very beautiful things which don't actually exist.


  1. Hannah, I've prayed a lot about this response and have found my self putting it off because I realized it might make you feel that I am dismissing your feelings. Believe me, I'm not dismissing them, just a little bewildered. You ask me just what I consider "Christian principles" to be. As far as I am concerned it is very clear. Those principles to which I strive to live are those principles found in God's Word. It is His word that gives us laws and principles to live by.One of those principles I believe in, and one so lived out by Jesus, is Grace. I don't see a lot of that in your writings toward those who question and disagree with you. You said in your FB posting that this was written in love. I don't hear much love in your writting either. Believe me, Hannah, I totally respect and accept your feelings and beliefs. They are yours and you have every right to feel and think the way you want. What does concern me is the lack of that respect and acceptance towards others who don't think the same way. I was also bothered by your attack on OOCC and your statement that no one would have your back, or that you felt you weren't free to question. I can say without any question that there were those who would have listened to you and supported you in your questions, even if they didn't totally agree with you. I see a lot of hurt and anger expressed in your words and wonder just where that comes from. Yes, I'm sure there were things you could point to that would validify what you are saying, but as a woman of God, your lack of tolerance surpasses the unintentional acts of your fellow and imperfect Christians. As far as my willingness to see young people pushed out of today's churches, I again have to disagree with you. I happen to be a memeber of a growing, thriving, evengelical church that is filled with young people, and more attending each day.I mentor some of those young women. There are actually churches just like mine, that don't push political agendas, just the "principles" of God. Yes, I too believe that my private life and political life are one and the same. So, if asked I will share my thoughts regarding the political situation in our country. No it is not preached from the pulpit as to what or who you should vote for, but that we vote and support issues and people who are in line with what we believe God and His Word support.Your little quote that Christian principles are rather like unicorns because they are both very beautiful things which don't actually exist is a very offensive statement to those of us Christians that believe His word, and His principles, and try to apply it to our lives every day. Reading your blog made me very sad. Again, not because of your stand and beliefs,or that they are diferent from some of mine, but by your lack of love and acceptance of those who think differently than you. It shows some deep hurts and anger that I wish you hadn't had to endure. Passion is good as long as it doesn't devalue or crush those who don't share that passion. I would be happy to talk to you more or could help in any way. If there is something you would like to talk about regarding those days at OOCC, I'm open. Here are some of those "principles" that I believe in."But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." The 10 commandments, Sermon on the Mount, The new covenant, the great commission, and on and on and on and on!

  2. Dear Paula, Thanks a lot for your response.

    I'm between classes so I'll keep this on the short side. For me, this (meaning my writing) is an intellectual endeavor of a personal nature. What is write is (at the time of writing anyway) what I actualy think. It is not a tool to impress other people or even make them feel good.

    When people interact with me, I want facts or logic or a clear accounting of someone's personal experiences. If I disagree strongly, it is not meant to be disrespectful, and what I want is not a protest that one's feelings are hurt but a deeper interaction with my words. You say that I do not show love or acceptance. Why do you think so? Does strongly disagreeing with you or with the Evangelical church mean that I am not loving or not accepting?

    Also, in what sense am I devaluing and crushing others? You and those in the Evangelical church are saying that those who don't believe in Jesus will go to hell, and when people accuse you of being "intolerant," you say that you can't back down from the truth. I've never said anything even remotely as severe as "you will go to hell" and yet I am intolerant and unloving?

    To my sadness, your response is mostly about your concern that I hurt others feelings or showed disrespect to them. To me, this is not about making people feel good (or bad). People's emotional reactions are out of my control, and certainly no one is forced to read my blog, subscribe to my Twitter, or interact with me on Facebook.

    Those who choose to do so should realize that I will write what I think. I will not change the content of my writings simply because it might offend, angry, hurt, or upset anyone. If I were speaking in a public setting, I probably would tone it down. But since this is my personal blog which no one is forced to read, I am writing straight from my heart.

    For most of my time in the evangelical church, I found that the people there were remarkably thin-skinned. Any sort of criticism was taken as "disrespect." Time and time again, I've faced that same reaction. In the past, it did intimidate me into silence. Now, as I've gotten older, I've made up my mind to simply let my yes be yes and my no be no.



  3. Paula, you wrote this: "Your little quote that Christian principles are rather like unicorns because they are both very beautiful things which don't actually exist is a very offensive statement to those of us Christians that believe His word, and His principles, and try to apply it to our lives every day."

    What I'd like to let you know is that I fully stand behind my statement and I have no intention of changing my words. Yes, I do think that "Christian principles" don't exist in the sense that you believe in them. Christianity is about the death and resurrection of Christ, not about following moral principles that are supposedly found in the Bible.

    If you disagree with that, okay. But do more to persuade me that I'm wrong. Telling me that your feelings are hurt by that makes me feel sorry for you, but it doesn't do anything to convince me that I am wrong.

  4. According to history, Thomas Jefferson and many of the founding fathers were "Deists". They weren't Christians.

    My shackles come up every time I hear a "call for a return to the Christian values upon which our country was founded." Our country was NOT founded on biblical teachings. Inspiration for the Constitution came from the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, and many more philosophers, psychologists, mathematicians, and so forth. Inspiration for the principles of our country came from HUMANS, experimenting with the concepts bantered about in a dialog lasting through the ages regarding "what is man's purpose on earth?" and "how should we treat one another?"

    I can't recall a single government document written and sealed by our founding fathers containing any mention of "Jesus" or "life-saving grace" or any other fundamentally Christian teaching.

    I applaud your attempt to keep the conversation focused on the single question: "Was our country founded on Christian principles?" I think a better question one might explore is "how do Christian/ Muslim/ Buddhist/ Hindu/ Sophist principles align with the Consitution... and why is there so much overlap among them all?" The ideas of equality and freedom are not "Christian"; they are "Human".

  5. Bigrun10K, Thanks a lot for your comments.

    You are right. Many of the founding fathers were deists. At that time in history, it was rare to find a full-blown atheist. Most people believed in God to some extent, and most people were also affiliated with some sort of church. That was the culture of that time. But belief in God and social affiliation with religion has never equaled Christianity.

    Sure, some founding father were true Christian believers, but that does not mean that the documents they produced are somehow Christian. Like you, I can't think of any document that mentions Jesus or Christ--the core of Christianity.

    Random thought: it's odd that so many Christians use a generic belief in God to push the idea that our nation is Christian, yet they totally reject other religions.

    Agree "The ideas of freedom and equality are not Christian; they are human."

  6. I should have gotten to know you better when we were in semetary. Better late than never, I always say, at least in situations where it is applicable.
    I'm glad you are "owning" your faith. I think I'm going to enjoy interacting with this blog.

  7. Thanks, Josh. This is a situation where "better late than never" is entirely applicable.

    Yeah, I'm owning way too much of my faith these days--or so some have said to me.