On Christian as an Adjective

In the comments to my post yesterday about Ann Coulter's eliminationist rhetoric at the Reclaiming America for Christ Conference, Quaker Dave made a request that deserves a response—and my response got really long, so I decided to make it a post.

QD asked: "Would you folks please stop putting the word 'Christian' in front of the name 'Ann Coulter' as an adjective? Those of us who actually do practice our religion would appreciate it."

And my answer, I'm afraid, is no. I won't stop—and it's not because I'm trying to be a belligerent shit; it's because Ann Coulter describes herself as a Christian. She's invited to speak at Christian conferences. She appears on the same stages as elected GOP members of Congress who are running for president and have made their Christianity a central part of their campaign. She is part of a specific Christian community.

I understand it's not the same, not remotely the same, as Quaker Dave's Christian community, or my parents', or lots of other people's, but that doesn't mean that I'm wrong to describe her as a Christian—or that I intend it as an insult against those Christians who don't use their religion to hatemonger. Believe me, I'd prefer she didn't call herself a Christian, too. I'd also prefer it if Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, and our president didn't call themselves Christians. I'd prefer it if the only Christians in this country at all were the ones who endeavor to live a life according to their own beliefs without ever trying to stop anyone else from doing the same. But, that's not the reality in which we live.

And it's not incidental that she calls herself a Christian. No more so than it is incidental that Al-Qaeda call themselves Muslims. Those are facts that matter. It matters that Ann Coulter can speak flippantly about killing abortion doctors and call John Edwards a faggot (again) at a Christian conference. It matters that there are people who provide her cover for those comments—and for her hostility toward pro-choice people, the LGBT community, and liberals—specifically because she calls herself a Christian and so do they.

And let's say I stop calling Ann Coulter a Christian. Then who else do I stop calling a Christian—Falwell? Robertson? They're ordained. Falwell runs a Christian university; Robertson a Christian empire. They don't behave any more or less Christian (by one definition) than Coulter does, but it would beggar belief to argue that they shouldn't be called Christians.

It's not me who's denigrating Christianity by calling them Christians; it's them, by using Christianity to cloak their bigotry and hatred. And I'll stop calling these idiots Christians they day they stop calling themselves Christians.

For what it's worth, how I talk about religion and religious people on this blog is something I think about. It's something I have to think about, because I struggle, sometimes mightily, with my own feelings of hurt and anxiety and anger with regard to Christianity, which, in one incarnation or another, has been the raison d'ĂȘtre underlying some very ugly experiences in my life. I was raised in a church that told me in all sorts of overt and covert ways that women are not equal to men. I was told by a minister when I was 13 years old that I was "worthless" and "evil" and would probably be "dead or pregnant by time [I was] 16" because I refused to watch an anti-choice propaganda film he insisted on showing during confirmation class. I was targeted by a man calling himself a Christian, wantonly smeared nationally by people calling themselves Christians, sent rape and death threats by people calling themselves Christians, leaving me with no job and no income. I regularly have to watch people who call themselves Christians argue that my body should not be my own, that my marriage isn't "real" because it wasn't formed in a church, that my LGBT loved ones are not deserving of equality, that I and my fellow progressives are traitors to our nation, that I couldn't possibly be moral because I am an atheist, that my liberal Christian friends aren't real Christians, and on and on and on.

That kind of stuff is tough to ignore after awhile. It's easy to say "they're not real Christians," but that refrain quickly loses its strength as a consolation to someone constantly barraged by hatred from people calling themselves Christians. Even the liberal Christians I know had a hard time choking out that line after watching Donohue et. al. exact their "not real" Christian vengeance upon me in droves, because it sounds so hollow when you're telling someone with an inbox full of prayers they'll burn in hell.

That the majority of my experiences with Christians have been good ones is what keeps me thinking about how I talk about religion and religious people on this blog, because I don't want to make liberal Christian Shakers feel unwelcome; I truly don't. The good experiences don't erase the bad ones, though, and I can't pretend that they weren't done by Christians. I can't pretend that only the good things done in the name of Christianity matter to me.

Inevitably, I'm occasionally going to be critical of individual Christians or certain manifestation of Christianity. That said, when I post something critical or snarky about religion, it has to pass the Mama Shakes Rule. If I think Mama Shakes, who reads this blog, would be offended by something, I don't post it. Mama Shakes is a Christian whose life nearly revolves around service to her church, but if there's a picture in the local paper of a cookie people are worshipping because it supposedly looks like the baby Jesus, she's the first person to email it to me with a giggle—because, ya know, that's pretty silly. She's devout, and she's got a sense of humor. She believes God has one, too.

She also hates sharing her religion, even if only in name, with people who say things like God sent a hurricane to kill Teh Gayz. But she does. And that's not really up to me to change, if not using Christian as an adjective would really change anything, anyway.

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