We are Christianity: An Open Letter to Frustrated Christians in the United States

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

My name is Bruce Reyes-Chow and I too am a Christian. I am also a Presbyterian minister, a husband, a father and a Democrat.  Identifiers claimed, I write to you today because I am frustrated with the singular version of Christianity that is dominating today’s public and political discourse.

Like many of you from across the theological and political spectrum, I am disturbed by the religious rhetoric that is defining Christianity in the United States today: one that employs inflammatory rhetoric over civil discourse, favors easy-answers over nuanced thought and seeks political victory over the common good. This is not the Christianity that I live. I believe that faithful Christians – from “liberal” to “conservative” – can vigorously disagree on significant social and political issues like abortion, marriage equality, health care, etc. without tearing down the dignity of the other, giving up the complexities of faith or inflicting pain upon another member of the Body of Christ.

 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22

The Christianity that I embrace compels me to follow God’s calling into the world, and to do so with vigor, discipline and love.

I am generally against unity based on a negative, but we are at a time when remaining silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford.  For if the current dominant version of the Christian faith continues to be cast as the one true version, the great diversity of our collective thought and theology will further cease building up the body as a whole. At some point our participation in the abdication of the Christian voice in the United States to the version of Christianity that politicians, pundits and the media would like it to be can no longer be tolerated. Unless we want our Christian faith to continue to be defined for us, we must seize this time, join our voices and reclaim the diversity of Christianity in the United States that we all know exists.

All together now . . . We are Christianity!

Because there is a broad expression of Christianity in the United States and lifting up a singular alternative would only perpetuate the idea of one “right” Christianity, taking a pledge or signing a contract would be silly.  Instead, if this letter resonates with you - Blue Dog Roman Catholic Democrat or a Log Cabin Episcopal Republican - you are invited to publicly claim your spot in the larger Christian family by adding your name to the “We are Christianity!” petition and/or liking and uploading a photo to the Facebook Page .

Other than that, I hope that you will take every opportunity to model graciousness, extend respect and shower dignity as you passionately, publicly and faithfully live and express your Christian faith.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Bruce Reyes-Chow, Christian

50 comments

  • rodgermceachern  

    well said…music may facilitate our response to God, yet music isn’t in itself any more ‘holy’ than my dog’s bark…like any thing we do as we worship God [sing, pray, fast, read, think, act, live] what makes it acceptable to God is our hearts intent and motivations [or at least this is how I might apply Isaiah 58 to this issue...music like much else we do can be pleasing or not pleasing to God]…we need to remember as you remind us that music is very much culturally derived and driven by our preferences…

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Agreed! Most things of personal preference are given too much power,

  • Alyce Morgan  

    As a church choir director and director of music, I’ve learned to approach it from this direction: We offer God what have and who we are. If we’re flute players, we play flutes. If we’re trained tenors, we sing arias from MESSIAH during Advent. If we’re guitar players, we strum, and if we’re three, we sing, “Jesus Loves Me.” REAL LOUD. We do that when we’re 70, too…because we need to say it again and again. We honor the tradition and the path of the pilgrims who went before us when we sing out of an old hymnal once in a while. We learn from them and know more about how we got to where we are today. Being Presbyterians, we are sure we are made in the image of a creative God and so encourage the talents of current faithful artists who bring us great, moving music right now and force us to look to the future. We also read Psalm 33 and know the goal is to play skillfully…giving our best to our creator. We model that for our kids and we let them sing or play their hearts out during worship from the time they’re T-tiny because…well because we’re all bozos on this bus together and it’s simply right. Could it ever, then, make sense to even begin to choose a form of worship with a label like traditional or contemporary? If we are who we are and we give what we have, we are involved in intrinsically organic worship that moves us all closer to God. And isn’t that the goal? I’m sure our energies could be better used than discussing this for so many years. (That’s my sermon and I’m sticking to it.)

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Very much agree with you, though I do think that part of the gift of legacy and longevity is that WE do keep talking about these things lest we fall into traps of the past. I don’t think that discussion, theory and practice should be mutually exclusive, but are rather in a constant cycle that might seem repetitive to some, but us important for the future.

  • Mary Raine  

    Well said and a good reminder!

  • JRS  

    The ultimate “Jesus as boyfriend” selection is “In the Garden.”

  • Garrett Anderson  

    I’ve experienced both traditional and contemporary music in the same ways…sometimes engaging, inspiring, catchy, heart-rending….and sometimes perfunctory or performance/performer oriented. What makes the difference between these experiences? I’m not sure. My openness to the Spirit. The Spirit-groundedness of the leaders? I wonder if its whether there is any silence around the other pieces of the worship….still, small, sifting silences….God spoke out it once.

  • Kurt Esslinger  

    I recently had my sister visit my home church in Chicago. After worship she asked, “Why didn’t you sing any ‘praise songs’?” Clearly the implication was that she could not imagine an interesting church ever singing mostly hymns out of the PCUSA hymnbook. I thought about mentioning theological drawbacks of contemporary praise music, but really the best answer was, “Because these are the songs that engage us.” I also feel quite the outsider in young adult circles when I admit, sorry, gospel and praise music just don’t do it for me. Yet, I still try to include praise songs in our Agape House worship times on campus because despite my inclinations, those songs still resonate with some of our students. Thanks, Bruce for keeping me honest.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      I do love me some campy praise songs every once in a while!

  • Carol  

    I actually had my epiphany about this at Montreat west. I was classically trained but when I went to worship there, I loved the music and it was very clear to me that what we were doing was indeed worship. We use all kinds of music – contemporary with a band, gospel, old hymns. We have a men’s quartet and a country gospel band. We use which music best fits the theme of worship. People have responded very well to it. Thanks for the post!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks for sharing. Music is such an interesting thing.

  • Marie Siroky  

    As a Cubs fan, baseball is always theological, never logical

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Should I ever move to Chicago, I could easily have the Cubs as my National League team!

  • Greg Reed  

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter …In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders…To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow my self to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrat­e that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows . For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
    –Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-Augus­t 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)

  • Greg Reed  

    Unfortunately, there are those who are called “Dominionist evangelicals” who are out to overthrow our Constitution and replace it with their version of christianity (small ‘c’ on purpose)….

    …and who are aligned with one political party which seeks to impose its church-state theocratic agenda upon America and over the rest of us.  As long as the Theocratic Evangelical Activists (TEA) of the GOP continue their relentless assault against secular Constitution and our American way of life, there will be those of U.S. who stand proudly as Liberals with our Liberal Founding Fathers and Mothers and their very Liberal Declaration (in an era of extreme social conservativism beneath the tyranny and decadence of the church-state empires of Roman Catholicism and English Protestantism)…

    …that all people are created equally by the Creator (not “God” because “God” is interpretive)…. “regardless” of the racial, religious or ethnic bigotries of the few…

    Here are the marching orders of those Theocratic Evangelical Activists…

    “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”
     
    - Dr. D. James Kennedy, Pastor of Coral Ridge Ministries, ‘Reclaiming America for Christ’ conference, February, 2005

    Note:  “whatever the cost.”  It’s Machiavellian.  No moral center there or moral high ground.

  • Doug D  

    Bruce,

    Although we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, I understand and appreciate the focus of your article.  My question is, how do you think we have come to a point where so much emotion and energy is becoming invested in winning the religious argument?  Few of the contentious issues are new to or national dialogue.  I don’t think we have new science or theology that would shine a new light on the topics.  Do we have a problem as living as Christians with the issues or with the context they are framed within?

  • HtedCoppock  

    “You will know we are Christian’s by our love!”

  • HtedCoppock  

    “You will know we are Christion’s by out love!”

  • Miguel Sanchez  

    thank you.

  • Anonymous  

     “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  –Jesus
     
    (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

  • Angelia  

    Somebody needs to get their nails done!

  • Frank  

    Warning: Rhetoric alert!

    So exactly how does those that value life in all its forms unite with those that feel a humans choice trumps the right to life?

    How do those who trust Gods word on marriage, unite with those that try to explain it away (poorly I might add)?

    I don’t know about you but the bible I read, the God I see in scripture, the Jesus I see on the pages of scripture would fight for the unborn and would not back down on the meaning of marriage.  

    Thanks but I will stick to scripture and let the wheat be separated from the chaff.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Frank . . . I am actually not asking anyone to come to agreement, only to engage in a way that does not seems so mean-spirited and dignity stripping of humanity. I think people can be passionate and convicted without disavowing the humanity of another person. 

      • Frank  

        What about those that disavow the humanity of the unborn?

        • grannyblb  

           Frank, take a deep breath.  Then reread what Bruce just posted.  Even those who believe in abortion should be treated with the same love which with Christ treated people.  You seem to be missing Bruce’s point.

        • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

          Frank. No matter the evil that one may directed towards anyone else, I will not allow myself to return evil with evil. Judgment is God’s and God’s alone. Not easy for sure, but in the end how I choose to face even the worst of what people can do and be in the world.

          ROMANS 12:17-20

          Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 

          On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; 
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

        • Frank  

          Bruce I love how you ignore the reality of my words yet expect me to not judge those who condone killing unborn humans. Untenable and no amount of “make nice” changes that! When you stand up for the humanity of the innocent unborn I will gladly stand up for the humanity of the guilty born. 

          Granny you and others seem to be the ones missing the point. It’s kinda like a doctor worry about making sure his/her hands are clean while the patient is bleeding out moments from death. 

          • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

            Frank – I grieve that we are clearly not hearing one another. I do not AT ALL expect you NOTo to judge, in fact all of us are called to “judge” in some manner as we discern how God indeed wants us to live. All i am saying is that in the judgement, must we tear each other down?  So EVEN if I may deny the personhood of an embryo, what good does it do to call my own humanity into questions. Can you not be passionate, convicted and strong without having to deny that the other is also a child of god? I am in no way trying to say, “make nice” but be gracious, big difference.

          • Frank  

            Bruce there are different issues in life that carry different weight. Abortion has a very heavy weight with little or no room for compromise.

  • Thomas  

    I cannot tell you what to believe or not.  But I know one thing, no matter what we claim to be.  Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” 

  • Bryan McCarty  

    I’m a lot more frustrated about God not being who He is and doing what He can do in my life than I am about what is commonly known as ‘Christianity’, especially in the mainstream American media. When I saw that headline, that’s where I thought and hoped you’d be going. I know and know of plenty of Christians who are living the life Jesus promised his followers and the rest of us, that they and we would do what he did and even greater works. I also know a much larger number  who, like myself, are wondering ‘what about me’? I have unmet needs and unfulfilled desires in my life, and care about people who need his healing touch and aren’t experiencing it. It’s those frustrated Christians I’m a lot more interested in. Do you have anything to say to them / us?

    • Karen  

      Bryan, when we truly give our lives to Christ, it means we trust Him completely to do what He knows is best for us. Everyone has disappointments, but in trusting Him, we can be at peace. We learn the most about God during our most difficult times.  Also, it’s not about how we live the Christian life…….it’s about what Christ already did for us on the cross. We must keep our lives on earth in perspective. This is just a small part of eternity for us.

  • Cynthia Wilson  

    Bruce,
    I needed this.  Just this week someone said I could not be a Christian because I am a Democrat.  I’ve also been called a “baby killer,” not because of any personal stance on abortion, but because I am a Democrat.  I’ve been told that my own father cannot stand to read my Facebook posts because of my “politics.”  My “politics” are only my voice crying out for compassion, mercy, grace and Christian love for ALL people, not just straight, white, middle-class, Christian, American citizens.  I don’t involve myself with any other aspect of “politics.” Sometimes I feel so alone in the Christian world.  Sometimes I cry to myself, frustrated because I don’t know if I should just be quiet and let the right-wing Christians roll over me and whole groups of people that I love or if I should stay the course and plead for a more merciful way of thinking.  I often find myself ashamed to call myself a Christian, not because I am ashamed of Christ, but because I am ashamed of the way some of them are behaving in front of the world.  I have friends who are Muslim, Gay, people of color, immigrants (legal and otherwise), atheists, Wiccan, Pagan, etc., and they tell me the awful things said to them and about them by “Christians.”  I want to stand of a rooftop and tell Christians that we are NOT called to politics.  We are not called to keep people from sinning.  We are not called to make America behave itself.  We are not called to change the laws to suit the Bible.  We are called to love.  By this, they will know we are Christians.  By this they will be won.  

    Cynthia

  • Rev.TimD  

    Rev. Bruce,

       Thanks for the post. I am aware of what you are getting at–but I am the choir you are preaching to, however. Could you possibly express some of the most prominent characteristics of this troubling Christianity you mention? Perhaps a description might awaken some who are asleep to these recent historical developments.

       Rev. Tim

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Tim. that is a good question and I intentionally did not want to call out the topics, but rather the tone. I think that some of the rhetoric has been taken hostage by the extreme left and right of the church. “My way or the highway” kind of thinking . . . and demonizing of the other. So, while the issue could be around planned parenthood, the tone could be just as toxic from the left or right. That help?

  • Matt G  

    I can appreciate this sentiment Bruce. However, I’ve read and reread and I’m still confused. Are we signing to say we want to try to be lovingly Big Tent? Because I think many of us have been trying to do that.  While polarization has been filled with rhetoric that has turned ugly and mean, even if you clean up the rhetoric the polarization remains. For many of us, an issue like LGBT equality isn’t a small difference that’s any more easy to overlook than discrimination of interracial marriage or women in ministry. I wouldn’t reduce this issue to being “politics”. This is about people and loving people. At this point, I ‘d rather see those who quietly support an integral justice begin to apologetically and lovingly speak out with actions and voices directed, not at those who disagree and call us heretics, but at those the church has marginalized, those who have left because of the judgment, and to the invisible Church that I believe is ready to respond to such voices with an awakening and vibrancy that will truly shock and awe many. 
    http://troogoo.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/majority/ 
     I know I’m probably missing completely what you are saying, as you’ve been one to speak your convictions quite clearly, and my response is really towards our greater collective reluctance, mine included, to move boldly into the movement of the Spirit. I suppose I’m looking for teeth and conviction of something to sign on to. We’ve worried too much about being polarized that we’ve lost our ability to move forward into the risk guided by our spirit-filled conscience and convictions. 
    I think many are ready to sign on to something much bigger than you have communicated here, and I commend this call but will hope it grows into something much greater…for myself included.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Matt – Thanks for the comment and pushback. I think right now . . . or at least until November, I am talking more about tone that topic. I do think that even over the most contentions of issues we can be passionate, righteous and strong without tearing the other down. One my heros is Janie Spahr who for years has been fighting for LGBTQ people in the Presbyterian Church. No one who ever call her weak, but most would say she is gracious . . . even in disagreement.  It seems that our ability to see one another as anything but a position has been lost . . . and that is from both the “left” and “right.” As far as what can grow from something like this, I’m up for however the spirit may move.

      • Karen  

        Hi Bruce, I came across this by accident but am glad I did.  I’m one of those “conservative” Christians and we feel exactly the same – like our country and the world hates us and vocalizes it in such nasty ways. Most of us don’t hate anyone.  But there are some radicals doing & saying some crazy things, and we are being lumped in with them.  I was raised in the Brethren church (in Ohio) but was married in the Presbyterian church. My niece, Christine Coy Foh r, is also a minister in the Presbyterian church & I’m so proud of her.  We don’t agree on everything, but the main thing is we both love the Lord.  I’m soooo proud of her! I think the media has a lot to do with stirring up trouble between the liberals & conservatives. None of my Christian friends “hate” anyone, especially other Christians! I hope this helps. As long as we keep our eyes on Christ, and not on ourselves, we’ll be fine.  And remember, scripture makes it clear that the world will hate us, especially during the last days. Oh and by the way, we also don’t hate gay people, etc. One of the best teachers I ever had was gay & I am so glad I experienced his teaching. Thank you for voicing your feelings about this.  I know most Christians agree. 

  • Bdmunroe  

    Bruce, this is a great article.  There are many of us who are not Christians who are not “anti’ Christian” as some would claim.  We are just against the one note Christianity (that frankly doesn’t seem very Christian to me) that dominates the political rhetoric.  But I can certainly get behind the “love your neighbor as yourself” Christianity you promote here.  Those Christians who agree do need to stand up and shout it to the roof tops just as those of us who are moderate politically need to do the same.

  • Jeff C Straka  

    Many Christians tend to keep Jesus’ Matthew 22 as two separate categories, where while we must worship God, loving our neighbors is of secondary (and lesser) importance. Wrong. Jesus is saying that loving your neighbor ENTIRELY FULFILLS the command to love God with your whole being. The whole of the law and the prophets hangs on these two seemingly separate commands being unified into One. God is NOT localized in a tent or a temple or a church building – God is IN the Other and in All.
     8But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
       what God is looking for in men and women.
    It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
       be compassionate and loyal in your love,
    And don’t take yourself too seriously—
       take God seriously. Micah 6:8

  • Louise  

    Thanks, Bruce, for this thoughtful perspective, and call to love.

  • Montemcclain  

    Thanks Bruce for the rallying cry, reminding us of what culture we are called to belong to and that politics all too often reduce the teachings of Jeaus to agenda points for their respective platforms

  • Wexford90  

    Bruce,
    This sounds a bit too much like the feel good “We Are the World…..” movement of a few decades ago.

  • "Punkie" Dennis  

    Thank you!  This is how many of us feel.  God bless from a sister in Christ.

  • Diana  

    Thank you, Bruce.

  • Randy Branson  

    Great letter, Bruce.  I took a slightly different tack to the same place on my new blog, revawesome.wordpress.com.  I called it “Tebow and the New Christians.”  The current discourse on Christianity and faith in the public policy arena gives us a terrific opportunity to offer an alternative as you propose.  Keep up the important work you are doing.  Also, keep in mind that the blog is really still under construction.  Right now it’s pretty basic. 

  • Michael Kruse  

    Hmmm.. I was weeding out some folks from my Twitter feed who endlessly tweet snarky political comments when I came across your tweet for this post. I think it must be a sign. ;-)

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    I hear ya. As our 15, 11 and 9 year olds operate as our lens, it’s interesting to see what they like. Having to learn to use a hymnal, navigate congregational culture and different folks. In the end, a solid traditional service is where we ended up and our oldest is joining the choir.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Love the “Red Clay Worship” just sounds indigenous. Hope it goes well.

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