Readers of this post are likely aware of a pastor from Providence Road Baptist Church who proposed that “lesbians, queers, and homosexuals” ought to be rounded up and placed inside of an electric fencealong with other nonsense. This, of course, won’t be the first post mentioning this…and I am not going to talk about why his remarks are ridiculous because that should be quite obvious. Something less obvious, though, which will relate to the topic of this post, is what qualifies one as being a Christian. To my amazement, some friends on my Facebook page — including many LGBT persons, LGBT allies, and atheists — seem to be quite confused about this and have asserted, instead of or perhaps in addition to Christians who might often employ this tactic, that Pastor Worley isn’t a ‘real Christian.’ He is a ‘so-called pastor,’ a ‘pastor,’ and someone who shouldn’t be ‘honored’ with the title of pastor.
What is often referred to as the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy seems to be well understood by many secular people [who are often fast to note this when Christians try to insist that people who behave badly are not ‘one of them’]. When the phrase ‘No True Scotsman’ is used in relation to Christians, people are asserting that something other than thoughts, behavior, or criminal history designates a person as a Christian. In the case of priests who sexually abuse children, for example, abusing children doesn’t disqualify one from being a Christian. The priest might later be defrocked or excommunicated (fat chance, unfortunately), but this doesn’t seem to rightly disqualify this person from being a Christian. Cries of “A Christian would never abuse a child” or “That person is a fake Christian” should not be taken seriously.
What, then, does it mean when one professes to be a Christian? Admittedly, this is a difficult question because there is a great deal of disagreement amongst priests, theologians, laypersons, different churches, and so much more. Might belief that an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing god who created the universe and wants to have a personal relationship with humans be a ‘minimal’ phrase of sorts lump on in the ‘Christian’ camp? Not so, it seems, when academic theists (and non-academics) seem to often see Christianity and the Bible as a ‘human drama story’ that, if taken literally and not metaphorically, really loses a great deal of its message. …and what’s that message? Is it “fear and obey God?” Is Christianity mainly about how to lead a good life and be a good person? Is the message to love your neighbor? Does one person have a monopoly on the message? What about authorial intent? As we see, this is quite a complex issue.
While it might be difficult to come to a conclusion (if one even exists) about what qualifies one as a Christian or what the message of Christianity is, it might be much easier to declare that bad behavior doesn’t disqualify one as being a Christian…or that ethics and religion is often an incidental affair. It should be quite obvious to theists and atheists that all sorts of religious and non-religious people behave well and behave poorly. Many people might be inspired by a certain ethical code, religion, religious leader, or secular person and may derive their morality from any combination of these.
Should, then, the title of pastor be a title that is coupled with an assumption of ‘this person is an upstanding ethical individual?’ Doing so seems to be very dangerous and may reinforce any or all of the following myths: faith makes a person moral, pastors are better qualified to make ethical statements than non-pastors, all religious leaders are upstanding moral people, and non-religious people are immoral. Some pastors, of course, are upstanding ethical individuals [although we can quibble about whether reinforcing religious beliefs in laypeople, as may often be the case, is indicative of an upstanding moral individual] and some are not.
The next time a Christian religious leader [or any other religious leader] says something terrible or behaves poorly, don’t put quotes around a title, call the person a ‘so-called pastor,’ or insist that the person isn’t a ‘real Christian.’ Let us not, as it seems that this can be the case whether intentionally or not, couple faith with morality.