Reaching Out to Christian Allies: An Apology and a Challenge

I talk a lot about my dislike for Christianity.

As a survivor of an abusive Christian cult, I think I’ve earned that right.

But I also recognize and appreciate that not all Christians are abusive sociopaths. I have some friends who identify as Christian who are wonderful people. I’m so proud of them for finding a way to turn Christianity into a positive faith experience (not that it’s my place to feel proud of them, but I have to give them credit and respect for doing what I could not).

I thought that my disdain and criticism of Christianity were clearly not something they would perceive as directed at them.

I was wrong.

Within most systems of oppression, there is a way to differentiate between individuals within the privileged group and the system that grants them privilege and oppresses others. Patriarchy and male privilege delineate a system that oppresses women and gives men power without implying that men are all horrible, misogynistic asses. The same goes for White privilege and racism and for homophobia, heterosexism, and straight privilege (or biphobia and monosexism for that matter).

I’ve never heard a differentiation made between religious oppression and religious people.

It might be clear in my mind when I rail against Christianity that I’m not railing against all individuals who identify as Christians, but someone else may only hear a word that identifies them personally.

I don’t want to make Christians feel targeted as individuals by my hatred.

Some have tried to argue that what I dislike about Christianity “isn’t really Christian.” But you can’t say that someone who identifies as Christian isn’t Christian because you dislike the way they act. It’s a logical fallacy, commonly known as “No true Scotsman.” It should be an obvious logical fallacy. No one ever tries to argue, “That’s not really a White person. They’re racist, and I’m not. Since I’m White, they can’t be.” It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not a valid differentiation method.

But I understand what these people are getting at . . . I also want to be able to differentiate between Christianity as a faith identity and Christianity as an oppression/prejudice.

What we need is a word, like sexism, to identify Christianity as a system of power. Whether Christianity was meant to be a system of power is beside the point. We have to deal with what Christianity is, not lament what it should have been. Being a Christian is not bad, but just because an individual Christian doesn’t want to participate in oppression doesn’t mean that the religion suddenly loses its oppressive elements.

I came across something on Urban Dictionary the other day that feels like a solution. “Religism” hasn’t come into wide usage yet (I’m hoping to change that), but it exists to identify prejudice against those of a different religion.

Voila! Just like that, I have a word to describe the prejudice and oppression that comes from the Christian religion as a whole that doesn’t target individuals!

I feel it’s important to say that I’m truly sorry for the allies that I’ve inadvertently hurt. I should have done my Google search far before now. I want to work with Christian allies.

But in return, Christian allies need to also do work to recognize where they have privileges because of their faith identity. Just as I have hurt Christian friends without meaning to, many Christians unintentionally contribute to the oppression of others, even with the best of intentions. This article has a great beginning list of privileges Christians often enjoy without realizing it. I’ve added some of my own additions below.

  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, your neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances aren’t likely to view you as an imminent threat.
  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, the media and law enforcement aren’t likely to see your religion as the root of that violence.
  • If being questioned by the police, you have reasonable expectation that stating your religious faith will be an asset rather than a liability.
  • If arrested, you have reasonable expectation of a speedy trial without excessive detainment.
  • If you talk about your faith on the phone, you can feel relatively secure that the NSA won’t monitor you for simply mentioning your religion.
  • Lawmakers and judges who oppose laws on religious reasons refer to your religion.
  • In cases of civil rights violations, your religion is likely to be favored.
  • The morals of your religion are so commonly accepted that they are represented even in media and entertainment that claims to be from a different religious perspective (e.g. Charmed, a supposedly Pagan show, featuring Christian-esque demons despite the fact that most Pagans do not believe in the Christian version of the Devil or good and evil.)
  • Accepted alternatives to scientific theory reference your religion’s mythology.
  • Despite a violent past, your religion is not considered violent.
  • TV shows that portray your religion favorably aren’t likely to be boycotted or recalled because of public outrage.
  • History often favors your religion’s perspective and portrays the work of those from your religion as beneficial.
  • Even non-religious people are likely to use your religious buildings for special occasions unless they have cultural ties to other religions.
  • If neighbors or acquaintances find out about your faith, they are likely to assume you are a safe person for their children to be around.

I could go on, but I hope that my point has been made. It’s hard to see all the ways that Christianity is favored above other religions in the U.S. until you step out of Christianity. It doesn’t mean that these privileges are always present for all Christians, nor does it only refer to rights acknowledged by the government. Privilege is about societal structure that favors one group above another.

And I’m not saying that having privilege automatically makes someone a bad person. Privilege, by its very definition, is something that is given to a group of people whether they want it or not. It’s not necessarily something they have a choice about, and those who are aware of their privilege are limited in their ability to decline to participate.

However, being aware of privilege and taking steps to counter it can pave the way for healing and change.

I’m taking the first step to acknowledging how I’ve hurt the conversation by failing to differentiate between people who have a Christian faith identity and the Christian religism that pervades society. I’m changing my language in order to open the door for that conversation to begin again. We can work together to address the oppression within Christianity but only when Christian allies are willing to acknowledge that it exists.

Now, the ball is in the court of the allies. Are you willing to do your part to address and raise awareness of the system? Can you meet me in this place of differentiation? It won’t be easy. It may challenge you to examine your own life and faith a bit closer. It may challenge you to change perspectives, which is going to be extremely difficult when society is designed to validate your perspective. It may require you to bite your tongue when a wounded person is writhing under the agony of what Christian religism has done to them and to practice patience, love, and space-holding for those too hurt to recognize yet that you are not the same as the system. It may require stepping back from the conversation and listening instead of talking, following instead of leading, acknowledging instead of defending.

The good news is that if you’re a Christian ally, you’ve probably already had to do these things in other areas. You’ve probably already done some work to address white privilege if you’re white, male privilege if you’re a man, and straight privilege if you’re straight. This is nothing new to those who love equality. The trick is to take what you’ve already learned to do and apply it to a new aspect of your life.

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6 thoughts on “Reaching Out to Christian Allies: An Apology and a Challenge

  1. lanamhobbs says:

    Reblogged this on Lana Hobbs the Brave and commented:
    religist – that’s a new word for me but as an agnostic/freethinker, i think i’ll adopt it. I never really realized how privileged Christians were until I didn’t identify as one any more.

  2. Lana says:

    I’m a Christian and found this from Lana Hobbs. I pretty much distance myself from church because I’m so tired of the sexism, racism, etc. But what I have not felt is that sexism goes away as soon as someone becomes a secular humanist. I think both racial equality and sex equality (and we should add orientation, etc, in there) are rare in all cultures. Religion does stay more behind the times.

    • It’s very true that you will find sexism and racism and heterosexist outside of the church. This post was not meant to imply it disappears outside of Christianity. Rather it is a challenge to Christians to examine how their religion and the privileges afforded to them because of their religion contribute to oppression. Christian privilege extends beyond the oppression of women, racialized people, and lgbt. It’s also present in the erasure of and discrimination against other religions and philosophies. I think the list of privileges in the linked article and in my post demonstrate how that often plays out in society.

  3. Sheldon says:

    What I do when I rant about abusive groups within Christianity is usually use the term fundamentalism instead of Christianity. Most of the abuses go on within fundamentalist Christian groups, and various cults within Christianity.

    I have no issue with liberal/moderate Christians, and I like to hang around them online, they usually agree with my criticisms of fundamentalism, they are just as annoyed by those types as I am, maybe even more so, since those people claim to be a part of their faith.

    • I would agree that fundamentalism is the greatest cause of harm within Christianity, but I disagree that liberal Christianity is free of oppressive elements. I have found similar forms of control and abuse within “liberal” groups, and even groups that are open and affirming and in favor of women’s rights can fall into Christian privilege. There’s a pervasive mindset within liberal Christianity that assumes that they are superior to other faiths or that “all faiths lead to Jesus”–mindsets that are equally arrogant and condescending to other people’s paths. As I said in previous comments, Christian privilege has as much to do with the erasure of other faiths and philosophies as it does with overt discrimination and oppression of groups like women, lgbt, or racialized people. Liberal Christianity has come farther on recognizing the value of human rights in general, but it still has work to do to address the privilege of Christianity itself.

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