Over the past few months, I’ve found myself reflecting on Christianity quite often. As I’ve had the opportunity to discuss religion with Christians of different cultures and worldviews something has become crystal clear to me. Now as an American I freely admit that I’ve fallen victim to the tendency of viewing issues through the prism of my experiences only. Given the way that we are raised and due to the pervasive influence of American exceptionalism in our society, we are prone to thinking that our nation-and what goes on in it-is the focal point of the world. And though I like to think of myself as a more open-minded individual, I have come to see how my nationality has caused me to evaluate Christianity in a narrow-minded fashion.
Christianity in the United States has a flavor of its own. Historical and cultural factors have all contributed to the various strains of faith seen in our nation. Some believers even behave as if the USA is the be all and end all of global Christianity, that God has a special love reserved for the US and that their particular practice of Christianity is the only correct one. And to a certain extent I must give the louder, more fundamentalist oriented believers kudos, for they have certainly pulled off a brilliant trick in terms of PR. They have convinced even non believers such as myself that they are the face of Christianity. But they are not! To put it in simple terms, Christianity is a global faith which predates the founding of the United States of America. It has over two billion adherents worldwide, and the majority of them do not live in the United States. Many of the excesses that I so dislike in the form of Christianity that I was raised with-the prosperity gospel, for example-are not part of more indigenous expressions of the faith found worldwide. I remember my time in Tanzania with my ex-husband’s family-part Sunni, part Lutheran-and being amazed and relieved with the way they worshipped. I remember sitting in the pews with my mother in law at her modest Lutheran church, and how the worship service was devoid of the drama and fire and brimstone preaching that characterized my worship services back home.
So, when I am tempted to criticize the church as a whole, I pause now. I think of my mother in law and how radically different she was from what I experienced in the past. When I hear American Christians vilifying the most marginalized segments of our society, I remind myself of Christians like Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, whose committment to justice for the poor cost him his life. Christianity is much more than the sideshow that it has become in the United States, and I feel that is something that American non-believers like myself should keep in mind.