International photographer, author and syndicated radio talk show host Barry Shainbaum visited Harlan County from Toronto. I drove him down to visit the Smokies one day and we had 12 hours of listening to previously aired radio guests and talking about subjects that had been covered on the individual shows. I was particularly interested in how other faiths perceive Christianity. Barry's show is hosted by a Christian radio station that by Canadian law must also provide air time to other faiths, such as Islam and Judaism.
Barry thought that as in Judaism, a person's Christian faith affiliation is based on whatever the mother's belief system is. I had a hard time trying to help him understand that true Christianity is an individual choice of faith.
Several times he said, “But your parents are Christian, so you are Christian.”
My father is a minister, but that doesn't make me one. My mother is a wonderful pianist, and that doesn't make me one either. We are what we practice as individuals.
I finally realized that there is so much of what the world believes about Christianity based on the perception that the United States of America is a Christian nation and those who live here are all Christians if they are not something else. It dawned on me that many people call themselves Christians to clarify that they are neither Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic.
Calling myself the Queen of Sheba isn't going to make it so any more than calling myself Christian will make me one if I am not behaving like one. Christianity is more than a social grouping. It is more than a movement or a philosophy.
Literally, Christian means to model one's self after Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to be the Son of God. To behave like Christ, to model one's daily life after the teachings of love, forgiveness and redemption, is what makes a true Christian.
Wars have been fought in the name of Christianity that were just an excuse to fight (as has also happened in the name of other religions). Rulers and politicians have hidden behind the name of Christianity to give themselves a sense of respectability. Individuals often call themselves Christian to describe themselves as “good” people.
The United States of America was founded on Christian principles through people seeking a new land and a new liberty to worship God and follow after Him in their own freedom. I hardly think the United States of 2006 would remotely qualify for what they had in mind. Pornography, substance abuse, broken homes and crime in every nook and cranny of the nation can hardly be disguised under the label of Christian nation.
If the rest of the world looks at this nation and believes what they see about America and what they see coming out of America as being a “Christian Nation,” no wonder they have no faith in us or our religious beliefs.
The United States of America has become a melting pot of people, nationalities, religious beliefs, and ethnic backgrounds. There may be every holy thing to be found alive and well within out borders, but the unholy things are flourishing. I understand that many middle Eastern cultures are offended by the bold way women in our culture flaunt their bodies and have no sense of modesty. Scantily covered girls walk down the streets of every city and barely clad models splash across magazine covers, billboards, television and movie releases. It's no wonder they don't want any part of Christianity if they are convinced that Christianity condones such lewdness and immodesty among women.
If a grown man puts on a wet suit, flippers and swims with dolphins 10 hours a day, it still isn't going to make him a dolphin. Neither is saying, “I'm a Christian because I'm an American,” going to make it true.