Eminentoes

Kicking the “Christianists”

Andrew Sullivan aims to boot them from the public square.

By 6.23.06

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If you refrain from punching your fist in the air exuberantly over the holiness, the exaltedness, the eye-spinning splendiferousness of same-sex marriage, if you fail to demand this very nanosecond that courts make it the law of the land, Andrew Sullivan knows what you are: a bigot, a hatemonger, a torture-supporter, even a Bush-backer. If you happen also to darken the doorstep of a church, why, faster than Mr. Humphries scampering across the gentlemen's department at Grace Brothers to inquire, "Are you being served?" he'll have your number. You're a "Christianist."

Christianist?

"So let me suggest," Sullivan pontificates in Time, "that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque."

You know, Rick Santorum equals that nuke-loving Iranian guy, the one who looks like an older, Muslim Maynard G. Krebs. Jerry Falwell is a chubbier Osama bin Laden in a suit off the rack from J.C. Penney.

Of course Sullivan says that's not what he means. Not at all. They're not terrorists, they're not violent. It's only that Christianists have hijacked Christianity like Islamists have hijacked Islam. Except they haven't slammed a plane into the Pentagon, leveled walls on homosexuals, stashed women in burqas, or rioted because Jesus appeared on the funny pages. But beyond that, I'm sure he has a point. Somewhere.

Frankly, the tone of political discourse distresses the self-described "gay, Catholic conservative" commentator. He finds it beyond the pale that Ann Coulter calls liberals "godless." "The point," he proclaims urbi et orbi in the Daily Encyclical, er, Dish, "is to portray your political opponents as part of a Manichean struggle against existential evil. And so 'liberalism' is literally demonized."

I must have missed something. Is Christianist, then, a term of endearment? Of all people, Sullivan has to be beyond waging Manichean struggles against existential evil. Marcionite struggles maybe, Arian even, but never Manichean.

If one day he discovers Buddhists who have hijacked Buddhism, I beg him to think twice before he dubs them "Buddhistists." Tongues from here to Kyoto will thank him.

Last week, Sullivan appeared on Larry King Live with an orthodox Episcopal priest (I hope the show's bookers contacted Fish and Wildlife's Endangered Species Program with news of their rare find), the legendary gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, a Roman Catholic priest, the president of a Southern Baptist seminary, and a lesbian United Church of Christ pastor from Dallas. Sullivan explained:

I am a Catholic and people often ask me, how can you be openly gay and be a Catholic? And my response is always I'm openly gay, because I'm a Catholic, because God taught me not to bear false witness to who I am and my faith is something that I really have no choice over. I've tried. I've had a terrible struggle with my own faith, but God wouldn't let me go and he keeps bringing me back and he keeps saying to me, in the Eucharist and in the church I love you and you belong here. And I want you to have a loving relationship and I feel that my own relationship is a gift from God. I cannot alone in my conscience before God believe otherwise. So I can do no other. I'm here because I have no choice.

Somewhere Martin Luther is wishing he'd had a better intellectual property lawyer.

No doubt Sullivan has treaded a harrowing road, though that far from necessitates the conclusions he's reached. Let's take out "openly gay" and add other activities traditionally considered less than savory. "And my response is always I'm an extortionist/murderer/rapist/thief/liar/Daily Kos reader, because I'm a Catholic, because God taught me not to bear false witness to who I am and my faith is something that I really have no choice over." I believe Sullivan here is drawing upon the works of a famed Doctor of the Church. His name, unfortunately, escapes me, but I recall he's the patron of sailors, growers of iron-rich vegetables, and flat-chested women. "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam," he says in Against the Blutoians.

After his appearance with Larry King and the gang, Sullivan told his readers,

I'm absorbing the email flood ...and will try and get back to everyone, but several are asking if I have written on these subjects. Er, yes. My first book, Virtually Normal, makes the key arguments about why the Catholic teaching on homosexuality is incoherent on its own terms. My second book, Love Undetectable, is a memoir of my faith-journey through the plague years, an account of the origins of homosexual orientation, and a celebration of friendship as a core Christian virtue. If you're interested, check them out. Part of my next book, The Conservative Soul, tackles the deeper philosophical issues behind Catholicism's treatment of sexuality as a whole -- straight and gay -- as well as presenting a defense of a non-fundamentalist Christianity as the Christian life closest to Jesus' example.

Isn't it annoying when authors ride a hobbyhorse to the point of saddle sores? I'm glad to see Sullivan's mind boasts more than one track. I know I'm looking forward to The Conservative Soul. It's on my reading list immediately after The Liberal Soul, the new book due out from Jesse Helms. But I hear he's not done. Not by a long shot. He's already at work on what he hopes to be his masterpiece. As yet untitled, it tackles why the very design of the universe, from galaxies and quasars to neutrinos and quarks, points to why that so-called Vicar of Christ in Rome is nothing more than a goose-stepping reactionary bent on keeping Andrew from the altar.

In Time, Sullivan thunders against the Christianists and their machinations. He dings Rush Limbaugh for hanging the moniker "party of death" on the Democrats "because of many Democrats' view that some moral decisions, like the choice to have a first-trimester abortion, should be left to the individual, not the cops." I'll let pass his howler that implies abortion in America is limited to the first trimester. If you're a Christian and, like your co-religionists since the Age of the Apostles, believe that abortion is more than a "moral decision," you're a Christianist.

What's an oppressed, marginalized gay man, with a column in Time, a blog on the magazine's website, op-eds in the Times of London, going to do? "The worst response, I think, would be to construct something called the religious left," he advises. Perhaps he doesn't get out much, or the Christianist reign of terror has him under house arrest, but I'd like to introduce him to the Methodist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches. Maybe he's familiar with them.

"I dissent," he exclaims, "from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith."

If you fail to subscribe sincerely and personally to the faith as interpreted by Andrew Sullivan, you're a Christianist and you have no business in the public square.

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About the Author

R. Andrew Newman is a freelance journalist in western Nebraska.