Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Christianism" vs. "Christianist"

Part of Unite the Fight's mission statement is to learn about the opposition to LGBT equal rights and why they move against us. Though it's the easy route to throw all Christians under the bus and accuse them of being bigots and opponents to our cause, that is far from the case. Many Christians do in fact practice what they preach and truly do love their neighbor as themselves. Including the LGBT community.

And then there are those who wave "God Hates Fags" signs.

It is essential that we learn the difference because if we are to win this battle, we need our allies. We can't afford to group people into one lump category, just as they can't do that to us.

Equal Marriage Now, a blog aimed at providing comprehensive information on the fight for marriage equality, recently posted on identifying the differences:

While there’s some debate who coined the terms originally, it’s pretty clearly Andrew Sullivan who’s brought them into the modern conversation about religion and politics.

His basic definition splits Christianity into the Christian faith as spiritual experience versus a Christian-identified political imperative:

"the critical distinction between a Christianist and a mere Christian. One wants to infuse politics with religion; the other wants to respect both, separately, and to keep religion private. I should add I do not want to banish the word “God” from the public square. But I do want that invocation to be as thin and as empty and as formal as the Founders intended." (1)

That wasn’t the first time he used the term, however. He originally defined the idea in an essay for Time Magazine, in which he described its meaning in greater detail:


"So let me suggest 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. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike." (2)

A subsequent blog post adds a layer of nuance. It’s not just the difference between leaving one’s religious belief out of politics or not, it’s about the fundamental way that belief interacts with the uncertainties and diversities of the world:

"The thing about fundamentalism, though, is its totality. There is something in the fundamentalist psyche that not only demands complete submission to a certain “truth”; but subsequently a frenzied effort to remove and obliterate all threats to that truth - because it has become so psychologically important for your own spiritual survival. Doubt, in this view, is not a goad to faith, but a terrible threat to it - so doubt must be eradicated. That inevitably leads to the empowerment of government for the pursuit of Christianist ends, and to the loss of empirical prudence in governance."


(1) Sullivan, Andrew. “The right and religion.” The Daily Dish. 14 December 2007. (retrieved 19 December 2009).

(2) Sullivan, Andrew. “My problem with Christianism.” Time. 7 May 2006.,9171,1191826,00.html (retrieved 19 February 2009).

(3) Sullivan, Andrew. “Christianism, Debated.” The Daily Dish. (retrieved 19 February 2009).

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