In a recent Facebook conversation with some very smart people, there was a comment about so-called Christians (like Franklin Graham, to name one) who seem to be behaving in ways that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. It isn’t that they are thinking differently (I admit to doing that all the time), or that they disagree with historical Christianity (which can be oppressive and short-sighted, as well as wrong). No – they are deliberately ignoring what I think are the essential teachings of Jesus – love God, neighbor, and self; do unto others as you would have them to unto you; care for the poor and needy – stuff like that. Using the trope “In Name Only”, I called them CINO’s – Christians in Name Only. This seems to be catching on – and while I am probably not the first person to use this, I will claim it for the moment. I’m sure that other, far brighter people than me have coined this before I did. Throw me a bone, why don’t you.
I began to think this morning about where this CINO thing may have started. I would certainly like to blame those whose theology I find abhorrent – Fundamentalists and Prosperity Preachers, for example – but they haven’t cornered the market on this. In fact, every person of faith has acted in ways unbecoming of their religion at some point or another – I know I have. It is the nature of human beings when they are reaching for the divine – we “miss the mark”, as the Apostle Paul wrote, and we need to keep aiming for higher truths and better behavior. I think about the history of Christianity and the usual abuses that are trotted out every time someone opposed to religion wants to prove how bad we are. Yada Yada Yada – I get it – people have done bad things in the name of God, and will continue to do so as long as there are people. Argument heard and agreed with. Let’s move on.
In the New Testament, I point to Acts 5, in which Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead (by whom, it isn’t clear – the Apostles or God?) for not turning all their money over to the commune. This is, for me, the first unethical act of the gathered saints. In our own American history, I consider the white church’s refusal to get involved with the Civil Rights movement (and its involvement in groups like the KKK, and lots of other examples), as ways in which “good, upstanding Christians” did evil and ignored Jesus. Like I said, we have all behaved in this way at some point. Some have done it more – and worse – than others.
I believe that this century will be a time of renewal for those of us who are trying really hard to not be CINO’s. We are no longer the dominant culture. We have little respect from the secular world. We are (some of us) pointing out the horrible behavior of our government and those CINO’s who stand by like court prophets, approving of the king’s misdeeds. I like to tell my congregation that we are all sinners. We are willing to admit it – hypocrites are not. We have been called to stand against the forces that would use God for oppression. Those CINO’s who are supporting attempts to demonize immigrants (and I do believe in vetting, so keep your shirt on) and the LGBTQ community. Those CINO’s trying to control women and Christianize the public schools. Those CINO’s trying to dismantle public works and subvert the Constitution. We may all be CINO’s at some point in our lives – the difference is whether we are willing to admit it, repent of it, and change our ways. This is the challenge for the Church in this time and in this place. Peace – maybe.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a B.A. in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an M.Div. from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a D.Min. from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a Ph.D. from Alvernia University (PA).