"If a man says he is a Christian I take him at his word and accept him as a brother until he proves otherwise. If I miss him in Christ, I'll catch him in Adam." (from a Chapel session at St Louis Christian College, 1972)
In polite society if one wishes to avoid confrontation in normal discourse among friends, one is generally encouraged to step lightly regarding, or completely around the subjects of religion and/or politics. Such circumvention is probably good politics, especially for religious folk. No two people seem to have the same opinion about either subject, those most adamant about their own position often the most prepared for a confrontation. And, though seeming opposites, the two subjects tend to be interwoven -- forage into either subject tends to be an opening to "confront" the other.
That said, I seem blessed with an inability to avoid causing confrontation. This inability probably stems from my willingness to be wrong, combined with a curious, eclectic mind and unwillingness to keep silent about lives that ought to be examined (to viciously paraphrase Socrates).
So, if you prefer to avoid confrontation stop here.
There is an interesting phenomenon in our culture that allows anyone to be what I'd term a "political" Christian. That is, one can be a Christian because they are nothing else.
It is commonplace, and certainly a legal right, to be a "Christian" simply by being nothing else: Do not have an Islamic sounding name, must not be Muslim; nor look like parents were from India, so not Buddhist or Hindu; no apparent Israel heritage, can't be a Jew; born and bred in America and doing right as seeing right to be, so must be Christian.
In this opinion being what I've deemed a political Christian requires no special knowledge of the Bible, no well defined belief system, cost nothing -- not even membership in any particular church. It does allow, even demands, religious tolerance for anything and everything passing under the banner of faith. "Political" Christianity blithely says, "You have your religion and I have mine."
Unhappily this proposed "political" position does allow prima-facie exclusion from "Christian" all who give surface appearance of being Hindu or Jew or whatever.
Such exclusion, though legal, is not very understanding and might even have some root in ignorance. Judging solely from outward appearance, could I tell whether any passing stranger was Muslim, Jewish, or Christian? Someone else might, but I could not.
Whatever a person's religion we Americans defend that person's right to that religion. Whatever their belief system we support it if no harm comes to the society as a whole, their good acts done in the name of their God we hold to be as sacred as our own right to religious freedom.
As someone seeking to be more than a "political" Christian a part of that seeking is wishing others be Christian. As an American "in this world but not of it" I will defend to the death your right to be something else. And, I will judiciously refrain from deciding what you are and the degree of your faith until I actually know you.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.