There are a number of times throughout my life when I was asked if I considered myself a Christian. My response to the questioner has always been: "It depends on what you mean by Christian."
Over the past 50 years, the word Christian has taken on a distinct meaning in the media and usually reflects the religious beliefs and politics of a group of believers known as the "Christian right."
Theologically, they adhere to what are commonly referred to as the fundamentals of the faith: the literal inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical resurrection of Jesus, the substitutionary theory of atonement (Jesus had to pay the price of our sinfulness) and the imminent Second Coming of Christ.
For the Christian right, the Bible is the ultimate authority because it is God's word spoken directly to us as dictated to the authors of the various books. Therefore, the Bible is the final word on issues of science, cosmology and sexuality resulting in the denial of evolution and strong opposition to gay relationships.
The religious right emphasizes individual salvation (getting to heaven) over communal discipleship. "I've accepted Jesus as my personal lord and savior" supersedes viewing oneself as a member of the "Body of Christ" participating in the ministry of transforming this world.
Politically, the right consider themselves pro-life because of their strong opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
However, they favor capital punishment and strongly support our military adventures such as our preemptive intervention in Iraq.
They also support economic policies that favor the rich and undermine the safety net of our neediest citizens. Many vehemently reject any attempts to provide health insurance for the 40 million in our country who cannot afford it.
They also oppose immigration reform which would allow for the integration of the 12 million undocumented people already living in this country. They deny climate change and many ignore the environment, believing that the rapture will occur in their lifetime when God will destroy this evil world.
In his book, "God's Politics," Jim Wallis, an evangelical pastor and editor of "Sojourners" magazine posed a key question: "How did the religion of Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?"
I do consider myself a Christian and pray daily that my life will be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
He taught us how to live as sons and daughters of a loving parent which means God's family supersedes our American family.
I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God written by human authors.
Therefore, the more we understand the historical, cultural and linguistic context of the various books, the better prepared we are to receive the intended revelation.
It also teaches us how faith in God and human consciousness have developed over the centuries the Bible was written.
I believe Jesus revealed God's passion for this world by confronting the religious and civil leaders who used economic policies, military might and religious justification to suppress the vast majority of the populace for their own wealth and power.
He died in his non-violent attempt to transform the unjust system, but God raised him up to eternally validate his life. I believe he continually challenges us to take up our cross in transforming the same basic system where one percent of the people control 40% of the world's wealth while the poorest 50% share one percent.
I believe being a Christian demands we promote the sacredness of life from the womb to the tomb. A pro-life stand opposes capital punishment and any military intervention before we exhaust all other means for settling our disputes.
It also means that we need to do all we can to promote human rights for all of God's children including the right to have adequate shelter, nourishing food, education, job opportunities and quality health care. I also believe concern for the environment is a pro-life issue.
Being a Christian means reaching out to any group that is marginalized or dehumanized because of gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, economic or legal status. It means allowing God's grace to connect us to all of reality.
It even means viewing those on the Christian right as sincere believers who have a radically different understanding of Jesus and the call to discipleship.
Finally, I believe that when we use our gifts and talents to enhance the quality of life for those we encounter each day we are proclaiming God's love more than any sermon or doctrine.
We are fulfilling Jesus' most basic command: "Follow me."
Peter J. Carli
Spread Eagle, Wis.