Who is and is not a Christian?

My last article regarding the "No true Christian" fallacy struck a chord with a good friend of mine. I call him a good friend because I’ve known both him and his wife since we were all in college. And as friends often do, we don’t agree on everything, especially religion.

The chord I struck was the fact I was mentioning only negatives of Christianity, and the last sentence of the article drives that notion home with a golden spike:

Jesus may have preached peace, but there is no doubt that a lot of Christianity’s history is penned in blood.

One of my friend’s statements is certainly true: it isn’t Christianity that causes problems, it’s people. This is similar as the oft-quoted notion by gun rights supporters: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. People certainly cause problems and people kill people. It doesn’t matter your religion, race or creed.

Christians today certainly do a lot of good as well. There are many Christian churches and organizations that contribute billions of dollars each year to help the lesser fortunate around the globe. The Salvation Army is a classic example of Christians helping others, and many churches route tithe money to charitable causes and functions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the article, only a side point brought up for the purpose of emphasizing the main point: Christians do not decide who is and is not a Christian.

With many things it is very easy to say whether someone does or does not belong to a particular group. For example my father is a Navy veteran because he served honorably for 12 years in the United States Navy, but he is not a retired Navy veteran because he did not retire from the Navy but was only honorably discharged. I cannot say I am a veteran of any branch of the military because I never served.

Sometimes specific groups have set definitions of who is and is not a member, thus qualifying a person as a member or not becomes easy. Religious affiliation, on the other hand, isn’t so cut and dry.

Now there are specific "qualifications", if you will, that determine if a person is a Christian, but unlike proving the veteran status of a person, there isn’t anything you can go on to prove a person is or is not a Christian, only that person’s own word.

I’ll use myself as an example. I was christened in a Methodist church when I was an infant. I own a couple Bibles and a cross that my mother gave me when I was in middle school. So far it sounds like I’m a Christian, but I’m not. I explicitly disavowed myself from Christianity about 10 years ago, though one could say I "lost my Christian status" in high school.

I am not a Christian, and only I can say whether I am or am not a Christian.

Christians can distance themselves from other Christians who do harm, just like I distance myself from white supremacists. But saying

I wouldn’t refer to those who commit violent acts of murder as Christians.

doesn’t nullify a person’s Christian status. You may not want to think the person a Christian, but that doesn’t make it so.

And if you want an example of this, consider Paul Jennings Hill.

Hill is so far the only anti-abortion activist to receive the death penalty in the United States. On July 29, 1994, he shot abortion provider John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett, killing both of them, and he also shot Barrett’s wife June, injuring but not killing her. Hill was sentenced to death on December 6, 1994, and so executed by lethal injection on September 3, 2003, in the State of Florida.

Hill was also a Presbyterian minister, though he was defrocked in 1993 following a controversial series of television appearances. He also attended Bellhaven College, a private Christian liberal arts college, and was affiliated with the Army of God.

He left behind a manifesto called Mix My Blood with the Blood of the Unborn, published online by the Army of God. His words in that manifesto leave no doubt.

Hill was a Christian, regardless of whether you want to think him one or not. You don’t get to decide, not with Paul Jennings Hill and not with anyone else.

Other resources on Paul Jennings Hill

  • Clarke County, Indiana, Prosecutor’s Office: "Hill, who had told reporters that his death would make him a ‘martyr’ in the anti-abortion movement and that he expected a ‘reward’ in Heaven, was pronounced dead from the lethal injection at 6:08 p.m. Hill became the first killer of an abortion clinic doctor to be executed." (emphasis added)
  • Life Enterprises Unlimited — Paul Jennings Hill: "His actions, known as justifiable homicide to honest believers in the Word of God, were against a murderer –Dr. John Britton– and his driver/escort/guard –James Barrett, an accomplice… He understood his unselfish defensive act –even though he had to leave behind a young wife and three young children– to be just in God’s sight."
  • Army of God — Mix My Blood with the Blood of the Unborn, Paul Jennings Hill