I read this recently:
David Lipscomb¹ led a convention of Christians . . . to adopt positions as non-combatants in the Civil War. Their petition to Military Governor Andrew Johnson was rejected.
Aside: while the impetus for this blogpost is not the various non-combatant, conscientious objector, or non-participant positions, the tenets of these ideals merit full consideration, and most have ample scripture-based (and my personal) support.
Here, I am more interested in the perception of Governor (later U.S. President) Johnson about the affiliation of many Christians with David Lipscomb and others. I had to wonder whether Johnson’s lack of regard was aimed at a group, i.e. a church, rather than toward individuals’ scripture-based convictions. Perhaps he saw this petition as a group’s threat to national unity or a national cause — which would make sense, since Johnson was a “company man” — a Union loyalist living in the South.
These days, most news media outlets, and certain politically motivated groups, seem unwilling to conceive of properly substantiated — and instantiated — beliefs. In actuality, though, groups don’t believe or hold opinions on things; individuals do. I don’t deny that many individuals have little ability to think for themselves, relying instead on groups with which they are affiliated for self-identification. Thoughtful Christians ought, however, to work toward being able to say this with confidence: I do not believe what I believe because of “religion” or some “religious group”; rather, my convictions come from personal study and thinking.
It is better to speak of (and to have!) “personal, spiritual beliefs” or “conscientious scruples” or “bible-based faith positions” than to appeal, for one’s “religious” beliefs, to denominations or other groups. Personally, I turn my ears and eyes away from any statement which begins, “Well, as a ___________, I believe. . . .” Insert whatever affiliative label you wish in the blank there — Calvinist, Campbellite, ChurchofChrister, Catholic, Conservative, Baptist, Buddhist, Mormon, Marxist, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Lutheran, Liberal. . . . Any statement that begins with an appeal to an affiliative group is weaker than it could be if the person simply professed her own individual, well-founded beliefs.
On the whole, I’d say that “religion” and “religious” have affiliative connotations — in the West, at least. If one supports religion and is a member of a religious group, he may be lumped/pigeon-holed. The resultant group solidarity may seem threatening to those without much understanding of individually held, biblically based tenets.
More important than the broad perceptions of others, though, is the imperative for each person to develop his own soundly reasoned beliefs.
¹ Incidentally, the notion of affiliation takes on an additional, negative connotation in connection with David Lipscomb. He himself is generally thought of as having an irenic spirit, tracing his spiritual heredity more from Barton Stone than from Alexander Campbell, and being more inclusive than some other prominent leaders of the time. Yet Lipscomb played a significant role in finalizing the division between instrumental and non-instrumental Restoration congregations. With Lipscomb’s input into the 1906 religious census came the “necessity” of affiliating with either the Christian Church (which then included what became the Disciples of Christ, later quite a liberal denomination) or the Church of Christ.