What is a Christian?

If you’ve ever needed proof that people  lose their minds during election season, the current one provides ample proof. Right now, the economy is still sluggish, millions are out of work, gas prices are going up and the deficit is at a record high. All of these are grist for the Republican mill, so what are they going after? The president’s faith and the supposed War on Religion. Franklin Graham, chairman of Samaritan’s Purse and the son of pastor emeritus Billy Graham, said on Tuesday’s edition of Morning Joe that he believes Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are Christians, but he’s not sure about President Obama, “based on the way they’ve lived their lives” as Willie Geist put it. So, let me get this straight: Santorum and Gingrich, two men who, either in their private lives or through the policies they advocate have dumped on women, children, minorities, the sick and the poor (in other words, the people Jesus ministered to) while Barack Obama, a man whose record with women, children, minorities, the sick and the poor is just the opposite, is not. Maybe we need to re-examine what it means to be a Christian.

I believe being a Christian means following Christ, being a disciple. That sounds fine, but do we really have any idea what it means to be a disciple? There is an old saying in the Mishnah that goes:  “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi“. As blessings go, it sounds a little strange…, until you understand what it means. In first century Palestine, when a Jewish boy learned to read (about age 5-6) he would begin to memorize the Torah. Now, remember, the Torah is the first five books of the Bible and 6-year-old kids are expected to memorize it. This was called Beth-Safar and it lasted until the young man was about 10. Then came Beth-Talmud, where the young man memorized the rest of the Hebrew scriptures. After this, around the age of 14, if he was really good came Beth-Midrash. Here, the student would basically apply for an apprenticeship with a rabbi he respected. Then, if the rabbi accepted him, he would leave his home, his family, his trade, everything, to follow the rabbi and learn what the rabbi knew. He literally followed his rabbi everywhere he went, listening to everything his rabbi said, watching everything his rabbi did in an effort to learn everything his rabbi knew and become just like him. The best students followed so closely they became covered in the dust stirred up the passage of their rabbi. “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi” is actually high praise.

So, being a disciple means following your rabbi closely and, for Christians, that rabbi is Jesus. It doesn’t take more than a cursory reading of the Gospel to know that Jesus’ focus while He was here was on the women, children, minorities, the sick and the poor. So, in my opinion, if you’re going to follow Him, instead of denying these people basic rights and necessities, you should be fighting for them. To me, the mark of a true Christian is not their stance on moral issues, it’s not whether they’ve said a specific prayer or followed the proper doctrine. No, the mark of a true Christian is if they stand up for women, children, minorities, the sick and the poor. Unfortunately, too many Christians don’t seem to realize such dust even exists, much less want to be covered in it. That’s just sad.