The funny thing is that when it comes to things Christian, such clarity seems often lacking. This Thursday, Patricia Ireland will take over as chief executive officer of the Young Women's Christian Association. Wait a minute: That Patricia Ireland, the 57-year old self-proclaimed bisexual and stalwart advocate of abortion rights, including the right to the grisly partial-birth procedure?
Yep, that's her -- president of the Young Women's CHRISTIAN Association.
Now, this column is not actually about Patricia Ireland, whose "feminine spirituality" seemed to have been sufficient for her election to the presidency of a purportedly religious organization. One may not particularly fancy her causes but cannot deny that she has pushed them effectively while at the helm of the National Organization for Women.
Unattractive as her past activities appear to some, they were nonetheless legal, even if one could be tempted to add, "alas."
So the question is not: Is Patricia Ireland qualified as chief executive of a huge organization? She doubtless is. The question is, rather: Why would the group, which has just chosen this particular power lady as its boss, still call itself Christian?
In fact, why would the U.S. branch of the YWCA insist on keeping this particle in its name when none of its stated purposes is specifically Christian? To be sure, "peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people" are all commendable goals, but really rather generic ones.
Just open up the YWCA homepage on the Internet and type any of these Christian keywords into your computer's find function: "Jesus," "Christ," "God," "Bible," "Faith," "Salvation" or "Church" -- what do you get? Simply a red stop sign with an exclamation mark and the message, "The text ... was not found."
Perhaps it's unfair to single out the YWCA. It is not the first and not the only organization to have frivolously clung to a definition that to over a billion people around the world describes infinitely more than just good ethics or common desires.
The word, "Christian," was hijacked by groups we certainly would never otherwise wish to place in the same category with the YWCA -- the pro-Nazi German Christians in World War II, for example, or assorted "Christian" fellow-travelers of the Soviet Union during the cold war, racist sects in this country, and even Christian Sadomasochists.
I repeat: The YWCA is not in this unsavory league. But neither do its pronouncements provide any clue that it affirms even the most elementary tenets of Christianity: the belief in a triune God, in Scripture, in Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection -- and in our salvation by grace through our faith in Christ's sacrificial work for us.
We live in a wacky world where tiny intolerant minorities manage to have the public display or crèches banned, and where the Ten Commandments -- which are Jewish as well as Christian -- must not be exhibited in secular buildings.
Whatever crèches and crucifixes, menorahs, Commandments and the like have meant to many generations before us, we are to treat them with embarrassment and keep them to ourselves. Yet at the same time the very term by which some of us define ourselves in the deepest sense of the word, is allowed to be misused as a poster for all sorts of purposes.
As Diane Knippers, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy suggests, the rule of the basic integrity in advertising should apply here as everywhere else: Be truthful! So take the "C" out of the YWCA, Knippers suggests. That would make it the YWA, the Young Women's Association, a perfectly fine name.
Come to think of it -- why not come clean and merge with NOW straight away? This would spare the combined memberships of both organizations Ms. Ireland's moving expenses.