The need to call my bank or credit card company every few years has unfortunately become commonplace.

I open my bank or credit account to discover unauthorized charges posted. Most of them are small expenses leading to the big one. Once, I had numerous small, fast-food charges – then BAM – thousands of dollars spent at a local Best Buy for media equipment.

It happened again this week. Apparently, the thief got my credit card number, then programmed it into his phone to make online payments using Apple Pay.

After a few hours on the phone with some very kind and patient customer service employees, we got everything straightened out. My old card has been canceled, and my new card is on the way– hopefully, without another thief intercepting it.

Identity theft is on the rise within the United States.

Quote Wizard, a Lending Tree Company, determined that every state in the U.S. has had an increase in identity theft cases. States like Kansas and West Virginia saw an increase of almost 150%.

“The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 5.88 million fraud reports in 2021, a 19% increase from the year prior. Reports of associated financial losses topped $6.1 billion, an increase of more than 77% compared with 2020,”

Experian reported in 2022.

More recently, the Federal Trade Commission cited, “Consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, an increase of more than 30 percent over the previous year.”

Needless to say, identity theft is a real problem and is causing great harm to the global economy. It is incredibly challenging for those most vulnerable.  Scammers and thieves often target children and the elderly.

As I sat on hold the other day, waiting to explain my predicament to my credit card company, a thought occurred to me. I’ve been a victim of identity theft before. It was not so much a financial theft – even though that could be argued – but I, along with many others, were victims of spiritual identity theft.

You see, I grew up as a Southern Baptist. In the 1970s and 1980s, a group of unhinged white men decided to take over the Southern Baptist Convention. They succeeded, kicking everyone out that would not assimilate to their rigid doctrines.

Thankfully, I found a home in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. They embraced me with my quirky beliefs and many mistakes. They loved me and allowed me to explore a different way to be both Christian and Baptist.

I felt pretty good in my new home among my new tribe when I realized another hijacking was happening. This time, however, it was not within a denominational struggle for power but for the entire identity of what it means to be Christian.

The term “Christian” became more closely aligned with a political ideology rather than a spiritual practice shaping belief and behavior. Instead of faith shaping political thought, the new “Christian” substituted a rigid political ideology for the bedrock foundation for faith.

To be this new type of “Christian,” following the teachings and examples of Jesus was no longer enough. In fact, Jesus often got in the way of this new ideology bearing his name because he talked a lot about the poor and hung out with way too many sinners.

Instead, the new “Christian” focused on upholding the latest edition of conservative politics.

To be “Christian” meant to…

Believe in free market capitalism.

Ban abortion care for women.

Reject immigrants and asylum seekers.

Deny global warming.

Uphold the patriarchy.

Marginalize and oppress LGBTQIA+ citizens.

Maintain racist systems and institutions.

And, of course, vote for conservative candidates no matter how severe their character flaws. (They even created a theological justification for such, citing how immoral King David was in the Bible.)

Over the last several decades, what it means to be a “Christian” changed. The term was hijacked mostly by the same men who stole the Southern Baptist Convention years ago.

Sadly, being a “Christian” no longer means being part of a loving community and living out one’s faith.  For these reasons and a few more, I declared last year that I was no longer going to call myself a Christian. Instead, I am a “Jesus follower.”

Ralph Ellison, author of the classic book The Invisible Man, wrote, “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”  So true.

Even though the terms that once defined me were stolen and redefined in many instances, I have grown comfortable identifying as a “Jesus follower” when it comes to my faith.

For everything else, I am just a fellow human being walking the world with fellow travelers.

Thieves can take my credit and money and cause lots of angst, but they can never take away who I truly am.  I am Rodney Mitchell Randall and Numu Kutsuu (Sacred Buffalo).  And I am free.

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