The constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and religion allows anyone to call an organization just about anything.
But Christian leaders look beyond names to see whether groups that give themselves religious-sounding titles espouse Christian beliefs and theology.
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, had this to say about the Christian Identity movement:
"Even though this cult group camouflages itself under the word Christian, its hate speech is not part of the Hebraic-Christian tradition."
The council represents 35 Protestant and Orthodox denominations with a total U.S. membership of 50 million.
The council's justice division watches groups that spew hate in the name of God. Love and compassion for all people is at the core of Christianity, Edgar said in a telephone interview from his office in Southern California.
"We oppose vehemently their hate speech directed against gays, lesbians, Jews, African-Americans, minorities and any others they may talk about," he said. "That talk can lead to violence and goes against the fundamental principles of our understanding of God and our understanding of Christian faith."
St. Louis religious leaders generally agree.
"I'd like to go on record saying the Christian Identity movement is not a church and is not Christian," said the Rev. Martin Rafanan, a Lutheran minister and executive director of the St. Louis region's National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Rosalyn Borg, area director of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, observed a Christian Identity dinner meeting near Portland, Ore., about 10 years ago.
"They don't appear to be kooks or freaks, but they are far outside the scope of a traditional church," she said. "They deal in misinterpretations and misquote Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament to make their points -- calling blacks 'mud people,' for example. One of the scariest things is that no one questions what they say."
The National Council of Churches respects the Christian Identity's right to exist, even though the council said the Identity movement holds a variety of repugnant views. That's what constitutional freedom is about, said the council's Edgar, a United Methodist minister.
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