I was asked a question recently about whether a professed Christian who habitually acts very unChristian would be considered a Christian by other Christians. The answer to this question is not simple, because it can be interpreted in two ways. Are we asking whether habitually nasty people can be Christians, or whether habitually nasty people can be active disciples of Christ? The two questions are not equivalent, at least not in today's culture.
Increasingly, particularly with my generation and younger, the response to this question has become, "Well, what do you mean by Christian?" which essentially translates into, "I won't argue with you one way or the other over whether you're a Christian, but whether or not you're a 'Christian' is a moot point where it concerns salvation."
When the term first originated in Acts 11:26, "Christian" pertained to disciples of Christ. Over the years, it's definition has been so pushed and pulled and reshaped and overextended, misapplied, flung in the mud and generally abused that it means either nothing or anything (take your pick). As a smattering of the different definitions, Christian can mean "Protestant", "someone with good morals", "someone who adheres exactly to the ____ creed", "fundamentalist bigot", "conservative", "official member of a church", "of white European descent", "influenced by Catholic missionaries at some point", etc. etc. Pretty much anyone in the world could claim to be a Christian and could honestly mean it.
This leads us to a fairly recent phenomenon that I have noticed, thanks to Facebook. Many people who are honestly striving to be disciples of Christ don't call themselves Christians anymore. Whether this is to avoid confusion and negative stereotypes or merely a rebellion against labels of any type, time will tell, but I suspect it is the former. Take a look at people's Facebook religious views. I see things like "Christ follower", "JESUS!!", "Christ is life... the rest are details", "How great is our God", and other similar things. That's not to say that every believer is disenvowing the term "Christian", but certainly a growing number of people are.
I have a friend who is a very strong, active believer who will not identify herself as a Christian even if asked about it point blank. This isn't because she's ashamed of what she believes, but because using the term Christian just begs for misinterpretation. In fact, just as I was writing this, I noticed how I fell back to the term "Believer" to describe her, because even in Christian circles "Christian" can mean so much or so little. Even I get skittish when asked whether I'm a Christian or not. It's much preferable to just describe what I believe.
So yes. A Christian can behave however they darn well want. Being Christian means whatever you want it to. If you say you're a Christian, who are we to say you're not?
However, if we reword the question to ask whether or not other disciples of Christ would affirm the salvation of a supposed but generally nasty "believer", well then that's a different question. Some people are more generous than others. The answer would largely depend on denomination (eternal security or no?), the severity of the crimes, and whether the unChristian shows remorse or not. Many people would say that Fred Phelps is not Christian at all, while the average druggie is just questionably saved. The most widely accepted response to such a situation runs something along the lines of "God is the judge of the state of their soul, not me, but I'm concerned and question his salvation." It is non-committal, neither approving of the person in question nor completely writing them off. It's a problem we're bound to run into with a system that propounds a relationship rather than regulations - how are we supposed to judge someone's relationship with God?
Now that I've written this all, I realize it's very similar to a post I wrote three years ago. Oh, well. Can't hurt to notice something more than once.
At any rate, I identify myself as a disciple of Christ (albeit not necessarily a very good one) and I really wish that Fred Phelps and his ilk would stop giving Christians a bad name. Though I suppose that before I go fling mud at him for staining "Christian", I should make sure I'm not ruining the phrase "disciple of Christ" myself...
“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be - a Christian.” Mark Twain