Monday, September 29, 2008

"Of Christ and Culture"

I guess you’ve noticed by now that I am a Christian. I am not a Christian of the “Let’s get a rope and lynch ‘em,” “I am better than you are,” “I know better than you do,” “They are bound for hell and I am not,” “Not in my back yard” variety. I am more of the “Love your enemies, pray for them that despitefully use you,” “humble is the way,” “forgive your enemies,” “Bless them that persecute you, bless and curse not,” “Don’t seek revenge,” If your enemy hunger feed him” variety of Christianity.

I know, I know, you haven’t heard much of my kind of Christianity. My brand of Christianity is not popular among the “mainline denominations” or the up and coming Pentecostals and Charismatics. It’s certainly not popular with politicians and preachers who want America to have a “whop ‘em up side the head” attitude towards everybody else on the planet. No, in America being Christian means that you are the winner at the other guy’s expense.

For centuries Christianity has been identified with the European thirst for conquest and domination. The first European power to employ the name of Christ for this purpose was the Roman Emperor Constantine who had the Greek letters for Christ emblazoned over a cross and placed on his shield and banner and on the shields of his soldiers. The next day he won the battle of the Milvian Bridge, thus making himself sole ruler of the empire. This was in 312, A.D.

Every since that day Europeans have been invoking the name of Christ in every battle, crusade, war, pogrom, lynching, and pillage in which they have engaged. The Nazis believed themselves to be Christian. The Klan called themselves “the Christian White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” Whenever Europeans seek to dominate people, promote their own culture and destroy others, Christ is their protector and leader. What a fine general this Christ is.

This country was founded with the same ideology: Conquest in the Name of Christ. This thinking was not that Christ would guide them to the new land, and prosper them in settling it, and give them favor with the Indigenous Peoples, and make them a part of the development and prosperity of the country. No! This ideology said, “Our warrior Christ will help us annihilate the savages, subdue them, and rule the land: in other words, “Manifest Destiny.” (Any civilization that is not like Europeans is savage).

Not quite a century after the founding of the country a Civil War erupted in the nation over the ideas of conquest and domination. The war between the abolitionist and the slave traders was largely a church fight. It pitied the “slaves obey your master” Christians against the “Let the oppressed go free” Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention, presently the nation’s largest Christian church, split from its main body, The American Baptist Churches, not over doctrine, but over dominance.

“The SBC became a separate denomination in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, following a regional split with northern Baptists over the issue of slavery in the US South….The increasing tensions and discontent of Baptists from the South regarding national criticism of slavery led to their withdrawal from the national Baptist organizations.” (Southern Baptist Convention, Wikipedia) Fifteen years after the upheaval that formed the Southern Baptist Convention, the Civil War erupted at Fort Sumter, and “the best blood of the nation was spilled on its own battlefields.”

There has been no major fight in the nation since then that did not include these factions: those who believe that God has ordained them to subjugate, dominate, and control others, and those who feel that God has called them to set people free spiritually, economically, and socially.

“The John Birch Society,” “The Moral Majority,” “The Evangelical Christian Right,” “The White Citizens Councils” are all names for the group that believes that God through Christ has granted them the right of conquest and domination. The main thread of the ideology has not changed since 312, A.D.: “God is with me. He is not with you. I am ordained to win and you are not. God has called me to subjugate, dominate and rule you, and he has called you to be my servant and slave.”

I watched the debate between Senator Barack Obama and John McCain on Friday night. I saw the classic dichotomy once again; two Christians from opposing perspectives. Every time I heard John McCain say, “Senator Obama doesn’t understand,” I saw the old paradigm: “Boy, God has sent me to be your master and to tell you what to do in order to be safe. You are too much of a child to known what government ought to do. Let me worry about government, because God has left me in charge.”

The language used by McCain when addressing Senator Obama appeared to be aimed at belittling and humiliating him. This attitude resembled the thinking of those people who challenged Lincoln in the abolition of slavery, but more importantly it puts him with the thinking of those who challenged Jesus over the woman caught in adultery. People who think like this are always ready to take lives, belittle destinies, and kill dreams for the sake of proving themselves to be right.

What is real Christianity? Is it a paradigm for cultural conquest? Is Christianity a method of social conquest that will give Nazis the upper hand over Jews, and once again make German bankers the deciding power in the life of German citizens? Is Christianity the organizing force that puts plantations and their inhabitants in right relationship so that “master and slave” have proper balance? Is Christianity that ideology that causes the “have nots” to be content with what they don’t have, so that they will not challenge the “haves?”

I do not believe that Jesus is either Democrat or Republican, but the nature of the Gospel is liberating. The person of Jesus sets one free. The Sacrifice of Jesus makes us free. The teaching of Jesus makes people free. The preaching of Jesus makes people free. The ministry of Jesus makes people free. What Jesus says and does at once makes us free and draws us to him. Bondage, control, slavery, and domination, are as antithetical to his person as witchcraft is foreign to his nature.

I am certain that the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ of Conquest and Domination are not the same person. The one is an invention of those in charge to give them-selves license for racial and cultural superiority; the other is a Person who enables us to live victoriously even in the face of adversity. The real Christ is a liberator, even when the one whom he is setting free is Pilate, Judas, or Thomas; and he would have set them free had they only asked him.

The appeal of “The John Birch Society,” “The Moral Majority,” “The Evangelical Christian Right,” “The White Citizens Councils,” is that they seek to reach “John Q Citizen” in his most visceral area! What is that? Dominance and security! He only feels secure and successful when he/she has dominated and subjugated some one else, even if the other person is another Anglo-Saxon White Protestant. In their mind Success is equal to being over others. This ideology is inescapable when you learn it in your home, at your school, and in your church.

What if Constantine had an authentic vision of Jesus, and what if Jesus actually did intervene on Constantine’s behalf, causing him to win the battle of the Milvian Bridge? And what if our Lord intended that event to be a relief for his Church and not a charter for future generations to effectuate conquest upon other peoples in his name? Jesus has NOT sent us forth to conquer and subjugate political kingdoms, cultures, and people groups in his Name. Political domination is as foreign to the Christ of the Gospel as is murder.

“The Christian Right,” “the Conservative Right,” “The Moral Majority,” “Focus on the Family” brings all of these issues back into focus. These people are basically saying, “God has ordained us to tell you how to think, feel, and act. Your responsibility is to obey; ours is to lead. This is not my idea of Christ or Christian leadership. I reject this thinking. I hope that you will reject it also.

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