Refusing the Hand of the Empire

darth-vader

The biggest mistake ever made in the history of Christianity (and there are a lot of them) is when the Christian Church decided to believe and accept that the Empire was on its side. When Christianity allowed itself to be co-opted by Constantine in the early Fourth Century C.E., it was a bit like if Luke Skywalker had accepted Darth Vader’s offer to join him and rule the galaxy together. The Church reached out and took the hand of the Empire instead of taking its chance with a leap of faith into the abyss, thereby becoming the servant of the dark side for the sake of its own survival.

The Roman Empire fell soon after its takeover of Christianity (a fact not easily explained by Christianity’s defenders), but Christianity re-attached itself to numerous empires thereafter to maintain its hegemony in Europe and beyond. The Christianity of Empire, as opposed to the Way of Jesus, was used to justify crusades, inquisitions, conquests, colonization, slavery, and genocide – often done in the name of Christian mission, but always done for sake of the Empire.

That Christianity became an imperial religion is antithetical to everything Jesus lived and taught. The Empire was never a friend to Jesus, and Jesus was never a friend to the Empire. The Empire executed Jesus with its most public and brutal method in order to display its power and eliminate a threat, and when the Jesus movement would not die, the Empire eventually co-opted the movement for its own purposes. That is what empires do.

Once the Empire co-opted the Christian movement, it focused on the otherworldly aspects of Christianity in order to keep power and control over people in this world. The Empire or State maintained control of the affairs of this world, while religion prepared the soul for the next. Obedience to the Empire’s authority in this life became one of the prerequisites to enjoying the rewards and avoiding the punishments in the next. The Empire made central the peripheral strands of eternal punishment and eternal reward in Christianity as a means to maintain and consolidate power and keep order among its subjects.

Christianity in the United States continues in this long and tragic tradition of serving as the religion of the Empire. The way of Jesus has been mistaken for the American way; including adherence to its social, political, and economic systems. Through increasingly sophisticated and ever present forms of propaganda, a form of Christianity is used to bolster loyalty to and support for the Empire. Every cry that we are a Christian nation is an echo of the imperial voice that seeks to tame Jesus and use the power of the Jesus movement to consolidate power of the Empire through the alienation of the “other,” by highlighting that their way is not our way, that “they” are not us.

Those who wish to the follow the way of Jesus rather than the religion of the Empire need a reminder that following Jesus is better done in the catacombs rather than cathedrals, in the barrios rather than basilicas, in the streets rather than status seeking institutions, in the turning over of tables of injustice rather than taking up seats around them, in the resistance to Empires rather than in their maintenance. People who follow the way of Jesus follow a Middle Eastern person who refused to take the hand of the Empire and who was therefore tortured and executed by imperial authorities.

It is time for those who follow the way of Jesus to once and for all reject the way of Empire. It is time for Christians in the United States to get their Pre-Constantinian identity back and get to the work of bringing love and justice into a broken world, even if it means letting go of that which appears to be working on behalf of their institutional survival. The Empire was never on the side of Jesus, and it never will be.

 

 

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is The Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. From 2009 to 2015, Mark was dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences and Wimberly Professor of Social Ethics at Oklahoma City University. Previously, Mark was dean of the Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University and Founding Director of the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership. Prior to becoming dean of the Wimberly School of Religion in 2002, he was associate dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma City University and chair of the department of philosophy. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University.
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27 Responses to Refusing the Hand of the Empire

  1. Scott Raines says:

    Wonderfully written!!

  2. Pingback: One World House – Top Five Blog Posts of 2016 | One World House

  3. Kathleen Nelson says:

    I wanted to copy this but couldn’t seem to be able to.
    Excellent article!!!
    Thank you

  4. mary says:

    Need to send a copy to every elected official and especially Trump and his troop.

  5. Those are the dangers of following a religions instead of following and having a relationship with God. Don”t follow a religion, traditions, customs, etc. Follow the real deal!!! Jesus.

  6. Everyone who purports to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus needs to post this article on their refrigerator door and read it every morning, and reflect on it throughout the day.

  7. Aaron says:

    “The Roman Empire fell soon after its takeover of Christianity (a fact not easily explained by Christianity’s defenders)”

    I’d say it’s pretty easily defended; the empire persisted and flourished for centuries after its western half fell.

    • Bob Williams says:

      Perhaps Christianity was hijacked by pagan and patriarchal Rome? Surely the pagan Roman rulers found it increasingly difficult to procure lions in sufficient growing numbers to match the increasing population of Christians? If empire has persisted and flourished as you observed, perhaps Constantine held a hidden aim beyond any Arian controversy for his project at Nicaea?

  8. Yes, the eastern portion of what was a much larger Roman Empire survived for centuries as the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as its capital, but the western half, which had Rome as its center, had fallen by 476. The difficulty that Christians of the time had in explaining the decline and fall of Rome and the western part of the empire is exemplified in the fact that in his work THE CITY OF GOD, Augustine of Hippo took on this task of defending Christianity against its critics of the time who were blaming the decline of the Roman Empire on Christianity. Augustine became ill and died while Hippo itself was under siege by the Vandals.

  9. Kerry says:

    There are a couple of problems with the argument. One is that it’s quite possible that without becoming an imperial religion, Christianity would have died out. Secondly, Christianity first became a State Religion in Armenia and not in the Roman Empire, where it still exists today as the State Religion. So it’s arguably the case that making Christianity a State Religion was a really good move. In fact, I’d say that any religion worth it’s salt will try to become a State Religion. It’s the final natural state of development for any religion. (not that I’m in favor of any religion as a State Religion)

  10. Elias Fernandez says:

    Good point. However, observe these facts:

    1. Armenia is a province of Rome.
    2. Armenia is a minute part of Rome.
    3. Armenia does not set the rules, Rome does.

    Therefore, Armenia’s Christian statehood is negligible when it comes to historical legacy. Although Christian statehood in Armenia precedes that of Constantine, the power of Rome is still overwhelming by the IV A.D.

    All of the above lead me to assert that the Roman Catholic Church (and derivatives), is heir to empire, and since there was never a reform, passes as today’s ideological organ of International Capital empire.

  11. Kerry says:

    I don’t believe Armenia was a province of Rome when it established Christianity as the state religion. It was a vassal state of Rome and had/has a version of Christianity slightly different than Roman Catholicism. I think that probably makes it a state religion and not necessarily an imperial religion. I’m not disagreeing that Christianity has been an imperial religion but I am disputing whether or not this was a good/bad thing and why. I think most successful religions do try to become state religions and this sometimes turns into them being imperial religions when the state becomes imperial. I’m also not in favor of empires, but they certainly seem to be natural parts of human society once we develop past the stage of being hunter/gatherers. I’m also interested in the question of what constitutes an anti-imperial religion in the modern world. Something like Tolstoyan Christianity is anti-imperial but it runs counter to what we know to be the progression of Christianity into its mature state. Is there an example of a long lasting religion which opposed centralized power?

  12. ajrayner47 says:

    Excellent article,..articulates so much of what I’ve been thinking regarding the current state of politics and the church’s misguided alliegences.

  13. David Beddow says:

    In general I’d have to agree. The institutionalised version of Christianity is a poor impersonation of the Way followed by Peter, Paul et al before Constantine got his hands on it.

    Today, the Way is ignored far too much. It’s followers dismissed as over-the-top radicals who shouldn’t be taken seriously – much like the Sanhedrin spoke of the Church in Jerusalem. Yet they are the ones who actually shine a light in the darkness. Yes, there are some whackos out there who should be silenced, but the ones who have suffered actual persecution in the form of loss of reputation, livelihood, home, business and threat to or actual loss of life in the West – yes, NOT talking about daesh here – because they stuck to their principles in the face of a post-Christian era are daily abused and belittled by the media and their own communities and beyond – just as the earliest Believers were. They are also the ones seeing healing, answered prayer and miracles across the spectrum the way those believers in Acts did. I’ve met two people who were raised from the dead by such groups, and during some time I spent I myself was healed from a badly sprained ankle and knee (2 different occasions), saw a young couple who had been told by doctors they could never have children have two pregnancies resulting in three children, and whilst my own vision was not completely healed my prescription for glasses – which had been becoming progressively worse – suddenly stabilised to the point where for twenty years now I’ve changed spectacles/contact lenses because I felt like it, not because my prescription had changed.

    Yet we “radicals” are despised by conservative, liberal and “progressive” teachers alike. I refuse to condemn a young woman who finds herself pregnant and unmarried, as a conservative would. I would rather she and the father were married of course, but I will not condemn them. I don’t believe Jesus would say it was the best way to do things, but I also don’t believe the ultra-conservative view of “you’re all going to Hell, directly to Hell, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect $200” would be His response either. He would love them. He would love the child – after all, He formed it in the womb. To the horror of the conservatives, I wouldn’t condemn the mother if she terminated the pregnancy if it were found the baby would not live long, or had a condition which would render it’s life short and painful, or if her own life were endangered by carrying the baby to term. If it were simple economics I would encourage adoption rather than termination if there were no health issues. With the variety of options for adoption from fully open to closed book and everything in between these days abortion as a form of contraception is not a choice that should be considered – particularly given the number of reliable contraceptive methods there are available – BUT if she chose to abort, that is still her right, even if I disagree. At the end of the day, she has to live with the consequences of the choice, not me.

    So liberals and “progressives” think I’m too conservative and conservatives think I’m too liberal. (I’ve never been accused of being “progressive – which I give thanks daily for!)

    “It is time for those who follow the way of Jesus to once and for all reject the way of Empire. It is time for Christians in the United States to get their Pre-Constantinian identity back and get to the work of bringing love and justice into a broken world, even if it means letting go of that which appears to be working on behalf of their institutional survival. The Empire was never on the side of Jesus, and it never will be.”

    This is perhaps the most radical proposal I’ve read in my life. May I please quote it repeatedly in my blog and the book I am currently writing? Outside “Beautiful Outlaw” and “Waking the Dead” both by John Eldredge it might be the most inspiring words I’ve read in the last ten years!

    • smwhiting says:

      David, I too have been fond of Eldredge in the past, but I wonder what he would say to this article. Some of his themes run counter to the Way of Jesus, particularly non-violence. Thoughts?

      • David Beddow says:

        I’m confused a little. Are you saying John Eldredge – a man who unashamedly goes bow-hunting in season for the thrill of the chase and the plentiful supply of venison is non-violent, or that Jesus – the guy who got so upset with the situation in the Temple He went outside, took the time to find cords to braid into a whip, walked back in and using that whip drove out the animals, traders, money-changers and crooks making His Father’s House a den of thieves; whose name is The Lord is a Warrior; who, if you read Revelation is going to return with a sword.

        Which of them is anti-violence?

        We get caught up in the “love your neighbour” side of things very easily. We encourage our children to turn the other cheek, but we don’t grasp what the implication of that statement had in Jesus’s time. In the First Century, a strike to the cheek was delivered by the back of the right hand, and the right hand only. It was a way of exerting dominance over the person, of reminding them they were of a lower status than you. So by inviting someone to strike your other cheek, they had only one option: apologise for striking you the first time. The person who struck the first blow was forced to raise his supposed subordinate up to his level by apologising. Similarly, taking a man’s cloak, Jesus instructed to give the tunic also – leaving the demeaned man naked. The cloak-demander had only one choice: beg the man to keep his tunic – again raising him back to equal status. A Roman soldier could press a Jew to carry his pack one mile and no further as a sign of dominance. By offering to carry a second mile, the Roman was forced to beg the pressed bearer to allow him to take back his own load, elevating the oppressed to equal status with the oppressor.

        I don’t see a conflict with what I’ve read of John Eldredge and what I’ve read and studied for so many years in the Bible once you understand some of the First Century taboos. Like when Paul writes women should keep their hair covered: only prostitutes went about with uncovered heads, so “keep your hair covered” today translates to “don’t dress like a whore”, somewhat different to “that strappy top, no bra and mini-skirt is fine, but don’t forget your hat” attitude. Even 2000 years ago, Church leaders got that men are visually hard-wired and with that as a weakness, ladies please don’t dress in a way that will draw us away from God because actually men are weaker than women in that regard.

        I don’t have children, but I long to. And I guarantee if I had a daughter who wanted to dress the way and sing about the things Ariane Grande, Gaga, Britney et al want to dress and sing about I’d be installing bars on the windows and carrying a gun. Not because I don’t trust her, but because I was once a 17 year old boy. I don’t trust HIM. My first real girlfriend’s father answered the door the first time I went to her home carrying two shotguns. No kidding. This in England!

        As it happens, he wanted to make a good impression as I was in the shooting club at school. He certainly made an impression though!

        This isn’t as off-topic as it may seem. Jesus was not a pacifist in the way it is represented today. He went to the Cross from a position of strength. Every time He turned the other cheek it was in preparation for the final battle and the Resurrection – a place of real Power. Pilate had the right to sentence Him to be crucified, but Jesus had the Power to hang there for all time. He had the Power over Death, and He chose the moment of His death, not the other way around.

        So Eldredge is a hunter. The only reason I wasn’t in the military was I failed the physical. The Lord is a Warrior, The Lord is His Name. (Exodus 15:3 – pick a translation!)

        I don’t see a clash.

      • smwhiting says:

        Hey David-

        For such a heavy and complex topic, yes, my comment was severely brief, but thanks to your comment, we can have a good discussion. I meant to say that Eldredge, like so many if not most, followers of Jesus allows for violence when necessary and, “while it’s not ideal, it’s just kind of inevitable and hey, if you’ve got the sword, use it!” (Just quoting a general human belief in violence.)

        I’d like to challenge you, David, that Jesus did indeed live non-violence, even to the point of death. That both in his words, most strikingly the Sermon on the Mount, and his actions, most strikingly the entire Passion Week starting with his ride into Jerusalem on a donkey of peace (rather than a horse of war), his life was one of peace. Of God’s many Old Testament titles, Lord is a Warrior being one, as Christians we follow one titled Prince of Peace. This is not just peace in the end times or “eventually,” but what we are to live out and model now in the Way of Jesus. Violence and war is the way of Imperial Empires, but Jesus came and not only “saved” us, but also turned the whole world on it’s head creating a new arrangement for human society not based on the sword, but on the cross, and the love and forgiveness forged there.

        I agree wholeheartedly with so much you articulated about human dignity in the Sermon on the Mount. This wasn’t instruction to just lay down and be a floor mat, but to have dignity in the face of oppression. Another very overlooked part of the Sermon on the Mount is the way that Jesus actually says we can “be perfect like God.” That is to love our enemies.

        Have you ever been a part of a church or group of believers that really wrestled with this command? I had not until recently. We dismiss this, don’t we? I sure did, until it struck me one day that we all just consider this naive and perhaps for another time in history, but not for us, not for now. This thinking implicitly declares that Jesus is not Lord now, but only of the afterlife. We now pledge our allegiance to Caesar and his violent ways in order to bring peace. Jesus’ commands and actions cannot just be dismissed by his followers in this way. He came to bring the Kingdom and to re-make the world, starting at the cross, the same cross he told his followers to carry.

        The way of non-violence is not popular, but it is courageous. It’s hard to understand and most people don’t try, but make no mistake that this is the way Jesus taught us. His most explicit commands carry the theme of non-violence. Even just this morning, the Pope tweeted:

        “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.”

        I’m no Catholic, but I do love what I hear from Pope Francis and share with his desire to see the world changed at its very core. Civilization was founded on violence, starting with Cane, and Jesus came to, among other things, remake civilization.

        “On earth as it is in heaven.”

        As for the Temple, this was a prophetic, theatrical display, congruent with the times and to carry the force of his indignation, but nowhere else is Jesus ever aggressive physically or at all violent, especially at the time most revolutionaries bring out the sword, when about to be caught and put to death. Jesus not only told Peter to put his sword away, but loved his enemies by healing the ear of the person Peter had just been violent against!

        The sword in Revelation, like every last detail of Revelation, is symbolic, and it’s coming out of his mouth, which means he slays his “enemies” with his word, not an actual sword. Nothing is Revelation is literal, but it’s all real, for sure. The end does not have to be violent Armageddon unless we humans want it to be, choose for it to be.

        (Pacifism is more of a political position, whereas Christian non-violence includes love for enemy, prayers for persecutors, doing good to those that abuse you and being resistant with dignity, not some kind of weak passivity as is commonly interpreted about pacifism. As you said Jesus went to the cross with strength and we should carry our crosses with that same strength.)

        Our Western obsession with violence needs to be laid at the foot of the cross. Bad theology and bad church leadership has led us astray. Part of the Church no longer being subservient to the State (Empire) is living and teaching Jesus’ nonviolence and no longer giving in to Caesar’s ways like we have ever since Constantine.

        I hope this can make for good discussion, David. I’m not the best at responding quickly, but I will respond eventually.

      • David Beddow says:

        I agree we do follow the Prince of Peace, but to do so at the exclusion of all others is to deny the other aspects of His personality, like saying Hitler was a dog-lover who had a soft spot for children.

        Institutionalised religion paints the picture it wants to project. I’ve seen traditional churches and cathedrals all over Europe and never yet seen an image of Jesus where He looked like He might be middle-eastern in origin. A friend from Hong Kong said in his church the pictures all had Jesus and the disciples looking Chinese.

        The “West” does currently seem to be obsessed with violence, so it’s what we have to work within. Denying the part of God that is Jealous, the Warrior, the One who ordered the slaughter of every inhabitant of the Holy Land when Israel took possession of it, and who Moses had to implore to stop the Angel of Death from killing them all when the Jews made the Golden Calf while he was receiving the Ten Commandments is to miss out on an important part of the whole nature of God. And each of these slaughters was done as an act of love – something we struggle to grasp today.

        Take the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. The sinful way of the cities was almost identical to modern society. Sex was just another activity. Sexual immorality was not considered to be a sin and more and pre-pubescent children were included in the lifestyle. “Grab them by the pussy” would have been a mild statement, not a shocking one. And the rot was spreading.

        Abraham was horrified by it, and so was Lot – but not enough to refuse to marry into it. His wife couldn’t turn away from it and perished with the cities.

        But their sin was not sexual immorality, or even as the “progressives” teach a “lack of hospitality”. The sin which enraged God to the point of utterly destroying them – compare the description with the descriptions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and they’re eerily similar – was that sexual immorality was no longer considered to be a sin.

        We can, I’m sure, agree that sex is enjoyable. The endorphin rush is positively addictive. God created it to be fun, pleasurable and the height of intimacy where two individuals both figuratively and literally in the event of pregnancy become one flesh. The problem is it got twisted by the enemy. Love and lust became synonyms and Sodom and Gomorrah fell prey to it – like the modern “free” world today has. Imagine for a moment that a thousand years later, Abraham had not pulled Lot and his family out and the cities had endured, spreading their philosophy. After a millennia of that kind of lifestyle, where could God have found a virgin capable of bearing a child? The sin would have destroyed the possibility of the Christ.

        Joshua and Caleb eliminated all who stood against them – except one group who tricked them into swearing to God they would not utterly destroy that group. As a result, foreign gods such as Ba’al remained in the Promised Land and spread like a cancer that had to be cut out every few generations. Even then, sex and violence were a part of the false religions and allowed to remain.

        I will use violence as a last resort for defence, although I admit I do suffer badly from anger management issues at times. That being said I’ve never lost a physical altercation, but I’ve only been in six – and none since 1989. But as Methos said in an episode of “Highlander” in the early 90s, just because I don’t LIKE to fight, doesn’t mean I can’t!

        I don’t like bullies. I’ve faced down abusive husbands and boyfriends with nothing more than a stare and a prayer on my side and never had to throw a punch. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t to defend someone. I was once attacked by a man with a baseball bat, which I took away from him with one hand then asked him how badly he really wanted to fight. There’s nothing wrong with defending yourself physically. (He walked away incidentally).

        I’m not – as you can guess by now – a pacifist. I try not to be an aggressor either, but my “old nature” gets riled up very quickly.

        Leaders are usually a product of the times they live in. Today if we want to raise our kids right we need to stop focussing on gun control or abortion or greed or even Trump and start to focus on the place the rot is causing the most damage. Right now that’s the mainstream media. Wherever you go in the world you can choose your own reality simply by picking what “news” station to watch. Thousands were killed in Iraq but I don’t recall seeing a single coffin brought home. Compare that with Vietnam. And what the hell is a “free speech zone”? The reality is it’s a way to muzzle free speech.

        Trump’s supporters assaulted dissenters at his pre-election rallies and he encouraged them. He claimed he could walk down the street shooting people at random and not lose votes – and he’s probably right. 30 years ago he’d have been locked up for that kind of talk. The guy he was talking to in the “Pussygate” recording was fired and everyone said “rightly so”. Trump – who actually said it – is now president elect. Let that double standard sink in for a second, or at least until Donnie appoints the guy as the White House Press Spokesman – I’m sure it’s coming.

        Jesus Himself said the Kingdom suffers violence and the violent will take it by force.

        We mustn’t kid ourselves that sitting in a circle humming kum-by-yah will win people. I’m part of Generation X. Most of us grew up angry. That was passed on to Gen-Y, who made us look passive.

        Millenials – those born after about 1992 – have grown up with the Terminator as their male role model. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson mean nothing to this generation. Their characters in their movies had a reason to use violence, often reluctantly. “Dirty Harry” didn’t get pleasure from killing. John Wayne’s characters went out of their way to avoid it and showed remorse when they had to. Bronson’s movies, while they mostly had extreme violence in them, had a reason for that violence.

        I watched two movies in the last two days. The first, “The Mechanic: Resurrection” starring Jason Statham, is a solid story about a man trying to save the “love of his life”. But you miss the point that he meets her in the first five minutes of the movie and knows nothing about her except that she’s (apparently) good in bed – with no disrespect to Jessica Alba intended. There’s no character development and it’s straight into “kill these three people because I run an orphanage”. His “conscience” only allows him to kill the first two – probably because any script that kills Tommy-Lee Jones wouldn’t end up starring him unless it was by noble self-sacrifice like in “Space Cowboys”.

        The second was “Forsaken” starring Donald and Keifer Sutherland. A western in the style and story development of the old John Ford westerns that John Wayne played in so many times. The son returns to his father after years as a gunfighter ready and desperate to hang up that lifestyle for good. All he wants is to reconcile with his father, work their farm and rediscover the faith his Father – the town chaplain – loves so deeply. We see in this movie depth of story, characters with deep dimensions wrestling to do the right thing on both sides as well as the obligatory unrepentant bad-guy at the top.

        But the Sutherland’s movie went with no hype, and to be honest I initially hired it for the chance to finally see Donald and Keifer in a movie together. I didn’t expect the emotional heavy-hitter I received.

        But those movies with a moral centre and a story of redemption sought are few and far between these days, and like it or not, that is what our children are being raised by.

        I don’t see being prepared to go to war, be it physical or spiritual, as being in opposition to the teaching of the Bible. We cannot, as I said before, disregard the other aspects of God’s character simply because one of Jesus’s titles is Prince of Peace. He is also the Good Shepherd, and to be a Good Shepherd sometimes means killing the lion, wolf or bear that would seek to take the young lamb.

      • smwhiting says:

        David, thanks for sharing so much. This is a good place to compare thoughts and theologies and try to figure these things out. You certainly bring up many good ideas, again many of which I agree with, and you’re certainly well read and exposed to different medias, etc. I too get concerned when I see film and other art used for horrible purposes, but I do think there is a wave of excitement and interest in film becoming used for good and, aside from formulaic and pre-packaged message movies intended for a small audience, there continue to be films that stoke the imagination, ask hard questions without answering them and provoke a human response, not solely a Christian response. For this we can be glad and support certain parts of the movie industry. Though I have not seen it, people I respect say that Silence may be the best “Christian” movie ever made.

        One of my favorite movies ever made though is The Mission, which I hope you have seen. How relevant to our discussion as issues of Empire and the Church, violence and non-violence are portrayed so clearly and in such an open-ended way. Many people take away many different conclusions from this movie and indeed each time I see it, I see something new. See it if you haven’t already.

        I know that nonviolence seems naive, or passive, or unrealistic. But I keep coming back to the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus very clear command to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, do good to those who abuse us. Did he know something we don’t know? That perhaps this life is short, and we have eternity? These are commands from Jesus that we need to wrestle with and not dismiss. I’ve never read or heard a substantive theology that wrestles with these commands and does NOT come out on the side of non-violence.

        Also, if we have been buried in baptism, raised in baptism, and Jesus promises that our bodily death is not an actual “death” of our spirit and being, then, David, what have we got to lose? If we get rid of our fear, our fear of loss and death that Jesus went to the cross to do away with, we are free. Free to follow him, take up our cross, and live as he taught and modeled.

        You seem to read the Bible as a Biblicist. Not to throw around labels, but a Biblicist is one who considers every word of the Scripture to have equal weight. An eye for an eye in the Old Testament, love your enemy in the New Testament, so that makes it a draw and we can just do whatever we want in given situations. I would challenge this though that the depths of Leviticus or Dueteronomy are simply not as important as the clear commands of the one we follow. We are Christ-ians, not Biblicists. We follow, act like, believe in, learn from and see the world through the eyes of Jesus. This is basic, but so profound. We read Jesus’s scriptures as he read them. And when he first introduced his mission in that synagogue in Galilee, his quote from Isaiah stopped one verse short of the part about violent vengeance. He came to bring peace, hoped Israel would wake up to their own destructive ways of Kingdoms of force and violence and gave a message of peace over and over again all the way to the cross and then after he had re-made the world on the cross, his first words to everyone he met with “peace be with you.”

        God revealed himself in stages through the history of Israel. He gave 20% (or thereabouts for sake of discussion) to Moses and the people of the Exodus, he gave another 20% to King David’s people, perhaps another 20% to Isaiah and the prophets who started to notice that He desired mercy not sacrifice and then FULLY revealed who He was in Jesus, 100%. If we want to see God, we look at Jesus. This is why we are Christ-ians. We believe in fully and follow and live our lives after the Way of Jesus. But we have lost our way so often through the history of the church. Your many examples just one more measure of how we’ve lost our way.

        We can get back there, but we need a new Christology, a new understanding of the depths of our theological roots and realization that the world we have made and continue to make is not what God intended or what Jesus died for. It’s not solely about non-violence, it’s also about bringing the Kingdom to earth with all we do and all we say and all we are. Many people, as Jesus promised, will be killed for it, but we don’t have anything to lose. God as Warrior is under the 20% understanding and this is what Israel needed at the time, but even by the time we get to Isaiah and the prophets, God is revealed as caring for all the nations and caring first and foremost about how the nations treat the poor and sick and hurting and oppressed. God is fully revealed in Jesus. 100%. We don’t need to complicate this, but simply embrace Jesus.

  14. Lee Liming says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Here’s a version for those who prefer Fantasy metaphors to Science Fiction metaphors: https://home.leeandkristin.net/rll/2016/01/gandalf-took-the-ring-or-christianity-mustnt-win/

  15. Jamie says:

    I generally agreed with the author that Christianity was corrupted several times with it’s official state alliances with the Romans and later European kings and queens, but I would argue that Christianity, since the 60’s (and especially the last 8 years), has been almost totally decoupled from any attachment to the American government. The legalization of things like drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, and acceptance of Islam as an equal religion all point to the rejection of Christian values in any official way. Our government has largely shed the pretense that we follow Christianity as a nation. Sure, there are pockets of vocal Christians who fight for a more official sanctioning, but they are now ridiculed and rejected on most points.

    And the author’s point that ” It is time for Christians in the United States to get their Pre-Constantinian identity back and get to the work of bringing love and justice into a broken world” totally misses the point of Christ. His work was to redeem mankind and pay the penalty for sin. Our “work” is to make sure that non- Christians understand that. Love should be a by-product of a Christlike spirit. But christ’s message has largely been hijacked by a feel-good message of God’s love, which most people confuse as an easier existence on earth. His love and justice are epitomized in the Old Testament, where he clearly is not the warm and fuzzy God the modern world seeks. Justice in this life is non-existent and love is not accepting the world with all of it’s anti-God messaging. His love and justice are clearly about repenting for sin, not the acceptance of it.

    • smwhiting says:

      Hey Jamie,
      If I may jump in briefly, Jesus came not “to die,” but to reveal the Kingdom of God here and now (as well as eternity) in all of his words, actions, teachings, obedience, death, resurrection, etc. If we simply say that Jesus entire mission was “to die” on our behalf, then we can easily dismiss his teachings about “bringing love and justice into a broken world.”

      In our desire to make sure that everyone knows Jesus came to pay our penalty, we miss out on so much that Jesus modeled, shared and commanded his followers to do. Jesus revealed God in the full – if we want to know who God is, look at Jesus – and view the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus, through a Gospel lens.

      God’s love is certainly no “feel good message” for modern times, but the very fabric of the world. We CAN have a clear message about sin, redemption, the centrality of the cross and salvation, as well as bringing love and justice into a broken world. Indeed Jesus wanted his followers to live out the Kingdom now AND spend eternity with Him.

  16. David Reynolds says:

    I find that both the Christian Right and the Social Justify Left are equally gulity of embracing the “empire” to impose their brand of Christianity on others. So many seem to want to re-establish the old covenant whereby God will bless a nation that abides by his laws and curse a nation that falls away. However, as the prophets were clear that the old covenant would be abolished and replaced by a new covenant, which draws all nations amd people unto God.

    As Paul says, the law is a curse. There is no justification in imposimg the moral codes of the Torah through “imperial” decree as the Christian right seems to often do. Similarly, there is no justification in enforcing the social justice system of the Torah through “imperial” decree. We are justified by grace, through our faith manifested when we personally practice works of righteousness and compassion. There is no moral superiority in threatening our neighbors with financial and criminal consequences when they do not abide by our definitions of purity or social awareness.

    I wonder how many truly believe Christianity to exist, operate and grow independent of the “empire” or how many simply believe that when they disagree with the current political ideology of those leading it.

  17. hmoon says:

    Amen! Time to open the doors and let the church out of its cage! When we look around we can see the fruits of what the dark side has resulted in! Feeling the momentum of another Jesus movement on the horizon! Great read!

  18. Mark Lamas Jr. says:

    Great thoughts here!

  19. exbaker53 says:

    Wonderful article and thoughtful commentary. I especially appreciate the well-articulated and civil discourse between D. Beddow and smwhiting. I notice there is no option to reply to smwhiting’s remarks in particular so I’ll ask here. Are you, smwhiting, familiar with Rene Girard’s mimetic theory and his approach to Biblical hermeneutics? Or how about the works of theologians such as Michael Hardin, Andre Rabe, Brad Jersak, and Brian Zahnd, to name a few?

    • smwhiting says:

      Hey exbaker53- Thanks for the kind words. You’re highly observant as yes, I am becoming more familiar with Girard and a few of the other names you mentioned, including Brian Zahnd who I admire greatly. The Kingdom of God is nothing short of the re-arrangement of human civilization from the sword to the cross, and the forgiveness and love therein. Thanks for your comment.

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