I am coming to believe that “Christendom” was the absolute worst thing that happened to the Christian faith. “Christendom” can mean many things, but what I am referring to is the period of roughly 1500 years where the Western Church was closely aligned with the political and military powers of the Western world. Christendom started in the 4th century when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. It continued for centuries in Western European society. Monarchs couldn’t be crowned without the Church’s approval. Kings and queens would raise armies to fight in the Crusades and other “holy” wars. Through the centuries, the Church accumulated immense wealth and power.
Here in the US, we talk a big game about the separation of church and state. But any careful sociological study of US politics and history will show that Christendom was/is alive and well. Our whole society is built around Christianity. Our calendars are based on the Christian calendar. We have Christmas break (even if it isn’t called that anymore) and no school on Good Friday but there are no breaks for Ramadan or Hanukkah, etc. Our language is filled with Judeo-Christian images. Our political discourse is dominated with Christian “values.” Christianity is woven deeply into the f
abric of our society.
We are a Christian nation. This is not a good thing,
but it is the truth.
We have such a weird dynamic at play here in the US. We are a Christian nation that likes to pretend that we are not. We like to pretend like there really is such a thing as separation of church and state….
Despite what the IRS rules say, the Church has been closely aligned with political power since the first Europeans set foot on the North American continent. We have never had a non-Christian president (no, President Obama is not a Muslim). We have elected a couple of dozen Jewish people nationally, and even fewer Native or Muslim politicians. Our recent conversations around gay marriage were an exercise in biblical interpretation. I could go on and on…we are a Christian nation.
Christendom in the US was/is thinly veiled behind “separation of church and state” language, which has made it more insidious but it has always been at play. Right wing Christians understand this, and they have capitalized on it for decades. They have perfected the art of espousing out loud the belief in separation but working behind the scenes to deliberately subvert it.
A quick side-note: White, progressive Christians have conflated “campaigning” with “politics” and thus, we have convinced ourselves that we need to play by the “separation of church and state” rules. Don’t bring politics to your pulpit and don’t bring your faith to politics. Church is for comfort and for peace and for community, but not for politics. Right wing Christians don’t conflate these two things. They know it is illegal to campaign for a candidate, but they sure as hell talk about politics.
Christendom taught Christians to expect to be the status quo. Christendom taught us that we deserve to be in power at all costs. Christendom taught us to forget our history. It taught us to proof text the bible to prove that we earned the power we have.
Christendom taught us to believe that politics didn’t need to be in our churches because the Church was already in politics. It was politics.
Dr. Otis Moss III, the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, reminds us in his book “Preach!” that the Bible is not a document that chronicles the lives and faith of the powerful.
Every text in the Bible, whether one is looking at Genesis or Revelation, has a spark of trouble. Every biblical writer was under some form of oppression. This oppression shaped the context of the biblical text. Whether it was Egyptian, Babylonian, Philistine, Assyrian, Greek or Roman, there was some form of oppression under-girding the life of the writer.
See, only the powerful have the luxury to say that the Christian faith and the Bible should remain apolitical. Anyone who lives under oppression KNOWS that faith and politics are deeply and inherently connected. Our ancestors of faith were political mobilizers. Jesus was the master of mobilizing a political/religious movement of inclusion and safety…that is why he was killed by the political and religious elite. His movement challenged the status quo. It did not attempt to uphold it.
To be clear, I deeply believe in the separation of church and state. I deeply believe in the freedom of religion. I am deeply disturbed by marriage of the church with power. In a multi-racial, multi-ethnic country, we have to have these separations. It is the only way to have a fair and just society.
This is what the biblical tradition teaches me…this is what Jesus teaches me. Christianity is a religion of and for the oppressed. Christianity is a religion of and for the immigrant and the exile and the cast off and the demonized and the scapegoated and the powerless.