Tag Archives: Constantine

The Christian Choice: The Idolatrous Worship of Power or Stand in Favor of the Weak

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most frightening things to me as a historian who happens of claim to be a Christian is the propensity for the Church and its leaders to be attracted to the worship of power and all of its folly. This has been the case since Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman Empire. Leaders of the church in every place and clime as well as almost every denomination have cozied up to rulers in the pursuit of power almost always to the detriment the Church and sometimes their nation. The hierarchies of different churches were in the forefront of the extermination of supposed “heretics,” the persecution of non-state favored religions, the slave trade, the conquest, subjugation, and extermination of indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia; they were often the supporters of disastrous wars, and at home used their place of power to wealthy beyond all measure.

Conversely, on the occasions where the Church and its leaders have advocated for the poor, the marginalized, and others who had no earthly power it lead to advances in human rights and liberty. The abolition of slavery in Great Britain was led by William Wilberforce against heated opposition in Parliament and even the Church of England that spanned decades. During the period of the Industrial Revolution, some churches and Christians made a determined effort to end child labor, support workers’ rights, and advocate for the poor, but many others feasted upon the wealth that their rich benefactors lavished upon them and remained silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African American church leaders helped lead the Civil Rights movement and were joined by some white religious leaders, but many others, including men who were early leaders of the Christian Right opposed the Civil rights movement and used their pulpits to advocate for segregation. Many other just remained silent, just as their forbears had from Constantine one. Silence and the acquiescence to injustice has been a hallmark of the Christian church.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the disastrous effects of the German church’s subservience to the Nazi regime and before that to the Kaiser. He wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Sophie Scholl (Center)

Bonhoeffer spoke those words in a 1934 sermon, just a bit over a year following the Nazi takeover as Hitler was still consolidating his power and before he and his regime began their war of conquest and extermination. Some German Christians did take the chance to stand up for those oppressed by the Nazis, both in Germany in in the areas the Nazis conquered. Many of those who did would pay for their opposition with either their freedom or their lives, but most of the church was silent. One of the young Christians who opposed the Nazis was Sophie Scholl, a 22 year old student at the University of Munich. She and a number of fellow students formed a group called the White Rose to distribute anti-Nazi materials and to speak out against the crimes of the regime. She wanted those Christians of her day that silence was not an option. She wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

The same is true today in the United States. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians who support the policies of the Trump presidency in order to be at the table of temporal power have cast the church into the pigsty of lies and polices that crush the lives of people who have no power and mock the words of Jesus.

There is a choice to be made by anyone who claims the mantle of Jesus the Christ or claims to follow him. Will we do better than our ancestors or will we to silently slide down the road to perdition?

With that I will end for the day. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Would You Crucify Him? The Hard Question Christians Need to Ask Themselves Today

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Would you crucify Him
Would you crucify Him…, my religious friend?
Would you crucify Him…, talking ’bout the sweet Lord Jesus
If He’d walk right here among you once again?

Well it’s another Jousting at Windmills Day at Padre Steve’s World and today we go back in history to a time the called the 70s.

Back in the late 1970s John Michael Talbot, a former rocker turned early contemporary Christian music artist became a Catholic and a lay Franciscan. Around that time he participated in a recording with a number of other artists from that early part of the CCM era, Second Chapter of Acts, Keith Greene, Barry McGuire and his brother Terry to perform a musical about the book of Acts called Firewind. In it John Michael wrote and performed a song that has haunted me ever since. It is a song that forces me to look at my life and the way that I treat others in the light of the demands of the Gospel. It is called Would You Crucify Him?

It really is one of the most haunting, and to use Evangelical Speak “convicting” songs I have ever heard. Unfortunately I think that the message of the song is often unheard or ignored by most Christians. I think this is the case since the time of Constantine when the Church gained the political backing of the State. Since then in almost every clime and place that the Church has enjoyed that privileged status it is almost always used in ways that would so grieve Jesus.

One cannot read the Gospels nor many of the Old Testament Prophets and think anything else. The harshest condemnations found in Jesus’ message almost always were directed at the religious establishment which used its power for its own gain. It was they who quite often despised the those that Jesus showed the greatest compassion and love: the alien, the woman, the leper, the tax collector, the criminal, the hated Roman occupiers of Palestine and others on the margins of society who were looked upon with scorn by the religious people of his day.

The sad thing is scorn and distain for the people that Jesus reached out to the most that is so often the case today among the leaders of what has to be called the political Religious Right. Unfortunately that attitude is so widespread among those people’s disciples that hatred in the name of Jesus is the new normal. The attitude is one of entitlement and privilege that frankly is scary. Rather than reach out in love and care to those different and than them they viciously attack them supposedly to “obey God and follow the Bible.” It is sad to say that quite often that we are no different than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

I have felt the sharpness of those attacks. Though I am a Christian I have been called a Nazi, a Communist, a Socialist an apostate and even most recently “Hitler’s Love Child” by a Twitter Troll and worse. The invective that I have been exposed to after my return from Iraq suffering from PTSD and questioning faith and struggling to believe in God again even while trying to minister to people facing death in ICUs and ERs really changed me. When faith returned it was different and I am glad for that and now for that matter really don’t give a damn what “Conservative Christians” think of me.

Unfortunately those that call me these things are all self identified Conservative Christians, mostly Evangelicals but sometimes Catholics and Mainline Christians who also identify themselves as Patriots who believe in the Constitution, whatever that means. The fact that I have sworn an oath to defend that Constitution and their rights under it and have done so for 32 years in both the Army and Navy in peace and war is lost on them. Instead I am the Nazi because I dare criticize their practice of the faith and stand up for those that they hate.

As a historian who has spent much of my academic life studying Weimar and the Nazi regime I have to say that those that most resemble the Nazis today are Conservative Christians, the whole God and Country crowd. The same understanding of faith that allowed “Conservative Bible Believing” German Christians to wholeheartedly support the Hitler regime and for those Evangelicals that want to claim the Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a “Conservative” they had better think again. If they had actually read his books, writings and sermons they would find that he and most of the other leaders of the Confessing Church weren’t conservative at all, not in the sense that modern “Conservative Christians” understand the word.

Thus I have become a bit sensitive and when I see people who wrap themselves in the flag and claim the banner of the Cross mistreat others bothers me. There is a quote often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis that says “When Fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” The quote actually appears to be a condensation of his thoughts and writings but taken in the context of when it appeared in the 1930s is quite correct. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco all co-opted the conservative Christians of their nations by appealing to their fears of atheistic Communism and Socialism as well as minorities, Jews, homosexuals and any other group.

The fact that many justify their assaults on others not like them by claiming that “the other side is just as bad or just as hateful” miss the whole point of Jesus who was quite empathetic about telling his disciples to “turn the other cheek” and “repay evil with good.” The really sad thing is that there will be probably at least one person at some time that visits this site and comments on this article who either tells me that I have misunderstood Jesus or cites another Bible verse to justify hating and mistreating others.

I am appalled at the way self identified Christians rant at people they disagree with, disapprove of or simply hate. I am appalled when I see them make common cause with non-Christian ideologues like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and others who spew venom at liberals, gays, women, blacks, Moslems, immigrants and others on a daily basis. Because of this I have taken up the causes a support the liberties of these people because they are the people that Jesus would have done the same for in his day.

But back to the song. Talbot and others like him came out of the 1960s and large parts of the Christian church condemned the whole youth revolution of the time. The things said by preachers of the hippies and the war protesters and those that were in the rock and roll music scene were and are shameful. So when a few churches began welcoming the “Jesus Freaks” who came out of it it was pretty cool.

The Talbots, Barry McGuire and others were among the first and they were quite revolutionary for their day. Barry McGuire’s song Don’t Blame God for the Sins of America is terrifying, especially when one sees just the incestuous relationship between much of the Christian Right, big business and the industries that promote war and violence.

Of course this was before established “Christian” record companies sensed the chance to make a fast buck by commercializing “Contemporary Christian Music” bought up the original small market Christian labels such as Sparrow, Birdwing and Maranatha! Music and turned it into a pile of very profitable slick rubbish. The fact is that there is not an Evangelical Christian entertainment conglomerate that would ever allow an artist to record a song like Don’t Blame God or Would You Crucify Him? today.

The first time I heard Would You Crucify Him? in 1979 on Firewind I cried. It struck my heart and I realized how easy it would be for me to be just like the Pharisees, Sadducees or the Imperial Church that used religion to keep power and crush the weak or those that questioned them.

Take the time to let the lyrics of the song set in. If you claim to be any kind of Christian please don’t blow them off.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5pAyKWbtOU

Sometimes, in the cool of the evenin’
Truth comes like a Lover in the wind
Sometimes, when my thoughts have gone misleadin’
She’ll ask that same old question once again…

Chorus:
Would you crucify Him
Would you crucify Him…, my old friend?
Would you crucify Him…, talking ’bout the sweet Lord Jesus
If He’d walk right here among you once again?

She’s askin’, How many times have you looked down to the harlot
Lookin’ through her tears, pretendin’ you don’t know?
For once you were just like her, how can you be now so self righteous
When in the name of the Lord you throw the first stone

So now I turn to you through your years of your robes and stained-glass windows
Do you vainly echo your prayers “to please the Lord?”
Profess the Marriage with your tongue, but your mind dreams like the harlot
But if the Judge looks to your thoughts can’t you guess your reward?

Would you crucify Him
Would you crucify Him…, my religious friend?
Would you crucify Him…, talking ’bout the sweet Lord Jesus
If He’d walk right here among you once again?

Yet how many times have you quoted from your Bible
To justify your eye for your eye and your tooth for your tooth?
You say that He didn’t mean what He was plainly sayin’
But like the Pharisee, my friend, you’re an educated fool!

Copyright John Michael Talbot 1979 from the Album Firewind

Peace

Padre Steve+

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