Conquerers for Christ
February 28, 2010

“[The natives] are so naive and so free with their possessions… [I can get you] as much gold as [you] need and as many slaves as [you] ask. …Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way…”

— Christopher Columbus, circa 1492

(In a fundraising letter to Spanish royalty, as quoted in A People’s History of the United States.)

Constantine's Dream

I could go on with examples like this of conquests in the name of God. And this is the Christian tradition that founded the Americas, though many Americans may never have heard such words about Columbus, that “great hero.” From Constantine to Columbus, from Gideon to George W., and from Pizarro to Pat Robertson, the list is long. The line of such religious tirades dates back to ancient times and unfortunately that tradition has carried on through today, with determined Christians using the actions of Moses, Gideon, and David to justify their thinking, just as medieval Catholics, like the inquisitors and conquistadors, did. And another thing that both ancient and modern conquests have in common: deep ties to political and economic interests, but that’s another story.

Of course, even the most hardcore fundamentalist crusaders of today would probably not go so far as to dash gentile infants against the rocks and rip open pregnant women, as the Old Testament encourages, but the same principle is at work : Take the land for (our version of) God. And today’s Godly crusaders have focused more specifically on taking over on behalf of Jesus, a cause which, interestingly enough, most direct descendants of Moses, Gideon, and David (Jews) detest.

Haven’t Christians learned anything from the thousands of years of bad reputation that religious conquests have given the church? Why do Christians still take the Great Commission to a level where it was never intended? Why must Christians still adhere to the imperialist tradition of Constantine? Why do Christians still feel a need to vehemently defend their way of life, when so many others in the rest of the world wish simply to be left alone? And why does that defense so often manifest in the form of preemptive strike? Maybe today’s “Christianity” is in fact under attack on some level, but I contend that’s because Christianity has attacked the rest of the world and is merely getting a taste of its own medicine.

Yes, Christianity deserves credit for some of the most precious advances in humanity, including hospitals, the Red Cross, and the preservation of some history and science (as long as it was approved). And apologies have been made for such atrocities as the inquisitions and crusades. But why have today’s Christians just turned from physically violent crusades to philosophically violent crusades? Could Christians ever really take to heart the message that so often gets forgotten…the message that actually gives Christianity a good name that doesn’t need defending:

“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 1:27)

Some Christians might jump to use that last phrase to justify a defensive position, “…guard against corruption from the godless world.” But I contend that, especially considering the context, the corruption being mentioned there meant the typical way of doing things for that society, especially the way the Romans did things during the time when this letter was written: Imperialism. Greed. Fear of insurrection. Hunger for power. Arrogance.

(By the way, remember that group of people that the Old Testament talked about and suggested killing their children and ripping open their pregnant women? It was the exact same people group Jesus later threw in the face of the religious establishment and used as an example of true religion…the Good Samaritan. He knew the Jewish religion abhorred this people group because the Jewish holy book talked negatively of them, like they were a threat to God.)

The entire message of Jesus was anti-imperialist. That’s why he was killed. He wasn’t killed because he kept himself sinless or because he never cussed or never listened to secular music. He was crucified because he suggested that there was a different “empire,” a kingdom that didn’t need defending. A way of living that spoke for itself.

And I’m guessing a kingdom that speaks for itself probably does not need recruiters like this:

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