Part 6: Jesus Untangled Series
Christians in the first three hundred years of the faith were not tempted to become entangled with politics or to advance the Gospel by passing laws. Some say it’s because the Roman empire was so pagan and evil that no Christian would want to participate in it. But really it was no more evil than any other worldly empire. And historically there were many Roman soldiers and political officials who actually DID convert to the faith. In fact, this happened often enough that several early Christian teachers created a policy for how to respond to this trend.
And as Origen explains: “It is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but so that they may reserve themselves for a more divine and more necessary service in the Church of God – the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right." (from "Origen Against Celus")
So, the early church certainly had the opportunity to take full advantage of a growing number of political converts in positions of power throughout the Roman Empire. Why not capitalize on that? Why not infiltrate the military command and turn the sword away from the throats of their martyred brothers and sisters?
If the early church understood who they were and what their mission was so clearly, why do Christians today find it so impossible to imagine following Jesus apart from political affiliation?
As Ross Rohde’s excellent article revealed, the Religious Right aligned itself with the Republican party to help elect Ronald Reagan. That started a snowball effect that we are still suffering from today where millions of American Christians can now no longer imagine Christianity without Conservative Republicanism.
As Ross put it, the American Church was ensnared much as a pimp grooms a new prostitute – seeking the girl who is pretty but not the center of attention. By manipulating her need to be noticed, and valued, the pimp can exploit her and get her to believe that if she keeps doing what the pimp asks her to do, “one day” she will realize her dreams.
But it’s all a lie.
However, that’s not where the pimping of American Christianity really began. As Princeton historian Kevin Kruse details in his new book, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America,” our country’s religious prostitution began in the 1950’s.
Kruse explains how business leaders plotted to link Christianity, Republican politics, and libertarian economics tightly together. Why? To help drive a wave of public piety and create a feeling of solidarity between Christians and Corporations who might both see “Big Government” as a common enemy.
This is where our national motto, “In God We Trust” (1956), and a new line in the Pledge of Allegiance was added: “One nation under God” (1954) came from.
As Kruse explains: “The reason they [corporations] start making this argument about freedom under God is that it’s a much more effective way to push back against the regulatory state and the labor unions. It’s no longer businessmen making the case for businesses. It’s ministers.”
And why Christian ministers? Because they were better at propaganda. “They’re very effective at making this argument that a state that restricts capitalism will inevitably restrict Christianity. They link economic restrictions with religious restrictions. It requires a bit of a leap of faith, but it’s one that they effectively sell,” says Kruse.
Other historians agree, including Kim Phillips-Fein whose book "Invisible Hands" also documents this unholy alliance between 1950's Corporations and the Christian Church.
In order to make it all work, the teachings of Jesus had to be downplayed. The Sermon on the Mount needed to be moth-balled in favor of more sermons about individual faith, civic duty, and paying taxes. Christianity began to slowly mirror the ideals of Capitalism, and soon enough Jesus was re-branded as the poster boy for the American Dream.
Which is where we are today.
This is why it is so imperative for us to open our eyes, throw off the chains and return to Jesus – and Jesus alone – as our Lord and King.
“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Tim. 2:4)
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him..” (Philippians 3:7-9)
Maybe it's time for us to take out our garbage? Maybe it's time for us to finally and completely untangle ourselves from anything and everything that hinders us from following Jesus - and Jesus alone.
If I could, I would like to challenge you to crucify your Nationalism; crucify your Political affiliation; put to death anything that exalts itself against the Lordship of Jesus.
“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.’ If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (2 Peter 2:19-20)