Thomas Jefferson believed that without the separation of church and state clergy would become unresponsive to the needs of their own people, and that a State sponsored religion would lead to corruption within religion itself. It can be difficult to recognize when religion, or government for that matter, has succomed to corruption. Over time, the words, phrases and ideals that once reminded us of our sacred responsibility to God and one another, undergo a sort of data corruption. We unwittingly accept flawed ideology because it comes in the form of founding virtues. In America, our Southern border is a glaring example. The ideas that were intended to build a more just society for European immigrants have become the bedrock of injustice toward migrants seeking asylum at our border.
For a corrupted digital file, there can be a number of different causes both internally and externally. There could be a virus or incompatibility between hardware and software within the device itself or extreme changes in temperature, water, dust, or loss of power from outside of it. Whatever the cause, corruption changes the very nature of its host, and renders that host dangerous to whatever system it’s operating in. Today the dangerous host operating with corrupted data in our Country is unfortunately the American Evangelical Church. In these times of heated debates over the morality of how migrants, immigrants, POC, and women are treated, it seems as though today’s Evangelicals are either silent or worse yet, falling victim to partisan politics rather than human rights. American ideology was never intended to be the standard for justice for Evangelicals.
The Jewish founder of Evangelicalism intended for his disciples to go into all the world and share the good news that God had begun to make the world new again. The essense of evangelism is to deliver a message of freedom, peace, love, and togetherness. That is what his followers wrote about in what we now call the New Testament. They were writing letters and instructions to one another that were intended to spread the news of God’s new world order into a culture that had a flawed concept of justice. They lived in a world among people who had their ideas about justice promulgated to them by an imperial cult called the Roman Empire.
The Roman Emperors permitted freedom of religion to their subjects as long as it didn’t oppose or interfere with their true religion of Emperor worship. The Romans established a long tradition of claiming that their Emperors were gods in the flesh. They would tell stories of the miraculous births of each ruler, and spread propaganda throughout the regions on coins reinforcing the idea of imperial deity. Although there was religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire, all religion was subject to the authority of the Emperor, and resisting that authority was to resist the Divine. Emperor worship was so deeply embedded in culture that it was virtually unnoticed. The ruling class instilled rhetoric that the people used to exalt the Emperor as God. Buying and selling took place with coins that reinforced the the Emperor’s deity. Rebels who resisted imperial religious perversion through violence or subversive language, were put on trial and executed publicly to show the power of the divine Emperor and discourage even the slightest rebellion.
That was the world that the Jewish Messiah sent his disciples into as Evangelicals, which meant almost certain death as a criminal and a trader to Rome and God.
If being an Evangelical today was even a caricature of its original intent some thousands of years ago, it would be a step in the right direction. Rather than following the examples and writings of the Evangelicals before us, we have come to accept injustice in the present as long as it’s perpetrated by the Emperor leading the party we identify with. Our Emperor can do no wrong. We side with him against his enemies regardless of whether those enemies are the very people we were instructed by our founder to draw near to and help. In the name of patriotism, we curse our brother or sister and condemn them with labels that reduce their feelings and experiences to political orientations. A person who supports an athlete’s right to protest injustice or believes that foreigners should be treated with dignity regardless of what country they come from or their religion, is labeled a “leftist”. The label is usually proceeded by some demeaning adjective or slur. Somewhere along the way, loving our neighbor and the belief that all men are created equal, became associated with liberal politics. This idea seems to be most prevalent in American Evangelical Christian circles. As strange as it may sound to some, American Nationalism and the Christian faith can be mutually exclusive. It is possible to hold up American ideals and for those ideals to be in direct conflict with the just rule of God that the first Evangelicals were charged with announcing. The first people to evangelize believed that God cared about the orphan, the widow, the foreigner, and the Gentile. They believed that God was characterized by love, mercy, and compassion as well as order and law. They didn’t endorse a belief that a just God couldn’t be merciful or that a merciful God wouldn’t uphold justice. They advocated that God was love and that if human beings learned to love like God, the world would be full of justice.
The driving force of faith is love. It’s love that was the catalyst of the gospel movement, but not simply love for ones own tribe. We were charged to love the other, and that kind of love is messy. It raises complex questions and forces us to look deep within ourselves to see how committed we are to God’s world order. The command to love our neighbors is why the early church fathers struggled with what to do with Gentiles coming into a historically Jewish faith. A large chunk of Paul’s writings are dedicated to the topic of making space for the other. Evangelism is all about making more space for people to come into an authentic community of justice and love. That’s the core of the message and the reason Christianity outlived Roman imperial religious rule. I suspect justice and love will be how authentic Christian faith will outlive American Evangelical political rule as well.
Is America’s greatness or standing as “first” in the world something to be defended at all costs?
Also, I’d like to broaden this conversation beyond what I can reach alone…
What 3 people can you share this blog with?