How the Trump era gives me hope for the cause of Christ.
Updated: Jan 12
Like many of Christ's followers I was aghast at the events of last week. More than the political unrest, I was struck with the use of Christ's name by the protesters.
But this is not new. There is a strange thing about Christian history; it has a lot of twists and turns, and it is not very pretty. This, ironically, gives me a lot of hope right now. Christianity started in the grassroots part of society, and has always had a conflictual relationship with economic/political/religious power structures.
Here's how I see it working. People in power see Christianity's strength, so they try to co-opt it like Simon the Sorcerer who tried to payoff the Apostles. These power brokers literally buy Christianity and align it with their power structures, but inevitably within these power structures, Christianity mutates into something horrible while the real essence of Christianity slips out of their grasp and finds a new grassroots place in which to thrive. The shell it leaves behind, I will call Christendom because it s a kingdom that tried to marry itself with Christianity.
Most famously, Constantine in 313 AD, seeing the strength of the movement tried to integrate Christianity into the Roman empire, but it didn't go so well. Far from thriving, Christianity became a mutated version of itself plunging the western world into the dark ages. The real essence of the faith slipped into places like the Waldensian caves in Europe, the rocky shores of Ireland, and the deserts of Egypt and Ethiopia.
And the mutations continued. The Popes rallied the political/religious powers and launched the Crusades trying to revive Constantine's vision of a Christian empire. Listen to Urban II.
"That which above all other thoughts should stir you most is the Holy Sepulchre of the Savior and the Holy Places, ravaged and profaned by an impure race. Valiant soldiers, descendants of those who never know defeat, make your way to the Holy Sepulchre and tear the Holy Land from the grasp of this abominable nation."
Eloquent and moving, the popes stirred the masses into the cause of making Christianity/Rome great again. He sounds a lot like Trump.
Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin tried to bring some authentic Christianity back into the main stream, but it wasn't long before they too were co-opted. Actually they never really broke with the temporal power structures and quickly recognized that the grassroots Anabaptists were the real subversive force that threatened Christendom.
Then there were the conquistadors and the colonizers taking this mutated Christianity on exploits around the world in the name of civilizing and evangelizing. From 1492 to 1945, Christendom ballooned around the globe subjugating Africa, much of Southern Asia and the Americas mostly for economic purposes leaving a trail of tears. They established the trans-Atlantic slave trade and decimated the indigenous population of the Americas following their "God-given" manifest destiny. The religion had indeed lost much of its resemblance to its founder, Jesus. Profit through efficiency and the rule of law was the guiding principle of this world order.
Trump isn't that unusual. He just called the church and the nation back to this colonial mindset. He followed a long line of powerful men that knew they could do more if they harnessed the grassroots energy of the church. Like those before him, he paid off the church by giving lip service to traditional morality, but his real message was about returning to the principles of Christian Nationalism a doctrine that has been around for millennia.
Over its 2,000 year history, the global center of Christendom has moved from Jerusalem to Rome to France/Spain to Britain and finally to America. Hitler also used this tactic framing himself as both a spiritual and nationalistic savior.
And here's the good news. Its my reason for hope and the key reasons I believe Christianity is actually more than a human idea.
The grassroots version of the faith always kept spreading underground. How could it be that the slaves developed a version of Christianity that was more pure than that of the slaveholders they learned it from? The American Black church, the Latino and African Pentecostal movements, and the boom of Christianity in Asia in the late 20th Century are to me, almost unexplainable phenomena pointing to a true Spiritual power behind Christianity. In spite of Christendom, which has had much negative influence on the globe, Christianity has slipped free once again bringing life and hope to the under-class. I thought Christianity lived in places like the Vatican, Notre Dame Cathedral, Jonathan Edwards' plantation, or the Heritage Foundation, but the truth is, Christianity always slips away from the crowd, just like its leader.
So what we saw at the Capitol was just the old shell of Christendom, just one example in a long history of Frankenstein's, manufactured Christ's, that turn into destructive forces. It was the unholy child born out of a marriage between Christianity and the original political/economic power structures of this country. I know Trump and his supporters like to see themselves as the under-class, but I argue that they are the old elite of this country who are longing -- even desperate -- to have their power back. Like the audience around Urban II at the Council of Clarmont in 1095 AD, they responded to a noble-sounding nationalistic/religious cause.
Jesus predicted this. He said that people who claim to be doing good would persecute His followers (John 16:2). He himself was killed by a religious/political alliance. Is it any surprise, when this is how He announced His movement.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
No matter how much the powerful, wealthy religious-types try to leverage Christianity for their gain, it always finds the poor folk again. That's a Jesus I want to follow. It reminds me of a phrase from the Chronicles of Narnia. "Aslan is on the move." Hopefully, I can move with Him. That gives me hope.
P.S. By the way, there is another movement that could replicate this church/power alliance. Raphael Warnock, a pastor from Atlanta, was elected as the first Black Senator from Georgia during the Capitol protests. The Left power-brokers are already no doubt working hard to buy his version of Christianity as well. Let's pray Mr. Warnock doesn't sell it.