In response to a question about the state of American Christianity, I have some thoughts. Much of American “Christianity” has become almost indistinguishable from our prevailing culture and our culture wars. Such debased and compromised religion has accepted an idealized and mythical version of an American golden age, based largely in Enlightenment ideals, and has falsely identified becoming a social justice warrior (for whichever side or for whichever cause) in the attempt to engineer utopia (the attempt which inevitably becomes fascist – both left and right), as a manageable and less personally costly substitute for the gospel of Jesus.
I was raised in that maelstrom, as so many of us were, and recognizing the continuing bankruptcy of it often makes it difficult to call myself a Christian. Rather than walking away from the gospel of Jesus, though, we must continue to do our best to love as he asked his disciples to love, live as he asked his disciples to live, and choose to refuse to allow a false substitute to claim the name of Jesus. We must refuse to let demagogues and those who would turn the faith of Jesus into a tool of empire or partisan politics, a path to obscene wealth, or a means of control to be the only voices.
Originally, the word “christian” was used to describe the early disciples of Jesus by those who did not follow him. It means “little christ “, because the early disciples lived so closely to his gospel, and paid a high social cost for it as he paid, that their neighbors wondered at their loving-kindness, self-sacrificing generosity, and mutual love. To be honest, someone else has to call you a christian for it to be true. We can only legitimately say for ourselves that we are doing all that we can do to be a disciple of Jesus. Whether or not it is visibly true, or that we are, in fact, christians is up for others to say.
Jesus did not come preaching how to choose a side in the perennial human obsession with the game of thrones, a game that leads us in a constant spiral of genocide, poverty, and slavery.
Jesus came preaching a promise, the kingdom of God, the promise that his Father will someday restore creation, and humankind, to a state of original blessedness and innocence, and give birth to a peaceable kingdom where war, misery, slavery, and even death, have faded away. He taught his disciples that sacrificially loving each other would allow us to experience that promise here and now, and that our love for each other would be the proof that the Father did indeed send him into the world.
This Way, this becoming a disciple of Jesus, re-orients the human heart, teaching us to refuse to participate in the game of thrones, to refuse to be compromised by earthly political realities, the allure of wealth and power, or the ongoing lie that we are anything but one human family.
Following Jesus orients our hearts on the kingdom of God, which will not be found by choosing one empire over another, or become so partisan for a particular nation, tribe, or creed that we lose sight that we are all one human family – all of us brothers and sisters. It is in losing sight of this that we seek to justify war, slavery, and and poverty.
The kingdom of God is not about simply inverting who currently holds power, but about faithfully living in the love of Jesus, enduring the ruin that we continue to make of each other and the world, until God finally subverts all human power in the redemptive power of Love, revealed in Jesus as self-emptying, self-sacrificing care for each other.
So, sisters and brothers, let us love one another as Jesus loves us, keep our hearts fixed on the promise of the kingdom of God, and faithfully await the day of his coming.