Siding with the empire?

Siding with the empire?

There’s a strain of liberal Christianity out there, closely related to Dan Brown/Elaine Pagels-style Gnosticism, but not the same thing, that holds that “real” Christianity was suppressed when Roman Emperor Constantine legalized it in 325. Byron Williams, a syndicated columnist and Protestant minister, perpetuates the myth and connects both Jerry Falwell and Pope Benedict to it.

Part of Falwell’s legacy, however, must include his attempt to do what many have unsuccessfully attempted (and may attempt again in the future), which is to marry two irreconcilable pursuits — claim to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus while simultaneously siding with the empire.

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Sadly, this Constantine brand of Christianity, still evident today, is a far departure from the teachings of Jesus found in the four Gospel narratives. Constantine, for his own political purposes, placed militarism and political domination under the rubric of Christianity.

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Though Falwell, because of his high visibility, may be more notable, he is hardly alone when it comes to siding with the empire. Last week, Pope Benedict XVI was attempting to put down the liberation theology efforts in Latin America. Liberation theology sees Jesus not only as redeemer but also liberator of the oppressed. It emphasizes bringing justice to the poor through political activism.

What Williams sees as “siding with the empire”, most Christians see as carrying the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)

What’s ironic is that Williams lauds liberation theology, which is itself a form of “siding with the empire,” especially in the forms it’s taken in Latin America, in which the first aim has become political revolutionary change—usually toward Marxism-Leninism—and spiritual salvation only second, or even identified with the former aim.

Christianity is not meant to be an underground movement. It is intended to transform the world, the whole world. Christ is the Savior of science; the one, true King of the City of God and the City of Man; the ultimate Muse of the arts; and so forth. Christ’s influence is to be felt in all places.

Williams makes an idol out of poverty and oppression, taking pride in being the underdog. While the Gospel of Matthew does say that we will be blessed when persecuted (cf. Matt 5:10-11), that doesn’t mean that this is the preferred state of the Church. Being a victim is not in and of itself virtuous.

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