Broken Christianity

What kind of movement or organization feels that it has to torture and kill those who refuse to join its ranks? The words “tyranny” and “despotism” come to mind, along with some other unsavory thoughts I will not share here. I think this a fair question, and doubly so when discussing the history of Christianity, which is supposed to be led by the Holy Spirit as a belief system which emulates its Master. Since this is the stated goal according to the Sermon on the Mount, where we are told that we must “. . . love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you . . . ” in order to be exemplars of the Father in heaven, then this question takes on a particularly sharp edge when considering the actions of certain Christian sui juris bodies over the two millennia of Christianity. In particular, where in the teachings of Jesus or St. Paul are we told to take the sword to the throats of those with whom we disagree?  Are we to kill those who, through the deceits of the devil or their own corrupted human nature, fall into theological error and refuse to join in our worship practice?

Sadly, these actions appear to have slowly overtaken Christianity after the normalization of  the faith within the Roman Empire. To my untrained eyes, it appears that Christianity was at that time married to the political systems of the world, beginning with the Roman Empire and lasting up to this day, where Evangelicalism is the handmaiden (one might less charitably say “whore”) of the Republican Party.  Having been an Evangelical (an embarrassing admission of utter theological ignorance on my part) for some twenty-five years, I am well qualified to speak about the many religious pronouncements I heard in Evangelical churches, pronouncements which rang more true to Republican war-mongering, adulation for the rich and Capitalism, and distaste for the “lazy” poor, than of the love of Christ and the willingness to follow the directives He gave in Matthew. There are those in Christendom who aver that the marriage of politics and religion was the worst thing that could have happened to the Christian faith.

It is slight wonder that the pagans of the fourth century, upon hearing that Christianity had now been adopted as the religion of the empire, ran to Christian services to be admitted, not necessary because they had experienced a deep change in their thinking, but I believe more to avoid the possibility of those whom they had formerly persecuted turning on them with a vengeance. I cannot fault them if this was the case.  They only saw Christianity as another of the many religions which existed. It was now in ascendance, and not knowing the foundation of love for others given by its Master, they surely to be expected it to act against the other religions of the empire, especially in revenge. No one is naturally inclined to offer himself up as a sacrifice. Even those of us who have embraced the promise of life eternal, and the love of God in the next life, strive to maintain this life as long as possible. So . . . striving to save their lives, pagans entered the Church. Many were truly converted. Unfortunately, many were not, and others who were converted brought with them cultural habituation  and ideas which were not set aside by their baptism. Belief in a god who sends the wicked and unbelievers in to the flames of eternal torment was one of those ideas, bolstered in no small part by the harsh legal language of the Old Testament.

In stark contrast to the sheer hatred exhibited by some of His followers, Christ allowed the Romans, goaded on by the Pharisees, to put Him to death. He who could have summoned six legions of angels and wiped Jerusalem off the face of the earth instead submitted to the hatred of His enemies for the greater good of all mankind. Brad Jersak describes this as, “self-giving, self-sacrificing, co-suffering love.” This is the norm we are called to, but where that disappeared to, especially in the West, God only knows.  I fail to see it in the actions of any religious body which kills those with Murdering Indianswhom it disagrees. Whether it be the Puritan Governor John Winthrop siccing his troops on Native American women and children, and then rejoicing that they, as pagans, have been sent to the hell they deserve, or Roman Catholic priests screaming at the troops outside the walls of Constantinople in 1204 to breach the walls and kill everyone inside because they are not true Christians, I simply cannot see the action of the Holy Spirit in them.  Even the Orthodox Church, which you know I love, fell to this, turning with viciousness against the hated “Uniates” of Russia and Ukraine and siding with the Communist Party.

The history of Christianity is a sad tale of men killing others because they did not follow the rules (aka you don’t belong to my church or my way of thinking, therefore you are a heretic and I will kill you in Christ’s name!) When I read about men such as “Saint” Josephat Kunsevich, who murdered hundreds of Orthodox because they would not give up the Orthodox faith and convert to Roman Catholicism, I wonder what Jesus he was following? [1]  It certainly couldn’t have been the one who in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, told us to love our enemies and do GOOD to those who despitefully use us.

In my book, A LAYMAN INVESTIGATES UNIVERSAL SALVATION, I attempt to connect the behavioral dots from the church that willing went to martyrdom, singing hymns of praise to God, to the church that burned its enemies at the stake. Big change there, and my sense, which I discuss in the book, is that the Western Church slowly became a political empire and forgot who she was and who she served.  An eternal hell of fire is just part and parcel of the overall approach to one’s enemies. Unlike Christ, who prayed for their forgiveness after enduring unimaginable torment at their hands, the Western churches have taken those only guilty of bad theology and put them on the rack, drawn and quartered them, and burned them at the stake. Where the hell did Jesus go?  I guess He left them sometime around 1054 AD. I don’t see any evidence of His guiding presence in their actions. I can’t say that I can fathom Him standing outside the French town of Beziers and saying of the Cathars living peacefully there among the Catholics, “Kill them!. Kill them all!. God will recognize His own.”

Let me put this in a much more personal way.  Between eighteen and twenty-two, there was no sin I left undone if I could get my hands on it.  You name it and I either thought of doing it or did it. I went forward one day and “Hit the Sawdust Trail, ” as the old-time Bible-thumping revivalists called it, and made a “Decision for Jesus.” Everyone rejoiced that I had gotten “saved.”  Now fast forward to three years later and suppose I am still chasing loose women and taking drugs. Might you just have a real concern about the reality and depth of my repentance and my relationship to Christ? I would hope so. And you certainly would not come to me with expecting that I would teach you correct Christian dogma in such a darkened state of mind and soul.  Yet throughout Christian history we have men who have done the most dastardly and unthinkable of crimes against their fellow man and yet, because they belong to a certain organization or wear a collar, I am supposed to bow down to them when they tell me what I am to believe. I am supposed to call them a “saint” while the blood of their victims is still dripping from their unsheathed swords.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is not going to be about whether or not we held 100% correct doctrines or joined the right church. It will be whether or not we did love to others. I am convinced that there will be a large multitude of souls who in life were theologically precise, had all their apologia down pat, wore miters and collars, and could talk a snake out of its skin, yet who are going to spend a long time in hell because of how they treated other believers.

I am warned that I am a heretic because I refuse to accept their dogma.That’s fine with me, because I don’t think that someone whose response to enemies is to burn them alive is someone who has the moral or spiritual authority to tell me what to believe. It is no wonder they believe in an eternal, burning hell of torment. They have recast God in the image of their own depraved minds, thinking Him to be just like them,  and yet when I refuse to go along with this charade, I am warned that I am going there also.

Sharing God’s love with the “savages.”

Graphic engraving depicting the Gnadenhutten Massacre of unarmed Christian Indians, or Native Americans, by French Militia in Ohio, March 8th 1782. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

[1] Here is what the the Chancellor of Lithuania, Leo Sapiega, the representative of the Polish King, wrote to Josaphat Kuntsevich on 12 March, 1622, which is one and a half years before Josaphat’s death:

“…By thoughtless violence you oppress the Russian people and urge them on to revolt. You are aware of the censure of the simple people, that it would be better to be in Turkish captivity than to endure such persecutions for faith and piety. You write that you freely drown the Orthodox, chop off their heads, and profane their churches. You seal their churches so the people, without piety and Christian rites, are buried like non-Christians. In place of joy, your cunning Uniatism has brought us only woe, unrest, and conflict. We would prefer to be without it. These are the fruits of your Uniatism.”

Just before his “martyr’s end,” which occurred on November 12, 1623 in Vitebsk, Kuntsevich ordered the disposal of dead Orthodox by having their corpses exhumed and thrown to dogs. In all of his Polotsky diocese, both in Mogilyov and in Orsha, he pillaged and terrorized the Orthodox, closing and burning churches. Eloquent complaints were sent to judges and to the Polish Sejm.

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