The Common Good

Brian McLaren: Christianity and the 'Pride of Power'

Brian McLarenI recently came across this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9:

"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong."

These words struck me all the more because I just returned from a five-week, seven-country speaking tour of Latin America. This follows tours of Europe, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand earlier this year - twenty countries in all.

In each country, I heard Christian leaders - Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Traditional Protestants, and Roman Catholics - express amazement and dismay at the relative silence of the church in the USA. They see us, by and large, as a prime example of Bonhoeffer's lament about Christendom "adjusting itself far too easily to the worship of power." We are giving offense, but sadly, the wrong kind. For example, they hear frequent defenses by Christians in the USA - not of the weak and poor, but of the strong and powerful. About torture and violence, about "pride of power," they hear too little protest from too few of us. They know we are against terrorism, but they don't know if we are against American empire and domination.

I tried to tell our fellow Christians in Latin America that many of us are speaking out against these things, but I had to admit that doing so feels like an exercise in going against the current, not only in the culture at large, but in the Christian community as well.

The degree to which Christianity in the USA has capitulated to a neo-Constantinian compromise with empire is disturbing to our Christian brothers and sisters around the world ... and it should be to all of us in the church in the USA. Perhaps these powerful words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer will catch fire among more and more of us in the US, and perhaps we will see afresh that we can not, indeed, serve two masters - whether those masters are Greed and God, Caesar and Christ, or the Sword and Spear of violence and the Basin and Towel of service.

Brian is posting letters to Christians in America from their counterparts in Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. You'll find them on his site, brianmclaren.net.

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