Commentary
By Stephen Mattson 10-02-2018

The term ‘Christianity’ has a variety of interpretations that can mean many different things to many different people. Even self-identified Christians can’t agree upon its definition, and have fractured into countless denominations and sects because of it.

As a child, I was taught that Christianity essentially meant being like Christ, loving Jesus and emulating His life to the best of my ability. But as I got older this message became infinitely more complex.

Instead of loving our enemies, it became OK to kill them, especially if they lived in the Middle East and were Muslim. “Thou shall not kill” soon only applied to unborn babies, but not to the death penalty, war, or gun violence. “Love your neighbor” was no longer relevant to particular people — immigrants and refugees—and the spiritual motto of “Do unto others and you would have them do unto you” wasn’t practiced with our political opponents.

Christianity transformed from a faith reliant on Jesus to a civic religion obsessed with obtaining partisan power. This co-opting of Jesus — manipulating His gospel of love and redemption to fit the narrative of an expanding American empire, specifically to maintain the colonial stronghold of white supremacy — fits a historical pattern.

“Christianity” was used to justify many past atrocities, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, and even the Holocaust. Christendom’s entry into what we now call the United States was genocidal by nature. Indigenous land was stolen, and they were given the option to assimilate or be killed. With this violent takeover came slavery and segregation and sexism ‑ all supported and carried out by institutional Christianity.

The evil of labeling these sins as being “Christian” is still rampant today, normalized by centuries of socialization and indoctrination. The bible has been weaponized by all sides as a tool to theologize their agendas, and Jesus has been conveniently erased to further quell our spiritual consciousness. The greatest victims of this are the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, the people Jesus specifically went out of his way to love.

For a religion that bares that name of Christ, Jesus has become an uncomfortable topic for Christians. Because when the Prince of Peace says things like “blessed are the peacemakers,” we’re forced to confront that we’re a nation endlessly at war, that spends hundreds of billions of dollars on our military. And when He says “Blessed are the meek” and “Blessed are the merciful” and “Blessed are the pure in heart” we’re confronted with the hypocrisy of our political and national ideologies. This “Christianity” means being complicit in institutional injustice.

“Christianity” is being used to denigrate women, sexually abuse children, reinforce racism policies, implement oppressive legislation, expand martial violence, and maintain its status quo as a system that benefits a few at the expense of many. “The least of these” are often discarded, a dispensable resource to further promote the depravity listed above.

“Christianity,” is where women are still (mostly) forbid from being in leadership, where thousands of children have been sexually abused, where LGBTQ+ people are continually ostracized, where white people widely voted for--and continue to support--a racist president, where victims are silenced, blamed, and shamed instead of empowered, where the stock market and 401ks are more important than protecting immigrants and refugees, where money and power and fame and influence are pursued more than following Jesus.

I’m ashamed of “Christianity,” but I’ll never be ashamed of Christ. Jesus, the person who sacrificially loved others even at the expense of giving up his own life, who fed the poor and cared for the sick, who empowered the oppressed and stood in solidarity with the Samaritans, Gentiles, women, children, sick, poor, and outcasts of society. He was arrested by the authorities, abandoned and betrayed by his friends, put on trial, convicted, and crucified by the ruling empire of His day.

Faced with the life and words of Jesus is how we can tell if Christianity is either a relationship with God or merely a social identifier — a way to side with the dominant culture. If you define Christianity according to Jesus, this type of Christianity is the antithesis of American Christianity. It’s a Christ-driven-Christianity that gains power by giving it away, by being sacrificial, by reflecting the love of Christ, who is by His very nature the embodiment of God — the very essence of love. 

Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.

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