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The Battle for The Church of America
Jesus came to the United States and brought another variant of Christianity with him. What does it mean to seek power in The Church of America? We discuss another Reader’s Request
It's another Reader's Request, this time from my buddy Eric, who I've known since the 4th grade. Eric would like me to explain:
The history of the separation of church and state and how religions (various versions of Christianity) have bastardized themselves at the altar of political power.
Wow, there's a visual for you.
I think we can handle this, Eric. Let's jump in.
It Starts with Jesus
First, I think it's important to point out that there was only one version of Christianity when Christianity started to become a thing in the Middle East around 33 A.D. when Jesus Christ, Son of God, was crucified, died, and was buried. Coincidently, on Easter, Jesus rose from the dead and immediately began spreading English to the world. It was a huge deal.
The Roman Empire began laying the groundwork of making Christianity cool in 313 A.D. when Emperor Constantine issued the Edit of Milan, allowing people to worship this new religion. In about 380, Christianity became the official state religion.
Take that, Nero.
Just like the omicron variant, Christianity spread like crazy throughout Europe. Fast forward to the 16th century, when a Catholic priest, Martin Luther, rejected a bunch of teachings, particularly the one on indulgences (I just want to say that indulgences are totally awesome and necessary in my case). At this moment in history, we created a new version of Christianity: Protestantism.
Not being content with two versions, Protestants started creating all kinds of versions of Christianity. In fact, in the United States, one guy spent time praying in the woods and talking to Jesus about which version he should join, only to be told to create his version of Christianity.
In the Beginning
Now I must back up a second and get to the time between when Jesus came to the United States and taught everyone English and the establishment of the United States.
From the beginning, Protestants dominated America. First, there were the Puritans, who were a lot of fun, and then later by members of the Church of God or the Church of Christ…or something. They created laws under their British birthright based on Christian values (thou shall not kill, commit adultery, go ahead and subjugate women, etc.).
After winning the Revolutionary War, these different versions of Christianity spread throughout the new states, along with competing ideas on slavery, size, and scope of the federal government, and entanglements with Indigenous people, to name a few. The Union sought compromises on all fronts to stay together and not become Europe version 2.0.
Regarding religion, we focus on the Constitution, a document Federalists like Alexander Hamilton favored but ultimately compromised with the Bill of Rights, favored by the Republicans, who coincidentally, disliked Hamilton.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads like a grocery list your partner keeps adding to you while you are already at the store. We guarantee our freedoms of speech, assembly, press, and oh don't forget the religion.
The freedom of religion breaks down into two areas: the establishment clause, which means we cannot establish the Church of Something as the official religion, and the free exercise clause, which means if people wanted to create the Church of Something, they could, and the government could only laugh at them while filling out the paperwork.
Build That Wall!
The idea of separation of church and state isn't included in the First Amendment. It was a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson when discussing the importance of a "wall being built" between government and religion.
Basically, the Founding Fathers wanted “a wall” where religion couldn't break into the government, or the government couldn't scale the wall and corrupt the Church.
Either way, it's known as the Freedom of Religion, not the Freedom from religion. Just like the people who probably mow your lawn, religion or government overcame “the wall” obstacle and are embedded in our American way of Life.
Waiting at the Altar
Eric's query revolves around the idea that at some point, religious Christians became obstinate on jumping the wall and bastardized themselves at an altar, no less, to gain political power.
But hasn't that been the case since the founding?
The Church of Something is actually The Church of America. Think about it; phrases like In God We Trust, Judeo-Christian ethics, MLK's speech dreaming that America keeps its creed.
Our system of governing is our religion.
Federalists and Republicans of the late 1790s established the two-party system for the soul of America. Belief in a strong centralized government meant worshiping at the altar of Federalists. Committing to the idea that the federal government is subject to the whims of the states meant you believed in Republican dogma. Is this any different than today?
I think we are concerned that since the rise of "Compassionate Conservative," we have seen a selling out of Christian values to keep their power status in the Church of America. How could a Christian vote for Trump? How could a Christian tolerate lies? Why are there so many varieties of mustards but not ketchup? Seriously, there’s an absurd amount of various mustard, beyond what you see at your grocery store.
These are all important questions.
What Do I Know?
Here's what I know. Church membership has been in a steady decline since the 1970s. In the Catholic Church alone, almost 70% of the members misunderstand or do not believe in the basic tenor of Communion. Just so it's clear to our friends in Texas, Jesus never spoke English.
Here's what I think. That mass departure from the Church has meant a consolidation of minority power. The rise of Trump buoyed by white Evangelicals is simply the latest iteration of white evangelicals who in the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries justified the yoke of slavery and racism. Sure, we now have fewer self-described devoted Christians, but that only spurs their motivation more. Enslavers were the minority, Christian, and in charge.
The Left has its religion also; it just doesn't define itself easily. Modern Dorothy Days embrace tenets of Church teaching, but most who lean left have steadily stopped believing in the two destinations after death. We see a more significant divide in the importance of religion in our lives than ever before.
People who attend Church view themselves as minorities and therefore righteous, while those who don’t attend judge the actions of those who do, but from a place that isn’t any better. It might enrage you to see Trump speak at the Right to Life March, but most likely you are not praying a rosary immediately after. I know I didn’t.
What is Power?
The altar of political power is an interesting metaphor.
When the Jews brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the governor declared to Jesus that he held power to release or crucify him. Jesus responded that everything was happening because of power from above. Flustered, Pilate tried to release Jesus, and then you know the rest. It's right there in John 19.
Jesus didn't have the political power to change the course of himself or his people. He did, however, get everyone into Heaven, maybe even those who don't believe in its existence. But that's Okay Religion. Maybe we'll investigate those topics later.
My point, Eric, is this. Yes, it's incredibly disappointing to see Christians succumb to conspiracy theories, elect people who don't believe in science and support the increase of financial means during a global pandemic. But the opposition leaders are increasingly hostile to religion in general and therefore seek their means to acquire and retain power.
The wall was breached, a long time ago. The battle for The Church of America is always ongoing. But if we don't build up the Kingdom of God on earth, we will continue to feel frustrated that others are bastardizing their religion while unknowingly, we do the same.
Let’s begin with Matthew 7:1-5. Then we can move to Matthew 7:7, which by the way I learned from Protestants, before we settle and think about Matthew 7:12.
Let me know if you get my point and share your thoughts below.