“Those who are unwilling to learn from History are doomed to repeat it” – Santayana…oh and make Idols
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
It may come as a surprise to some, but there is a consensus among Historians, both of Church History and otherwise that the Crusades of the middle ages were a bad idea. Especially the fourth when in 1207 the western church sacked and sieged the eastern church all in the name of the Holy Roman Empire. The goal of the Crusades was to “restore the Holy Land.” That was done through whatever means necessary. The logic followed that since the early Christians set up these sites they had to be defended and taken back and there was no tool off limits to getting that done. This meant that rape and torture were often used to excess by the Crusaders. They did not have the historical understanding we do now, that those sites were set up centuries after the fact because the Early Christians had no need to set up geographical markers and memorials since God’s Kingdom was not of this world. In fact, some of these sites were established by the Crusaders themselves as justification for their violence and brutality. The early Christians changed and empire by service to God in the face of mass persecution, the Crusaders defended a power-hungry empire that eventually turned on itself.
The Crusades have always interested me because they seemed to be a direct contradiction to what Jesus tells Pilate in John 18:36. “If my kingdom was of this world, then my disciples would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish Leaders. But no my Kingdom is from another place” (NIV). This is the Divine Logos, the one with all authority in heaven and Earth, telling us that his people would not fight to prevent his arrest because his Kingdom was not an earthly one. Jesus had already told Peter to put his sword away in 18:11. The people of God were not to produce violence in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven was meant to be a place where “swords are fashioned into plowshares” (Isa 4:2), not used for violence. Even in the Luke 22 passage that is often used as a justification for armament the context is Jesus fulfillment of what was written, not going out to start a war. If anything, Jesus promises us multiple times in the Gospels that we ourselves should expect the sword to be used against by those who think that by doing so they are serving God.
I am not talking here about Christian Pacificism, again, I do not believe in Christianity+, so no ist or ism words need to be added to Christianity (hint, hint, that means there is no Christian Globalism either). But I do think that there is a modeled pacificity in Jesus suffering that we are to model when the tides turn against us. When the world comes to our door and drags us out and beats us or the Governments of this world turn on us. The Early Christians modeled this, they did not return violence with violence but violence with quiet confidence in God and the fact that the Kingdom they were dying for was not of this world. In doing this, in following Jesus example, as Peter’s letters tell us we are meant to, the Gospel spread like wildfire. To borrow a quote from Robin Daniel: “The blood of the martyrs become the Holy Seed.” But these were not martyrs for an Earthly Kingdom with Earthly motivations, they were martyrs for a heavenly kingdom with the only motivation being making Christ known.
That is the difference between the early Church and the Crusades and us today. The Crusades were about power, about control of a geographical region “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” They did not advance the cause of Christ or the Gospel, instead they hindered it and still hinder it today. If you do not believe me, ask anyone who has served as a Missionary in a predominantly Muslim country. Unlike the West, Cultural Memory and Oral Tradition are still valuable commodities in the East, and so the memories are long. In the west we want to move on from events, we refuse to see how events in one generation effect the next generation. That is why we cannot comprehend how we are still dealing with the Ghost of Slavery and Jim Crow, they make us uncomfortable, as they should, and so we want to move on and gloss over us. They scare us, and so we do not deal with them when we should.
So we fail to realize how what happened yesterday at the Capital is the culmination of three hundred years of Church History in America, a Church History that since the 1920’s and sought to fuse power religion with power politics, often choosing figures who are as far from Christ as they can get to represent them. I wont hash out the entire history here, but I strongly recommend you read John Fea’s “Believe Me”, Jamar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” and Kristin Du Mez “Jesus and John Wayne” as these are thorough treatments of the formation of the relationship between Christianity and Power Politics that we know today as “Christian Nationalism.” The idea that Christians should use the powers of government to enact a Christian Moral Code on our society. While I am all for Christianity’s moral teachings, often the tactics Christian Nationalists have used to make these things happen have backfired on the Church and the moral failings of the men who have led these charges have done even greater damage. Not that there is not room for Christian engagement in the politics of earthly kingdoms, but Christian Nationalism has contributed to, not stopped, the decline of the Church in this country.
It might surprise you to think learn that I do not think that patriotism and love of country are bad things. On the contrary, you want to love the place you live, and you want others to love it. I also have a great deal of respect for those who serve in the military. But what Christian Nationalism does is place at the center of Christianity the geographical kingdom of man not the unbound kingdom of God that is not of this world. It binds Christianity to a national identity and downplays points where the bible contradicts the actions of the leaders. It also forces Christians to ostensibly serve two masters. God and Country, as equals and Jesus is clear that we cannot do that without loving the one and hating the other (Mat 6:24).
The other glaring problem with this equaling of God and Country is that God wants our loyalty to Him and Him alone, there can be no other. When we elevate something to where He is supposed to be or try to set something alongside Him, we are making an idol of that thing. That is why, as you were watching yesterday you saw signs that said: “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020” held by the people storming the capital building. They have decided to serve two masters and in service to one they have hated the other. In this case, in service to the president they have chosen hatred of God because they served the idol, the creation, rather than the creator. What we saw yesterday was in no way “Christian” and I doubt Jesus wants his name associated with it. In fact, I think he saw those signs as a form of Blaspheme, not devotion to Him. The Jesus Life is one of modeled and patient suffering, if the Son of God wanted to lead and armed uprising against Rome, he is the only one alive at the time who could have done so and succeeded. Every time Christianity has aligned itself with the powers of this world it has failed in its mission to be salt and light.
One of my former classmates said it best.
Christianity is, itself, the primary identity of a believer. I disagree with Mike that there should be Christian Progressives and Christian Conservatives, we are just supposed to be Christians and everything else is to be subservient to and informed by Christ and the Word of God, especially those things that the Civic Religion likes the make idols of. Let us also not try to deflect and make excuses of “Whataboutisms” or “This was actually Antifa.” What happened yesterday was organized in far-right and darkest corners of the internet and needs to be roundly condemned by Christians of all stripes. The second of those claims has been debunked by Capital Police anyway.
If you are a Christian and you do love your country, which again is not a sin unless you have placed your country on the same level as God, then what happened yesterday should shock and appall you because it was a direct attack on our institutions and the Constitution. Things that the conservative movement which I grew up in, claimed to love and respect. This was a heartbreaking day for us as a nation, whether you are a believer or unbeliever.
One final thing, one of the contributing factors in what happened yesterday was the elevation of one man far above where even our founding documents saw he should be placed. Christians have made a bad habit of that on both the left and the right. We look for functional saviors when Jesus is literally the only answer. Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can fix what ails the Church, to turn to either of them is to reject God. Yes, it is true that God appoints our leaders and places governments over us but he does so for two reasons outlined in Romans 13, to ensure our good behavior or to ensure that we behave like Christ, and the bring the power of sword as judgment when we do not. They are not to be confused with the Lordship of Christ and the Kingdom of Christ, because as Jesus said, our Kingdom is not a Kingdom of this world. We are a people of two kingdoms, plain and simple, perhaps we better learn to live in the kingdom of heaven first, so we can learn to live in this one.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center