taking the words of Jesus seriously

History requires us to admit that Christendom was often used as a system of oppression.

Christians cannot claim to communicate gospel “truth” while simultaneously denying and avoiding truth within their own cultural and historical legacies.  Any promises of a future Kingdom of God, filled with peace and restoration and kindness, seem absurdly hypocritical coming from Christians who cannot acknowledge the role their religious tradition played—and currently plays—in the brutal oppression of humanity.

People who downplay or deny the past and present sins of the Christian religion may think they’re “protecting God’s reputation” or “defending the faith,” but in reality they’re deceiving themselves and others. Admitting the failures of Christianity doesn’t negate the goodness of Christ, and the fallibility of Christians doesn’t nullify the divinity of God. God prefers we accept the awful truths of reality rather than perpetuate forms of propaganda, denial, and escapism.

Christians have a spiritual responsibility to study history. Not the whitewashed, revised, comfortable, pick-and-choose-what-benefits-their-own-political-opinions type of history, but the history of what truly was and is. And when they do, they’ll find Christian atrocities of the most brutal nature. Genocides, rape, torture, enslavement, racism, xenophobia, sexism, abuse, violence, and death have been promoted and implemented by the church and its followers for centuries—it continues even today. 

The Crusades, Inquisitions, Colonialism, Slavery, and Manifest Destiny were bloody and murderous campaigns, and these crimes continued under the facades of Discovery, Exploration, Trade, Expansionism, Liberation, Missions, Evangelism, and Democratizations. They have all been intentionally used as “Christian” guises to hoard wealth, resources, and power—to steal, kill, and destroy. Instead of peace and liberation, the Christian religion has too often brought violence and subjugation. Denying these historical facts is revisionism, and attempts to deflect or rationalize them are forms of dehumanization.

Knowing and understanding this history, and accepting the ugly truths that happened (and continue to happen) should inspire Christians to embrace an attitude of humility, penance, and learning, so we can selflessly and sacrificially make reparations, and love others to the best of our ability.

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Instead of recklessly invading cultures, communities, and circumstances we know little about, and claiming to offer “truth” and “salvation” that’s often founded upon self-interest, we must honestly reflect on Christendom’s horrific legacy throughout the world and within our own communities—within the social, political, economic, and religious systems around us.

Whenever the name of Jesus is invoked to vilify any group or nation, and whenever a pastor spiritualizes hate or weaponizes scripture to oppress others, and whenever biblical rhetoric is used to inflame nationalism and spread partisan fear, we must recognize these forms of spiritual manipulation for what they are: evil. Because throughout history, Christendom has been a favorite tool of dictators, authoritarians, and countless others who selfishly used it to harm others.

Studying history is perhaps one of the most unappreciated disciplines of spiritual development and discipleship. While Christians recognize the value in studying the historical interactions of Jesus and His ministry, they simultaneously fail to appreciate the significant theological implications beyond the Old and New Testament eras. Fanatically defending the historical accuracy of the Bible using archeology, manuscripts, cross-referencing historians, citing secondary eyewitness sources, and a litany of other scholarly exertions, they refuse to apply the same ambition towards recognizing history that may diminish their religion’s reputation.   

But knowing history allows people to discern the difference between fact and fiction, truth and lies. Unfortunately, many Christians either prefer deception, or are too ignorant to know the difference. 

Recognizing Christendom’s past and present faults isn’t a denunciation of Jesus, who serves as an inspiring example of someone who pursued justice on behalf of the burdened, but instead it’s a condemnation of how co-opted the religion of Christianity was and is. The only antidote to destructive forms of Christendom is Christ himself. God help us.

About The Author

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Stephen Mattson is the author of "The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ." Follow him on Twitter (@mikta)

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