Throughout history, Christians have been susceptible to both embracing and spewing political propaganda. Huge segments of Christianity were transformed into political machines, commandeered by political adherents for the purpose of administering all sorts of evils.
Christian propaganda helped facilitate the bloodlust of the Crusades, the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition, the Colonialism of entire populations, the theft of “discovering” new lands, the genocide of Indigenous peoples, slavery, racism, the KKK, Nazism, xenophobia, sexism, endless wars, and a litany of other evils. All of these atrocities were spurred on by “Christianity”—not in spite of it.
As early as the 4th century, when the Roman emperor Constantine credited an important military victory to a miraculous vision from the Christian god, Christians have been co-opted by political propaganda. That Constantine may have used Christianity as propaganda to consolidate power is often overlooked by Christians, who instead revel in the fact that Christianity gained historic “influence” during this era.
Constantine is still regarded as a great Christian historical leader within much of Christendom, yet the fact remains that he murdered his son Crispus and boiled his second wife Fausta to death. But when political leaders grant Christians significant amounts of carnal wealth, power, and influence, Christians are susceptible to overlook spiritual flaws—such as immorality…and the brutal executions of their closest relatives and political rivals.
In many ways, Roman Christianity’s acceptance of Constantine’s “God-ordained government” marked a distinct historical change in the way many Christians would forever corporately manifest their faith. From that point on, instead of emulating Christ as the ultimate example of Christian leadership, Christians also start looking to politicians, rulers, and forms of government as divine manifestations of their faith. The rest is history—a very bad, bloody, and horrific timeline of Christendom brutally oppressing the world around it.
Christians fall prey to political propaganda when their allegiance to a political party is valued more than their allegiance to the kingdom of God. When nationalism and patriotism are idolized more than following Jesus, and the power of statecraft is trusted more than the power of the Holy Spirit. Propaganda whispers the lie that our spiritual power can come from sources beyond God.
Propaganda caters to selfishness, not sacrificial love. It preys on fear, not hope. It hates, blames, and oppresses. It refuses to show empathy, and is devoid of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Unlike the fruits of the Spirit, it doesn’t contain love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Its message will almost always be beneficial to some (us), but detrimental to others (them). It attacks others. It villainizes and dehumanizes. It doesn’t view everyone as loved by God and made in God’s divine image.
When Christianity becomes poisoned by political propaganda, partisan opinions supersede the words and actions of Jesus. Scripture becomes a weapon to rationalize and even support political agendas, and the churches that fail to quickly and boldly speak out against such deceits eventually succumb to becoming sectarian machines themselves—doing the bidding of worldly rulers rather than a divine God. Or worse yet, churches become fearful or apathetic bystanders, uselessly refusing to provide hope, help, and love.
Christians are often targeted by propaganda because of the Christian religion’s prominence within many societies, and especially the influential role it has had within American politics. Because of this, Christianity is a constant battleground for those vying to win political and cultural influence. The gospel is constantly being manipulated, compromised, and spun in a way to gain votes, leverage popularity, and promote various political platforms. Yet no political party ever has, nor ever will, have the market cornered on Christianity.
Jesus himself was the target of propaganda. Of all the weapons Satan could’ve used to tempt Jesus, he used the bible, quoting scripture in an attempt to mislead Jesus. This should serve as an important reminder to Christians that propaganda will often pretend to be forms of “Christianity” itself. Bible verses, pastoral endorsements, theological rationalizations, religious rhetoric, and spiritualized nationalism will all put on guises that pretend to be “Christian.” Like Satan’s attempt to overcome Jesus, “Christianity” will be manipulated and used to the point of undermining itself.
Instead of loving our neighbors, “Christian” propaganda will tell us to deport them, ban them, incarcerate them, discriminate against them, outlaw them, and even bomb them. It will attempt to silence the oppressed and amplify the oppressor. This is how propaganda works. It erodes truth by any means necessary, preying on our biases, desires, fears, and ignorance. Disguising itself as spirituality, faith, and even morality, it can be deceptively subtle. It can also be blatantly outrageous yet embraced by populist furor, accepted by our own delusions, or even allowed by our moral cowardice and apathy.
Since “Christianity” can mean anything to anyone, it’s absolutely essential for followers of Christ to clearly define what the purpose, meaning, and intent of Christianity is. Without this core understanding and confidence, beliefs can be molded according to fraudulent influences.
Christianity is ultimately about Christ.
So if something doesn’t look, act, and sound like Jesus—it’s not an accurate representation of what God desires of us. Jesus himself said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love our neighbors. These foundational values should be the cornerstones of our faith, and the life of Jesus showed us the perfect example to follow.
Instead of being content with following Jesus, and trusting His life as the blueprint to follow, Christians have used propaganda to transform their governments into pseudo-theocracies, creating an authoritative branch of Christendom that can legislate morality and dictate their preferred religious society. Instead of loving their neighbors, these Christian-run governments have sought absolute control, even to the point of enacting slavery, genocide, war, and all sorts of evils.
While it’s certainly justifiable for Christians to incorporate their faith into their political systems, political systems themselves have proven to be particularly horrible conduits of the gospel of Jesus. As a missional strategy, attempting to incorporate a “Christian” government—with “Christian” politicians, laws, and religious rhetoric—has decisively failed throughout history. Not because a “Christian” government hasn’t happened, but because when they do, they’ve never looked anything like Jesus. In fact, they’ve almost always brought about oppression, violence, and death. In the entire history of the world, has there ever been a “Christian” government that hasn’t been anything other than an oppressive form of Colonialism?
Christians have always failed to redeem political systems, but contrarily, political systems have always succeed in corrupting Christians. Even the very best examples of Christians who used their activism to do good work, individuals such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day, were pursuing goodness and justice against political systems and societies that were largely considered “Christian.” They were examples of Christ-like followers who helped restore the damage done by political Christendom.
In the same way, we must do our best to emulate Jesus within whatever political system we live in—but never idolize that political system, or its propaganda, as our final hope or deity. May we always stay true to the gospel, which points us to Jesus, the King of Kings, and our only hope for salvation. And in turn, Jesus always points us towards loving our neighbors. God help us.