Monday, October 05, 2009

Thinking about Christian History In America

Corporate or Colonial

The Movement is unstoppable…
Future Markets, Holy Wars
Been tried ten thousand times before
If you think that God is keeping score, Hooray!
–Clairaudients (kill or be killed) by Bright Eyes

It’s hard for me to find a whole lot to affirm in the Christian History in America. While there are small pockets of Christian behavior, the lot of it is a story of genocide, greed, and colonial expansion. But such is the history of man. When wasn’t this the case?

With the decimation of the Native Americans and the history of slavery, I struggle to see the good. I take some comfort that Noll is aware of this. He writes that American was a place “where Christian heroism, Christian exploitation, and the quite realities of day-to-day Christian life were all defined by the experiences, the assumptions, and the values of the European Churches” (Noll 8). I am still unsure how to hold this with integrity.

Olaudah Equiano asks the “polished and haughty European recollect, that his ancestors were once… uncivilized and even barbarous?” When I read this question, I was hit by a ton of bricks. This question is directed at me! Here I am feeling polished and so much more enlightened than those Christians who were first exploring this land. Don’t I fail to see that I too am just as limited by my own cultural and individual biases? Maybe ten, twenty years from now I’ll read my own writing and be appalled? And even my children or grandchildren could be embarrassed by the assumptions I make here and now. Just like my Christian ancestors who came to this land, I am living out my faith in the best way I know how, with the interpretation I have, and in the context I find myself in. My intention is to do good and be light to the world, but my actions have unintended consequences.

I recently heard a seminarian state that they are tired of politics. Well, they had better drop out of seminary now, because there is politics everywhere! Especially in church! Most of the time, we get it wrong. Take the English Reformation, it was spawned by the King’s motivation to produce a male heir. In the process, the crown was able to seize the funds of the Catholic churches and monasteries and expand its own corporate wealth. The human need of security and profit oft times lead to sin. The English crown saw a market and went for it in the name of Christ; future market and a holy war in tandem, like the Bright Eyes song quoted above. Seeing this, the Puritans headed for a new land away from the politics of England. Their intention was noble, but it ultimately failed as they still couldn’t fully escape the influence of England. I do find the Puritans noble in the suffering they went through to pursue their beliefs. I felt relieved when I read about spiritually sensitive Christians like Jean de Brebeuf and his Jesuit colleagues. The majority, however; were not like the Jesuits and Christian history in the Americas is awash in the blood of the innocent.


I could despair at this fact if it weren’t for my view of history. To put it simply, when we know better, we do better. Meaning when we see the evil committed and the human toll it takes, we work to correct. We end slavery, we stop the genocide. However, this also works in the opposite way. We are incredibly good at war and killing large amounts people efficiently. My view though is that things are getting better, not worse. For Christians such as myself looking at history, we see the effects of the past and we work not to repeat them in the future. We acknowledge the mistakes and we don’t get apologetic about it. We ask forgiveness and work to end our own versions of slavery (i.e. sex slavery, sweat shops, racial tensions, etc), genocides, and war. We are working to get post-race/colonial/sexist/heterosexist/anti-semetic etc. towards a peaceful coexistence were oppression is minimized and justice prevails.

I, like my Puritan ancestors, hope to create a new society based on God’s kingdom as envisioned by Jesus Christ. At the same time, I seek to be as spiritually sensitive as Brebeuf in my interactions with those of other faiths and cultures.

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. “Traditional Ibo Religion and Culture.” Pages 13-19. African American Religious History; A Documentary Witness. Second Edition. Ed. Milton C. Sernett. Duke University Press: 1999.

Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI: 1992.

2 comments:

nfljunkie said...

I think that anytime the Church has had a lot of money and a lot of power, it hasn't handled itself too well -- not the sort of life style that Jesus promoted. Are well called to be religious, or are we called to be Christ followers?

Luke said...

true... and yet how can we be Christ followers and citizens?

in America, we have brought the bible with the musket and sword. there are exceptions like Jesuits and Moravians and some congregationalists... but when you add in systemic thinking you see that while many New Englanders were all about abolishion, they couldn't economically do it because they were profiting from an injust system. much like we are now with WallMart and Nike etc... the high cost of cheap goods.