In my last post, I argued that followers of Jesus should not impose their moral views on gay marriage in the United States. My argument was a straightforward application of Jesus's golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If Christians want the freedom to practice their religion in countries where non-Christian religions/ideologies dominate, so, too, they should want the freedom for non-Christian practices in countries where Christians dominate.
Discussions of gay marriages are moving targets, targets that seem to shift without notice. So let me fix the target: I argued that U.S. Christians can and should support the extension of marriage to gays (again, based on a simple and straightforward application of Jesus's golden rule).
I did not claim that Jesus endorsed gay marriage. I did not say that Christians should think gay marriage is good or morally permissible. I did not say that gays have a natural right to marriage. And I did not say that the Bible is not opposed to homosexuality.
I said, rather, that Christians should support the legal extension of marriage to gays (even if they think homosexuality is a sin) for precisely the same reason that they should hope for the freedom of Christians in, say, Muslim-majority countries and China. It is precisely the same freedom that protects Christians in Christian-minority nations as protects gays in Christian-majority nations. So even if Christians think homosexuality is unbliblical and gay marriage an affront to God, they should nonetheless, because of the golden rule, hope and pray for the increase of freedom in every country. It's the same freedom to believe and practice as one sees fit that affects Christians (in Muslim-majority countries) and gays (in the U.S.).
That was my main argument. That's the target; critics can take aim at that one.
I hinted at the end of my essay that followers of Jesus should not seek a Christian empire, one in which Christian beliefs are the norm. I believe, as I stated, that the kingdom of God is within, and that Christians should eschew any alignment of Christianity with earthly power. Such alignments of Christianity with power are so likely to engender abuses of power, they would end up subverting the teachings of Jesus. "Blessed," after all, "are the meek."
Power makes Christians, as it does anyone, liable to arrogance, self-righteousness, imprudence, insecurity, rapaciousness, and oppression. After a time, Christians are unlikely to resist imposing their views on those who disagree with them; such disagreements may then issue forth in intolerance and even violence (divinely endorsed, of course). Holy Wars and Inquisitions are just the two most obvious examples of Christianity's unholy alliance with earthly power. "Blessed," after all, "are the poor in spirit."
When tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus was offered all of the kingdoms in the world. But he understood that acceding to that temptation came with a great moral and spiritual price: it would require bowing down to Satan. So he turned his back once and for all on earthly power and resisted the natural human impulse to build an empire.
We don't need to go into our dark past to find examples of the unholy alliance of Christianity and power. Consider the runup to the Iraqi war where Christian leaders' repeated lies became "truth" and where God was invoked in support of a preemptive attack (a perversion of Christianity's just war doctrine); moreover, a Christian nationalistic sense of superiority over Arabs led us to downplay their beliefs, their culture, and even their very lives. The result: nearly five thousand dead U.S. soldiers (we in the U.S. tend to count only our own), and the death of over 100,000 Iraqis (these figures vastly underestimate the deaths that resulted from our wreaking havoc on Iraq's infrastructure). When religion and power collude, people die. "Blessed," after all, "are the peacemakers."
If we push back just over one more century -- skipping lightly over Christianity's implication in segregation laws, the disempowerment of women, and attacks on science -- we can find another sad example of Christianity's unholy alliance with power -- slavery. Frederick Douglass, escaped slave and Christian, lamented and then rejected the claim that 19th century America was a Christian nation. He writes:
Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference -- so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
Christianity, when allied with secular power, has supported slavery, sexism, religious oppression, apartheid, holy wars, torture, and the inquisition.
We honor our twin commitments to civil society and God when we render unto Caesar what is Caeser's and to God what is God's. Jesus' kingdom was not of this earth. And yet we Christians continually repeat the mistake of seeking earthly power, glory, and acceptance. But when we do that, those who disagree with us get hurt.
WWJD? He would love without condition. He would offer his peace. He would expand his kingdom, one heart at a time. And he would leave to Caesar what is Caesar's.