Through His Eyes
by Paul Walker
This quotation was recently emailed to me:
We are now in a crisis; our
actions no longer fit our words. Those who call themselves atheists bear
witness to the future of love and to solidarity with the deprived and
dispossessed, while those who call themselves Christians are for the
most part the possessors and preservers of the status quo.
I confess I am not familiar with Eberhard Arnold's writing. But some
Christians will agree wholeheartedly with what he writes here. However, we
must not imagine that Arnold expresses a new crisis. This problem, if I am
correct in my thinking, has existed to a greater or lesser extent at least
since the days of Constantine in the fourth century. At the battle of
Milvian Bridge in 312, he defeated a rival for the imperial Roman throne.
The battle was fought under the sign of the cross, Constantine having
received instructions to do this in a dream the previous night. Christian
tradition has it that Constantine was converted to the faith by his
victory (though he wasn't baptised until on his deathbed). Within a year
or so after the battle, he made the Christian Church the official religion
of the Roman Empire.
I have often thought that the events which followed the battle did not
result so much in the conversion of Constantine as in the conversion of
Jesus to an establishment figure.
The history of the West can be interpreted as showing that almost all
non-establishment movements which have attempted to improve the lot of the
deprived and dispossessed have been vehemently opposed by Christians. Some
Christians have been on the side of the poor. But they have rarely also
been part of the Church's hierarchy.
Constantine himself was keen that Christian groups which advocated
greater equality should be suppressed. Since then a majority of Christians
has, at every level, opposed threats to the status quo. For example, the
theories of such pioneers as Galileo in the sixteenth century were
regarded as heresy partly because they threatened the power of the Church.
New vernacular translations of the Bible about the same time were feared
by the established Church because they might subvert ordinary people.
Later on, democracy was opposed by establishment Christians, as were votes
for women. Many Christians opposed the abolition of slavery in the most
religious parts of the United States. Later, in the same places,
segregation was upheld by "God-fearing" Americans. The Roman Catholic
hierarchy supported Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in
In our time, a majority of Christians does not support women in
positions of authority in their churches. The liberation of gay and
lesbian people is most consistently opposed in the West by Christians. In
South America, liberation theology has been much-contested by the very
Church from which it sprang.
Christians in Western democracies today complain that they are
increasingly a threatened minority. And yet they do not usually vote with
other similar minorities. In almost every country Christians tend to be
politically associated with the establishment. In many European nations,
the establishment party is called "Christian Democrat" to this day.
For Christians who are not part of the various establishments, this
reluctance on the part of their fellows to stand up for the poor and
oppressed has to be a tragedy. They note that by all accounts Jesus was
never an establishment figure. He opposed Roman rule, the rule of King
Herod, and the power of the Jewish Temple. He stood up for the poor and
dispossessed, for lepers, prostitutes, prisoners, women, children,
foreigners, and even for the much-despised Samaritans.
Since Jesus has become associated with those in power, his message has
all-too-often been used to justify the divine right of kings, dictators,
popes and bishops. He has been called upon in support of slavery and even
the terror of the Inquisition, among many other oppressive forces.
Perhaps the threatened demise in our times of the Church as a powerful
body in society will open the way for those who wish to follow a
non-establishment Jesus. They may be able to help their fellow Christians
and others to rediscover what it means to look at the world through his