“What is Wrong with the Christian Religion?”
My friend, Rebecca Bratten Weiss, for whom I have a warm respect, recently wrote an article with that title for Patheos. I urge you to read it here.
For myself, I regard MAGA Qhristianity as I regard a serious localized infection in a human body. It is like a boil or a deeply infected zit. It is very clearly something happening in a specific place and time and it, in relation to the global Church, is very clearly an expression of the pathologies of that particular people and place, very much like Nazified Christianity was, or the bizarreness of the infected Orthodoxy of Rasputin, or the weirdnesses of the Malleus Malificarum.
The body of Christ appears to be susceptible to such localized infections. Heresies and local movements sweep over it throughout history. But it is also capable of creating antibodies and of fighting off such infections. So while it’s true that Christian Europe created Nazi Germany, it is also true that Nazism was defeated and extirpated by Christian civilization. It’s true that Christianity countenanced a resumption of slavery after it disappeared from antiquity (due to the gospel’s influence), but it is also true that Christian civilization made war on it and, indeed, is still in the process of making war on it.
So I’m not convinced it is “the Christian religion” that needs to be interrogated but, rather, the way it is currently instantiated in American civilization. The simple fact is, we made a deal with the devil four centuries ago when it comes to rejecting the gospel’s teaching on race (“in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, etc”) and we have never really confronted it fully since. We’ve flattered ourselves that the Civil War was good enough and the debt was paid, but that is a lie.
More than this, we have fallen for Mammon and Mars and want to be Great rather than good. We are prideful, the blackest sin of them all, and we somehow expect that we can reconcile that with the gospel. We want the trappings of Christianity but reject the heart of it and are surprised by results that are predicted throughout the gospels. We want to achieve by force and law what Paul insists can only be achieved by cooperation with the Spirit, not because we are Christian, but because we are not–not in our hearts. We have been, at best, sacramentalized, but not evangelized.
In short, the trouble is that we are sinners who don’t believe the Christian religion. And we have figured out lots of ways to game the religion in order to avoid listening to the gospel. Any system, including one divinely inspired, can be gamed. But that’s on us. And the fact that the Body of Christ does not everywhere manifest the very American (or German, or Spanish, or Russian) pathologies of its local instantiations makes clear that the infections are local, not systemic (though they hurt the whole body, of course). But the solution, as with all illnesses, is to attack the disease, not declare the body itself to be the problem. It remains the Body of Christ, created by Jesus to be the sacrament of salvation in the world. We must receive it as the gift it is while also working always for the healing of its infected members.