I received a fresh reminder of this over the weekend. See, one of my favourite pastimes of late has been to take part in discussions on a certain Facebook group. Up until now it's been a place where believers and unbelievers got together to but heads, argue and debate everything from the truth of the Gospels to the evidence for evolution. All was well until recently when a couple of new admins were appointed. One of these (a young zealous recent convert) actually banned someone for "thinking about swearing" (One of the group rules is no swearing - until recently that meant swear and your post gets deleted but you get to repost the same thing with out swearing.) Think I'm kidding? Here is a screenshot:
Christians love to bring up the terrible massacres committed by Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and the Khmer Rouge to point out what horrible people atheists are. Usually, atheists will then mention the Crusades, witch trails and the Inquisition to show that Christians are not immune to behaving evil, to which the standard Christian reply is: "Ah, but that was the Catholics, not us." What a joke! You know the biggest difference between the medieval catholic church and the church of today? Power. They had it and we don't. If the church today had absolute power and could torture, imprison, banish and kill I don't doubt for a moment they would.
Am I too pessimistic? I can't tell you how much I wish to be proven wrong. Certainly there are many exceptions but that is all they are. I'm not talking about individuals here, I'm talking about the group. And to date the group called "Christian" have managed to abuse every shred of power it received. Look back in history - the church no sooner stopped being the persecuted before they started becoming the persecutors. It didn't take Martin Luther too long after starting the Reformation and breaking away from the corruption of the Catholic Church to start persecuting others - especially the Jews. When the Puritans and the Huguenots fled Catholic persecution to the New World and Africa, did they treat the native population with Christian compassion and kindness? Hardly. Salem witch trails? Apartheid? KKK? Courtesy of Protestant Christians, every one. And so it goes, on and on and on. Even when the church had only the smallest amount of power, it was still abused. Why just a handful of decades ago right here in South Africa the well established reformed churches churches did all they could to see to it that those in pentecostal churches didn't get ahead. People were fired, disowned or simply never promoted for no other reason than belonging to the "wrong" church. I think that is what scares me the most about Christians in power - the fact that "different" seems to equal "wrong" and "wrong" seems to equal "target".
Today is Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide went to church today. I wonder, how many pulpits taught love and compassion and how many taught fear, hate and distrust for those who are not like "us"? It seems that when the only power the church has left is words, it will often use that to kill rather than heal.
I cannot count how many times I have heard it preached that Christians need to be in charge. That we need to occupy the upper echelon of every sector of society in order to make a difference. Yet looking back at history, the time when we did the most good was the time we had no power and no say in the running of things. Back in the first century AD, Christians were persecuted, hunted down and murdered. They were cast out of synagogues, banished from communities, often couldn't trade in marketplaces or have a position on the city council (unless you were willing to sacrifice to the patron god of the town hall or market). And you know what the amazing thing was? They changed the world. Everything was against them, they held no political power at all and yet they made the world a better place. They had compassion on the outcasts and the lowest of the low. They preached equality between slave and free, man and woman. They broke through culture barriers, they showed the world that there was a better way to live - a way of love, peace and compassion. Astoundingly, they did this without starting boycotts or petitions, without making any laws or attempting to destroy their opposition.
These days it seems like exactly the opposite is true. Back then they had no power but they changed their world for the better - we have power, but it seems we are not making this world better at all. How did we get from there to here? Is there a way for us to go back?
See I don't want this to be true. I don't hate my fellow Christians, I just hate it when we turn into monsters the moment we start wielding power. It breaks my heart and I don't think its supposed to be like this. Why can't we be consistently good? Why are we at our best when at the bottom but at our worst when at the top?
When Jesus spoke about who was the greatest in the Kingdom of God, who did he use as an example? A soldier? A governor? No, a child - someone with absolutely no power or might. Maybe that's why the Bible doesn't call the Church a "general" or a "governor" or an "emperor" but instead called the Church a "bride". Without going off topic about gender roles, consider this. When the term "Bride of Christ" was first written down, the role of a bride was not that of leader but that of supporter, of influencer.
I don't know, maybe the problem is that God never intended for us to be in charge here at all. What if God intended that we change the world, not in a forceful masculine way, but rather in a more gentle, feminine way - maybe more like a loving mother than a disciplinarian father? Maybe the Church was supposed to act as the servant, not the master...
So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.
That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served - and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage." (Mat 20:25-28 The Message)