One nation, under God...

When I was a seminarian and young priest I held the ministry of Paulist Father James Carroll, campus minister at Boston University, in high regard. I still admire his intellect and agree with many, although certainly not all of his stands. Too often I find the truth of his columns in the Boston Globe undone by a phrase or sentence over which I wince in regret for its inclusion. To wit: "When the word 'Christian' is used today, the broad movement it defines owes as much to Constantine as it does to Jesus Christ." One can validly point to Constantine's influence on the history of the Christian faith without resorting to a stroke broad enough to distort the assertion.

Still, there's something Christians of all stripes may need to attend to in these words:
The fact that, since the founding of the United States, Christianity has been much used, against the intentions of the founders, to justify governmental impositions and adventures is one cause for concern... The last thing needed today is a Christian nation embarked on a new crusade, at home or abroad.

But a warning must be sounded in the name of a better Christian religion, too. What's bad for the state can be worse for the church. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and all religious minorities are assaulted by even implicit claims of a "Christian nation," but so are Christians. A government that blesses itself in the name of Jesus Christ, while waging war and advancing empire, must first demolish the meaning of who that man was - three centuries before Constantine.

Scholars know very little about this Galilean rabbi (nothing, for example, about his attitude toward homosexuality), but there are two things that can be said with certainty. Jesus lived and died in resistance to the Roman empire. And Jesus rejected violence. If there are two notes of identity that go to the heart of what America has become, they are violence and empire. A Christianity that makes its peace with those, as has so often happened, is an apostate religion...
There are broad strokes here, too, but sometimes the broad stroke can draw a fine line. That Jesus lived and preached a gospel casting a shadow of judgment on his day's government and religious hierarchy is without doubt - and his rejection of violence is unquestionable. Yet neither of these hallmarks of Christ's mission is without nuance. To pretend otherwise distorts the wisdom of Christ's words.

The problem in our own culture comes when we wrap the American enterprise not in the flag but in the folds of Christ's garments. Too often the hard word of the gospel is dismissed as impractical or not "real" enough to stand as a basis for decision making. That word, however, is as practical as sacrificial love and as real as the surrender of Christ's life on the Cross.

I try not to let Carroll's heavy handedness in some places undo the strength of his message in others.


  1. I have difficulty with assertions that Jesus was " resisting the Roman Empire". Such a statement makes it look like Jesus was some kind of political zealot. The last time I checked, Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God... which, as far as I know, sets itself over ANY country, empire or ideology.
    In addition, I believe that Jesus was a man of peace...but to say he rejected violence is to turn a blind eye to what he did in the temple to the moneychangers...
    And as far as I can figure out, America is not an empire. With the majority of our vast debt owned by China and other nations, with more government and service jobs than manufacturing, with many of our industries and even highways owned by other countries, with even a foreign auto maker having a greater market share than General Motors, it seems to me that we are more of a colony than an empire.
    The violence in America for me is only a symptom of a deeper loss of spirituality and is not the "heart" of the problem.
    So after I wade through all that rhetoric, it is difficult for me to take Carroll seriously. But taking Concord Pastor's advice, I will try.

  2. jfffx - You might be interested in reading the Globe this morning in the "letters" section. There are a couple of letters referring to the James Carroll article.

  3. Jesus preached in a politically charged environment in which Jewish and Roman authorities worked from competing agendas. The preaching of Jesus (particularly his open declaration of establishing a kingdom which did not meet the Messianic hopes of some religioius leaders and made Roman officials tense and suspicious) added to the complexity of the political situation.

    One need only read the passion narratives in the gospels to see how Jesus resists by standing free of the power play between the chief priests and Pilate.

    I'm not easily persuaded that Jesus' justifiable anger one day in the temple somehow contravenes a ministry and preaching that calls for peace and reconciliation.


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