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Friday, April 15, 2016

Christianity And Violence

The first part of the title of David Robertson's (click here for a bio) blogpost was: 'Did The Church Spread By Violence?' (click here for article). This article was also posted in British Christian website, Christian Today (click here for the same article, different location). The answer to the question is a little hard to find in his article. Why? Robertson meanders for a while before he actually starts to answer the question. And meandering points to a discomfort with the question. And quite frankly, the history of Christianity should make Christians, especially conservative ones like myself, more than just a little on edge when even considering the question.

Robertson starts his article by focusing on why some people have problems with the Gospel and Christianity. These problems revolve around the behavior of the Church and its use of violence to grow. For Robertson, these questions focus in on a very tiny list of objectionable historical events: the Crusades, the burning of witches, and the Inquisition. With the latter two of these historical events, Robertson tries to have his cake and eat too by acknowledging that there was sin and problems in the Church at that time, but that the number of those killed was not nearly as many as what he says some unbelievers have said it was. However, with the first two of those time periods, Robertson tries to distance the Church from the violence the violence practiced then by asking if it was the Church or some other entity acting in the name of Christianity that committed the violence.

Robertson then goes on to discuss the Early Church and then the definition of the Church before he directly addresses the question stated in the title of his article. 

Robertson wants to answer this question historically and so he recommends a couple of resources. He also claims to have an adequate knowledge of history to be qualified to address this question. He then goes on to attack secularists for how he says they portray Christianity by either inflating the number victims and then judging all Christians by the acts of some.

But there is slight of hand in all of this. Robertson's deception is found in his reduced list of historical events dealing with Christianity and violence. He limits these events to the Crusades, the burning of witches, and the Inquisition. And here, Robertson is being either disingenuous to an educated audience or presumptively hopeful that his immediate audience does not know enough history. For the history of Christianity and violence is not confined to these three events.

The first association of Christianity with violence came after the Battle of Milan (312 AD) where Constantine claimed that God had given him his victory. After that point, Constantine had the Cross put on the shields of his army. It should be noted however that as Constantine legalized Christianity in the Empire, he was somewhat tolerant of and used the symbols of other religions for a while, but he later took an aggressive stance against them. However the first person who really deserves credit for using violence to spread Christianity or suppress other religions was the Roman Emperor Theodosius who reigned a few decades after Constantine. Under Theodosius, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire and adherents to pagan religions as well as those who belonged to heretical cults were sorely persecuted.

Robertson could have also mentioned the numerous religious wars that took place in Europe (click here). There were at least ten such wars during the time of the Reformation in Europe and the British Islands. Of course, those wars do not include the on-again, off-again cycle of violence Christians practiced against the Jews in Europe.

Robertson also could have mentioned the violence used to spread Christianity by the force used to establish and maitain the British Empire as well as the violence used by Americans to take land away from the Native Americans. Certainly, violence and Christianity were not the only factors in the spread of the British Empire or in the expansion of European settlers in America  However, violence was used to secure the British empire and Christianity rode in on its coattails. The same could be said of other European Empires that expanded to other continents such as the Spanish Empire. With the spread of this empire came the spread of the influence of the Roman Church in much of the Americas, especially in South and Central America.

Meanwhile in America, some of the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from the land was done explicitly in the name of Christianity. Some of America's earliest Christian European settlers saw themselves as God's new Israel while they viewed the land here as their Canaan. Thus, violence played a role in the spreading of Christianity in America. We should also note that in the earliest times of the colonies, religious intolerance gave way to the use of violence between Christians of different denominations. For example, Puritans use to persecute and, in a few cases,  even martyr Quakers. We should also note the violence practiced much later on by the KKK after Reconstruction. The KKK claimed to be a Christian organization.

We should note that today, American Christians don't necessarily practice violence themselves to spread their religion. Rather, as the Church did prior to the French, Russian, and Spanish Revolutions, they have supported wealth in power as America was establishing a global hegemony. And with that dominance came a partial spread of the American way of life including avenues for American Christianity to spread to other nations. So here we could possibly say that American Christianity uses the violence practiced by its government to spread its influence even when the American government's intended use of its violence had nothing to do with religion.

The point of this post is not to give a historical accounting of how the Christianity used violence to spread through the world. Rather, the purpose of this blogpost is for me to ask my fellow religiously Conservative Christians, or as I sometimes refer to them as my fine, fellow flaming fundamentalists friends and family to be brutally honest with ourselves when answering questions regarding the dark times in Christianity's history. It seems that for many Christians, and, according to the second part of the title of Robertson's article for him too, Christianity's dark times in history has created some apologetic nightmares. And now we Americans, and perhaps the British and Scots too noting that Robertson is Scottish, we find ourselves in a recently arrived at, post Christian environment and we are tempted to say all we can to stop the bleeding. But not being honest about our moral failures in the past, such as Robertson fails to be in his article when he reduces Christianity's use of violence to spread to just 3 events, only accelerates our free fall from our former place in society.

Any historian reading this article can easily tell that I, myself, am not a historian. However, even I can see the glaring weakness in arguments like the one Robertson uses to disassociate the use of violence and the spread of Christianity. Such faulty arguments can only discredit us. And our loss of credibility makes sharing the Gospel that much more difficult and unnecessarily so.

In modern times, the American Church itself rarely, if ever, uses violence to spread its influence. Instead, the Church, as it has often done in the past, relies on the government's use of violence to act as in order to create the government's coattails on which the Church can ride on. And unless we are willing to be upfront with a significant number of moral failures practiced by the Church in both the past and present, we will be unable to share the Gospel with any significant degree of integrity.






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