CAC teacher Brian McLaren has long asked questions out loud that many have often asked only to themselves. In his new book Do I Stay Christian?, Brian outlines compelling reasons both to leave and stay within Christianity. Today we share his critique of Christianity’s complicity with violence. Such truth-telling can be difficult to read. We invite you to practice the contemplative stance of “holding the tension of opposites”:
Echoing its founder’s nonviolence, the Christian faith initially grew as a nonviolent spiritual movement of counter-imperial values. It promoted love, not war. Its primal creed elevated solidarity, not oppression and exclusion [see Galatians 3:26–28]. . . . The early Christians elevated the equality of friendship rather than the supremacy of hierarchy (John 15:15; 3 John 14, 15).
This commitment to nonviolence rapidly eroded in the early fourth century when the emperor Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the empire. This led to an acceptance of violence and domination against the empire’s enemies, but also perceived “enemies” from within:
What the empire wanted to do, the church generally blessed. . . . This cozy relationship with empire continued long after the Roman Empire had fully collapsed. The church supported the empire’s many reincarnations in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Russian, German, and American imperial ventures. Each empire could count on the mainstream Christian church to bless its successes, pardon its failures, and pacify and unify its masses.
A community with a history of violence to Jews . . . does not sound like a safe place for non-Christians. But as a chaplain to empire, Christianity was not a particularly safe place for Christians either—at least not those who chose to differ from the authorities of the church or state. Choosing to differ, in fact, was the root meaning of the word heresy. . . .
Historians generally agree: while the records are unreliable and incomplete, at least tens of thousands of suspected nonconformists were prosecuted by church courts between 1180 and 1450; many thousands were tortured; over a thousand were executed by church authorities. . . . In a seventy-year period starting in 1560, 80,000 women were tried as witches and 40,000 were killed. . . .
Today, abuse of Christians by Christians tends to be more emotional and spiritual than physical. But shunning and disowning (forms of relational banishment), public shaming and character assassination, private humiliations, church trials of nonconformists, blacklisting, and other forms of Christian-on-Christian cruelty continue, and more and more traumatized people are coming forward with their stories. . . .
To state the obvious: Jesus never tortured or killed or ruined the life of anyone, but the same cannot be said for the religion that claims to follow him.
Knowing what I now know, if I were not already a Christian, I would hesitate in becoming one, at least until the religion in all its major forms offers a fearless, searching, public moral accounting for its past crimes . . . first, against Jews, and also against its own nonconformist members.
Brian D. McLaren, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (New York: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2022), 22–23, 24, 25, 28.
Explore Further. . .
- Listen to Jacqui Lewis interview Native American activist Mark Charles on Love. Period.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 墙 wall (detail), 2020, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Yoichi R. Okamoto, Munich’s Large and Beautiful Fussgangerzone (detail), 1973, photograph, Munich, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 树 tree (detail), 2019, photograph, Qufu, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Sometimes the wall cracks or the tree dies. We ponder and question what we profess to believe. It’s a healthy practice that undergirds a maturing faith.
Story from Our Community:
As a young adult, I’ve shifted away from ideology and moved into free thought and expansiveness, while grounded in perennial truth. As contemplatives, we’re told to live on uncertainty, but I know that my transformation affects the lives of those around me positively. Here, I can hold my traditional Catholic upbringing and be a person of the modern-day, living amidst its many contradictions.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.