Richard believes that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, we lost the essence of the gospel as “good news for the poor”:
In the early Christian Scriptures, the message of Jesus seems to have been heard in great part by people on the bottom. We see clearly in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels that people who are poor, in need of healing, or viewed as sinners tend to get the point. Those who are outside or at the edges of the system understand Jesus, while those who are inside or at the center are the ones who crucify him.
We can date the turning point to the year 313 CE, when the Emperor Constantine established Christianity throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The Church thought that linking up with power was a good way to spread the gospel message. In truth, it became embarrassed by Jesus, the powerless one. Most churches do the same, in their own way. We feel more comfortable with power than we do with powerlessness. Who wants to be like Jesus? Who wants to be powerless? It just doesn’t look like a way of influence, access, or one that is going to make any difference.
After 313, Scripture interpretations do a 180-degree turn. Take the issue of war: a hundred years before 313, it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army. Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence is self-evident. As Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) observed, “I am convinced that [Christianity] has distorted the message of Jesus…. When it had the backing of a Roman emperor it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day.”  Jesus taught nonviolence, lived nonviolently, and died nonviolently, but this goes right over our heads! We can’t see it because we’ve spent seventeen hundred years interpreting Scripture from the top. Reading Scripture from the bottom is the key to what liberation theology calls the preferential option for the poor. I just call it the bias from the bottom. Apart from conversion and until the ego is transformed, everybody wants to be at the top. Apart from grace, we don’t see anything valuable on the bottom.
By the year 400 CE, the entire Roman army is Christian and we are killing the “pagans.” After the Empire becomes Christian, there is a whole section of the Bible that we are structurally unable to read. We can’t read anything about nonviolence, powerlessness, or not being “winners.” We can’t see what we can’t see. We can’t hear what we are not ready to hear. And if we are on the top, any critique of the top is un-hearable. This is where action and contemplation are linked together. In the contemplative journey, unless we see this necessary humiliation of the ego and defeat of the false self, we don’t undergo basic transformation.
 Discussion with C. V. Raman and Dr. Rahm (May 1936), in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 62 (New Delhi: Publications, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1975), 388.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Gospel Call for Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom),” CAC Foundation Set (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as MP3 download.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Everything at Once, digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Wings, digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Tuesday Chemistry. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
Perhaps those on the “bottom” of our societies, like the bottom shape in the image, have colors those “on top” have never dreamed of, like corals, reds and yellows.
Story from Our Community:
As a teacher of children with special needs, God offered me a heart for the broken, vulnerable, and needy. In caring for [others], I have found my own healing and transformation. A lifetime of experiences has taught me that our lives are meant to be poured out in service of others and not guarded for ourselves.… As I walk further on the path of service, I’m eternally grateful to be free from “me.” The Daily Meditations continue to affirm what I know deep inside my soul: we are not alone. We belong to everyone else. —Barb B.