I live in Philippines, a nation that many of its citizenry describe as the only Christian nation in Asia. (Of course, if “Christian nation” means majority of its citizenry describe themselves as Christian, then Armenia is also an Asian Christian nation— and Georgia, Cyprus, and Timor-Leste also qualify, depending on where one puts the artificial boundaries of Asia.) I was raised in the United States, a country that many of its citizens like to think of as a Christian Nation, or perhaps founded as a Christian Nation.
I really have no interest in either perspective.
To describe your nation as a Christian nation is to massively demean the adjective “Christian.” I see many problems with my home country and my adopted country. Those problems pain me, but not because the countries are not “Christian enough.” Neither country has effectively modeled Christ…
… AND THAT IS OKAY. Christ should be seen in contrast to the institutions of the world.
I am reminded of the quote by Frederick Douglass, a former slave:
Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked. … I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. (“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself” and quoted by Greg Boyd in “The Myth of a Christian Nation”)
I am also reminded of the story of Abraham and Jehannot de Chevigny in The Decameron. In that story, a Jewish merchant named Abraham chose to follow Christ after visiting Rome. According to the story… he was so disturbed by the gross immorality of the leadership of the Western Church that he decided that Christianity could not have come from people, but from God. In other words, the ideals of Christianity were so high in contrast the the practices of the religious institution of Christianity, that Abraham to see Christ only in contrast to the established church.
As I am writing this, it is Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, the full day of Christ in the grave. While there are many theories as to the reason for the atonement (a dubious exercise), it is worthwhile to recall the role of institutions in Jesus’ death.
- The Institution of Religion charged Jesus as worthy of death. He was seen as a usurper of authority and a blasphemer.
- The Institution of Governance carried out the killing. While the government lacked the gusto of the religious establishment to have Jesus executed, it ultimately followed the Machiavellian process that governments almost always do– maintain the status quo to its own perpetuity.
- The Institution of Revolution (if one wishes to think of Revolutionary elements in such a way) appeared happy to rid itself of a disappointment. Jesus entering Jerusalem in a Messianic fashion (or at least in a Judas Maccabeus fashion), was followed by Jesus refusing to embrace political revolution.
All three institutions seek (earthly) power to perpetuate and extend itself. Jesus made it clear, however, that his Kingdom (reign, institution) is not of this world.
In many a Christian sermon, it is said that we are guilty of Jesus’ death because we live a life of sin. Some extend it further, noting that many (most?) of us would have joined in the execution if we were there (as angry pious religious folk, patriotic citizenry, or disenchanted revolutionaries). It could be taken further still, that our pet institutions would likely have behaved little better than did the institutions in AD30. Our institutions are driven by the same forces today that Jesus rejected, and still rejects.
It is good that Jesus cannot be seen in Religion, in Government, or in Political Action. A Jesus who could be seen in them deserves to be disappointing to people who desire something more than this world offers.
Jesus is seen in contrast. Jesus contrasts self-righteous religious leaders. Jesus contrasts weak-willed self-serving politicians. Jesus contrasts power-hungry revolutionaries. Jesus even contrasts his followers… a naive and cowardly lot.
On Easter Sunday, Jesus reveals who He is, but on Holy Saturday, Jesus reveals who (and what) He is not.