Pilate asked Jesus, upon the day of His crucifixion, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate was seeking an answer to the charge the Sanhedrin had pronounced against Jesus. Only the Roman governor could sentence a man to death, and the Jewish authorities sought the death penalty for blasphemy.
The exchange in John chapter 18:34-40 is a good frame of reference for our nearing post-Christian times in America.
34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”
35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”
Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.
Taking the Place of Barabbas
39 “But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
40 Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
In most of Europe, Christianity is now so foreign, just one generation after people there stopped going to church, that the rituals, rites and spiritual activities associated with it are simply foreign. A British friend told me a story recently about a Christmas play in England, put on by a Catholic affiliated public school (schools in England are different than America, and the rules are different). One parent who attended the play remarked at the end how pleased they were, then asked “what was the name of the baby again?”
Another friend who went to Oxford told me that a few years ago, a number of churches joined together in a Palm Sunday march through the ancient city, and were met with stares as if they were missionaries from Mars. This is just twenty to forty years after Christianity began a decline in Europe, when parents who went to church simply because their parents did stopped going, and stopped taking their own kids, after long abandoning praying at home, reading the Bible, or practicing faith. A family Bible is now no more than a curious heirloom, if it hasn’t been thrown away.
In America, faith is much stronger than in Europe, but in many places, attachment to political faith has replaced actual religion. Shadi Hamid cited lots of statistics in his article “America Without God” published in The Atlantic. It’s good reading.
But we needn’t go too far into statistics and church attendance to know the fruit of this slide out of faith in Christ. Human organizations abhor a vacuum, and where career replaced family, distance replaced homesteads, technology replaced craftsmanship, it’s only natural that politics replaces religion (or becomes it).
Jesus’ kingdom was not, and is not of this world. Yet we find Americans defending Second Amendment rights as if Jesus bestowed the right to shoot others as a Biblical principle. If parts of the nation do in fact descend into conspiracy-fueled violence, or a future pandemic or disaster disrupts our ability to feed, clothe, heat or provide shelter for our families, by what principle do we have the right to say “I shoot you in the name of Jesus?” (That line was cribbed from my friend and spiritual mentor Dr. Howard Morgan, in my mind, one of the best, least known preachers and teachers in America.)
As Jesus said, if His kingdom was of this world, his servants would fight, so that he should not be delivered to the Jews. Since Jesus, as the foundation of Christianity, is the Son of God, He commands tens of thousands of angels and spiritual beings of enormous power, in addition to having the unlimited power of God innate in His being. Why would humans, whom he came to save, need to fight in His name?
When we have allowed the politics of church association to replace the divine worship of God and Christ at home, at our jobs, in our personal relationships, and (especially) online, we have taken the same steps as the Europeans did in forgetting to practice faith at home, making the great edifices and cathedrals of religion the object of a tradition robbed of power.
The next step away from actual faith is when the children of these clingers see their political faith for what it is and ask why they need to actually, you know, go to church and sing songs, give offerings, attend Sunday school, and do all the churchy stuff if it’s only in service to a pseudo political agenda that includes anti-masking, anti-vaxxing, gun and ammo accumulation, prepping for an apocalypse, and denying some actual facts about climate change.
The next generation will simply stop the church part and either continue to serve QAnon, or abandon both and turn to liberal, secular humanist faith in government, political solutions to spiritual problems.
In twenty or thirty years, in America, the church could be facing the same blank stares and absurd questions they see in Europe today. But we will still have our guns, and our “conservative” values to fight for. But they won’t be conservative in any way we would recognize today.
The church is in danger of becoming a nationalist movement in America, and the solution is to walk away from the political defense of this world, and to nurture our faith in the one Christ represents.
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