From the first century forward many followers of Jesus have forgotten who he was and what it means to practice his message. The Jewish Jesus who espoused love, compassion, forgiveness, non-violence, and justice has often become the hero of horror. One only needs to look at the Crusades (11th-13th centuries) to see how popes and Christian armies set out to conqueror the Holy Land by destroying Islam to establish Christian authority over the land. Violence became a virtue. Numerous other religious and political wars, such as the Thirty Years War (1618-48), run rampant throughout the last twenty centuries. In modern times, Hitler, a Roman Catholic, was never excommunicated for slaughtering millions of Jews. In the Korean War, Cardinal Spellman blessed tanks to assist in killing missions. In the South, Christians joined the Ku Klux Klan to uphold racist ideals. Hang blacks on Friday and attend white churches on Sunday.
This acceptance and promotion of violence by Christians has been going on officially since the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion in the early 4th century. James Carroll writes, “The violence of the newly Christian state… was the final split between the religion of Jesus Christ and the religion that took its name from him.” (see “Christ Actually”)
In America we honor God and County. Scouting upholds these reverences as virtues. And indeed, both are to be respected and cherished. The problem arises for Christians, however, when nationalism takes precedence over the teachings of Jesus. “My country right or wrong” can turn the state into a god. Devotion to the military can become idolatrous. Meanwhile, the religion of Jesus in practice is forgotten or set aside. The flag replaces the cross.
Remembering who Jesus was can go against so called traditional values. “Separate but equal” had nothing to do with Jesus’ inclusive love. To minimize taxes for the wealthy while withdrawing aid to the poor blasphemes Jesus’ admonition to feed the hungry. Limiting love and justice to certain people because of their sexual orientation denies Jesus’ affirmation that we are all children of God.
It behooves us to examine our own values to see if we suffer from Christian amnesia. Rather than pointing the finger at others in an accusatory fashion, we can point to ourselves to see if we have forgotten to practice the love and justice that Jesus taught.