Two Christianities (at least). Both use the name Christ

There are (at least) two versions of Christianity. I’m not talking about denominations, theologies, creeds, or anything like that. I’m talking about something different. I don’t have the words to pin on it, so let me describe it.

There’s a version of Christianity that seems most concerned with figuring out how to follow Jesus in terms of trying to follow what he told disciples to be and do. Basic stuff, that is not easy. It usually comes down to love your neighbor. Why? Because in loving your neighbor, you are loving God since your neighbor is made in the image of God. And who is your neighbor? Everyone – friend, enemy, etc. This is the essence of what the kingdom of God, or shalom, is really about. It’s about being in right relationship. It’s invitational. It is a way of living as an individual disciple, but more than that. It is about living in community with others, with creation, and with God. At its core, it’s pretty simple in concept, yet not easy to live into. Which is why we need others who are attempting to practice the way of Jesus – because we really can’t do this journey alone. This version of Christianity recognizes that it is not about being in control, but rather empowering people to thrive and be fully who God calls them to be. It’s about restoration and about moving towards a better and hope-filled future is more in alignment with what God intended. It is about moving towards justice – which is really about communal right relationship and consists in ending cruelty, repairing damage, and moving towards systems that enhance right relationship in society between people, between people and creation, between people and materials, between people and law, between people and money, and more.

And there is another version of Christianity. This other version of Christianity seems more concerned with creating a certain order, which is really about a desire for control. It is the version of Christianity that is focused on rules for people to follow and punishments for those who break the rules. It is a version of Christianity that sees God as a stern rule giver who demands compliance and whose primary concern is order. It is a version of Christianity that is grounded in three creeds – the ends justify the means, might makes right, and the strong survive. It is a version of Christianity that you can identify rather quickly by the cruelty of is methods and purpose. In essence, this version of Christianity is nothing more than all the other empires that have ever existed. It just uses God for its own purpose, rather than listening to God or really anyone else.

This isn’t anything new. It’s been going on for a long time. I think one could argue that it traces back to when the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the empire. The institution of Christianity embraced this marriage of religion and empire. And the alternative version of Christianity was birthed.

The alternative version of Christianity has taken on a variety of names and forms and institutions throughout the centuries. It’s been Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. You know it when you hear it.

A writer I follow shared with me the aftermath of the story of a nonbinary youth in Oklahoma who died after an altercation and bullying. He told me about a state senator who stood up in front of a group of self-identified Christians who were meeting after the death and said that Oklahoma was a moral, Christian state and that Oklahomans don’t want “that filth” in our state – referring to LGBTQ+ people. And after the senator spoke, about half the room stood up and cheered.

Two versions of Christianity. One based on a way of love and seeing the image of God in others. The other version based on cruelty being the point in order to satisfy an addiction for control and order over others and the world around it. One version of Christianity that recognizes that we are not God and are not in control. The other version that sees itself as god and that god is a useful tool to support its idolatry.

There’s plenty of other examples. Christian nationalism is an alternative version of Christianity intent of creating a “Christian” empire, imposing rules on others. Efforts to take over or use political power to implement certain policies that impose some kind of religious belief system on the rest of society are other examples. All of these alternatives come down to one core essential – their faith is something other than Jesus. Their faith and hope for salvation are grounded in power and their use of it. These alternative versions of Christianity are about putting oneself in the place of God and making God not just secondary but making God to serve one’s own desires. It’s not Christianity, even if it claims the name.

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