A Western Religion?

Doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?

Isn’t it another example of Western imperialism?

Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, suggests that we’ve got it backwards. Christianity isn’t a Western religion at all. “Christianity dominated Europe for centuries. … But while Christianity held a monopoly on Western culture, Western culture never held a monopoly on Christianity.” (p. 34) Certainly Western Christianity has erred by ignoring other outposts – in Africa, India, Turkey etc. Christianity was first in India no later than the 200’s or 300’s and in China in the 700’s. It was in northern Africa in the 100’s and 200’s and in Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Sudan. The fastest growing Christian communities are in Africa, Asia, and South America. The Christianity of the future will not be the same as the Christianity of the past – as the cultural trappings of the West hold less sway. But that is a good thing (despite the attitudes of some Western Christians).

The bible (in the New Testament) rips apart the restrictive distinctions between peoples – both on ethnic and socioeconomic grounds (as well as gender). It doesn’t homogenize – we don’t all become Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, academics or laborers, or androgenous humans. Differences are maintained – but secondary. Here she turns to Paul and James.

Col. 3:11

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

and it is worth including 12 – 14 as well

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Galatians 3:28 (well 26-29)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

James 2:1, 8-9

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. … If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

“Ironically”, as Rebecca points out “our habit of equating Christianity with Western culture is itself an act of Western bias.” (p. 45) This is true in the secular culture where the practice is used to dismiss and diminish the potential importance of Christian faith. It is also true (unfortunately) within the American church.

Today, the American churches often fail to live up to the ideals of biblical diversity, both via lack of integration between black and white Americans and by portraying immigration as an erosion of America’s Christian identity. In fact, the opposite is true: most immigrants to the US are Christians, and racial demographic that is eroding Christianity in America is white. We must not let an unbiblical white-centrism define our view of Christianity. (p. 44)

Several years ago I read a book by David N. Livingstone, Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution. The most interesting part of this book was the role that “preservation of our way of life” played out in the discussions. Race and white privilege played an important role in many Christian communities – especially in the American South. As Christians we are not called on to preserve our way of life, certainly not at the expense of others. Nor are we called to preserve our way of worship, or even our theological distinctives – when they are shown to distort or stretch biblical teaching, or to be one faithful path among others. We are called to be faithful followers of Christ. That’s it.

Rebecca notes that “power is perhaps humanity’s most dangerous drug.” (p. 45) There is no doubt that much wrong has been done in the name of Christianity, generally to preserve power (and wealth). But this isn’t the defining structure of Christianity, it is a perversion of it. The conversion of Constantine did much that was good – but it brought its own traps and distractions. Rebecca concludes:

The last book of the Bible paints a picture of the end of time, when “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will worship Jesus (Rev. 7:9). This was the multicultural vision of Christianity from the beginning. For all the wrong turns made by Western Christianity in the last two thousand years, when we look at church growth globally today, it is not crazy to think that this vision could ultimately be realized. So, if you care about diversity, don’t dismiss Christianity: it is the most diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history. (p. 45)

The church of the future (and the age to come) won’t look just like my church. And that is more than okay, it is very good – a creation of the Spirit. Let’s just focus on the gospel.

Is Christianity and the missionary movement necessarily an example of imperialism?

Is it a Western religion?

How should we preach and live the good news?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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