Some Christians already know just how widespread is Christianity. Some of us embrace the power that comes with it and try to force our religion on others. Some of us feign ignorance and paint our global majority religion as the victim in countries where we’re the majority. Still others like to say that Christianity carries no power as a worldwide, culturally entrenched, often state-sponsored religion.
No matter how you cut it, Christianity has material power. It’s had this power long enough to become deeply embedded into our theology. Through centuries of patriarchy, conquest, colonialism, and imperialism, we’ve imported notions of power into our conception of “gospel.” Ask almost any Christian about the “good news.”
Answers about the gospel will vary, but the majority of answers will be wrapped in the idea that Jesus Christ is the only way to live. The answers will almost universally be tailored so the the only way to live is by the cultural mores of the denomination or tradition which is doing the telling. Alongside of the power that Christianity wields is the story of how that power is the only right way for people to live.
I, for one, don’t buy either the power that Christianity wields or this gospel. Neither do many Christians who come from communities of the oppressed and abused. In this formulation of power and gospel, we see a people group who have set themselves up as the final, supreme moral authority. We see that it has most often come from European conquerors and White saviors who wanted land and the bodies upon that land to do their work for them.
This is Christian Supremacy. It has many accompanying supremacies. White supremacy is very common, often so tied to Christianity that it’s like a twin. Patriarchy is frequently intertwined, intermingled to the point where it can be hard to separate. There is economic supremacy, often in the forms of capitalism and classism. It should be no surprise that the very same voices in power who shaped the supremacy of European colonization would also create a supremacy for every other aspect of their identity.
Here’s the thing I’m still learning. Black, Latinx, and Asian theologians have taught me that the Christian Scriptures don’t have to be about supremacy. I was formed in Christian Supremacy for a lot longer than I’ve been formed in Christian humility. As a result, it’s been a decades long process to integrate what follows and I expect I will not be perfected ever on this earth.
So many of us have read the words of Philippians 2 in many different languages and translations.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honorPhilippians 2:3-11
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Paul urges us to have the attitude that Christ had. He says the attitude that Jesus had was one of giving up privilege and putting others above himself. That Jesus was interested in others for who they were; as women, as people of color, as folks who deviated from sexual norms. Not only interested, but thought of them as better than himself!
Many Christians and non-Christians will look at how God elevates Jesus so that everyone bends to Jesus. Void of the preceding text, on its own, we rightly would see this as more Christian Supremacy. Everyone bowing to Jesus and calling him Lord just because the text says he’s Lord. We must acknowledge that by itself this text is harmful.
When we read about the giving up of power, the elevating of others, and deferring to other people’s interests, that’s what we should also see here. If the God of Christians exists and Jesus is Lord like this, he’s not worthy of that title just because the text says so and we believe it. In our religion, Jesus is worthy precisely because of the attitude and acts of humility, deference, and giving away his power.
I don’t believe in Christian Supremacy precisely for this fact. As “little Christs” among our fellow humans, we have “Lorded” over them for centuries. Our fellow Christians have visited horror after horror upon others in the form of genocide, crusades, misogyny, witch hunts, demonization, holocaust, slavery, and more. Our power has made us and our picture of Jesus unworthy to be elevated by anybody.
We have power we don’t deserve, that we have used unjustly. It’s not time to grasp it harder in the form of Christian Nationalism or Christian political movements to restrict the freedom of others. We’ve collectively proven that we will abuse that power to benefit only a few powerful Christians. I believe it’s past time that we give up our power to others who are willing to have the attitude of Jesus Christ.
I believe it’s time to humble ourselves and restore our victims in repentance for our collective Christian Supremacy. For me, that might look like giving my money to groups which give children breakfast and help Black people level the field of opportunities. It might look like providing shelter and resources to people escaping harmful restrictions on their medical needs.
Restoring victims individually is going to look like a lot of different things. Restoring them collectively is going to look like institutions, such as the SBC, the ACNA, and the Catholic Church, paying for care of those abused by priests and pastors. It will look like institutions providing pay and opportunities for Black, Latinx, Asian, and LGBTQ+ scholars and their full participation in Christian life.
Repentance will look like more ideas and more sacrifice than I have either room on the page or imagination to conceive.
Repent we must.
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