It is an unfortunate, yet irrefutable truth, that Christianity – the religion that you and I hold so dear – does not bear up well under historical scrutiny.
This is something that we must admit to.
We must find our way to calling ourselves Christians even though Christians – people in pews and their leaders in pulpits in every corner of the world – have used the Bible and the teachings of Jesus to justify the most barbaric and immoral acts.
We need not venture beyond our shores to find one of the most horrible examples of Christianity being used to support evil purposes.
In his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass famously wrote:
I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,—a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,—and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst.
During the 1930’s, in the lead up to the second World War, Christians in Germany allowed themselves to be caught up in the ideological fervor that led them to launch a war of aggression.
Hitler appeared to have little difficulty securing the support of the German Protestant Church Confederation, which, in 1932 adopted the Nazi ideologies of expansionism and antisemitism that eventually led to the war and the holocaust. Though some churches refused, most of the Protestant churches consolidated to become the Reich Church. The symbol of this church was a cross that had a swastika emblazoned at its intersection.
Can you imagine?
Most of Hitler’s willing executioners professed to be Protestant Christians!
Around the same time, on the other side of the world, Japanese Christians seemed eager to get behind their country’s imperialist ambitions. On October 17th, 1940 a multitude of 20,000 Christians gathered at the Aoyama Mission School in Tokyo to compose the following statement:
Christians in Japan humbly offer our homage to the emperor… by the providence of heaven our rulers have been able to steer the destiny of the nation without making errors. We have no doubt that our national system of one emperor and subjects is incomparable throughout the world. We are now progressing towards the establishment of a new order within East Asia. We Christians respond positively to this national destiny. We are resolved to participate in this great work by uniting our denominations and leading the spiritual life of the people for the purpose of the realization of the national aim.
These are three of the most immoral moments in human history. And yet, in each case there were willing Christians who offered themselves wholly to these causes – causes that we now understand, all too clearly, to be utterly evil.
I am sure that many of these so-called Christians were using the authority given them by the church to further their own desire for power and influence. Evil aligns itself with power, and for many centuries the church was the most powerful institution around. Cynical people pretended to follow Jesus, because by doing so they could achieve their dark ends.
I am also quite certain that there were some pious Christians who earnestly believed that their actions in support of the dire movements were sanctioned by their religion, even by their God.
How could this be so?
Why have I taken us on this dark tour of history?
Why belabor the point? None of us did any of those horrible things, so why beat the bruise?
My purpose here is not to urge you to give up your faith.
I am a Christian minister.
That would be an abuse of the privilege of this pulpit.
I have brought us to this juncture, this morning, that we might look out at our world from a position of humility.
I ask you to understand that, as Christians, we must be humble…
Humble not only before our God, but before our fellow creatures as well.
We cannot, we must not pretend to be innocent.
Our religion has blood on its hands, and if we are to actually follow Jesus, we must take responsibility for our history.
I also emphasize humility, because it is from this place of self-awareness that, I hope, it is reasonable to reach out our siblings in faith – the Jewish and Muslim people who are now locked in a cycle of desperate violence and acknowledge that…
we could keep killing each other…
there is plenty of historical precedent for that course of action…
but, in truth, if we are honest with ourselves, the better way to be faithful to our God – the God we hold in common – would be to stop the killing.
Jews, Muslims, Christians…
We all carry the weight of history. None of us are innocent. We have all allowed the name of our God to be used to commit awful crimes.
In this, perhaps we are neighbors.
We live near each other.
And yet each of our faiths ask us, above all, to love God.
Each faith also shares the core assertion that all humans are made in the image of God, and that, in this way, share the inheritance of God’s sacredness.
The teaching that naturally grows from this core assertion – a teaching shared by all of our faiths – is that when we love each other, we show our love to God.
If these things are true, then the necessary theological conclusion that we all share is that we cannot kill each other.
Our God does not allow it.
In this too, we are neighbors.
We live on the same street.
an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Contrary to popular belief, when Jesus answered the lawyer he was not giving a Christian answer.
He was giving the Jewish answer.
Jesus, who was a Jew, knew the sacred texts of his people, and these words came directly from them.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
is a direct quote from Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5, and
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
comes directly from Leviticus 19, verse 18.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor. In July 1933, despite his concerted efforts, the majority of the Christian churches in Germany threw their support behind Hitler. In response to this, Bonhoeffer and his colleagues established a new denomination that was free of Nazi influence. The new denomination was known as the Confessing church.
While roughly one-third of the churches in Germany aligned with the Confessing Church and attempted to remain free of Nazi influence – almost none of these Christians actively spoke out against the war or the Holocaust. Bonhoeffer wrote and spoke against both. For this, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. Near the end of the war, Bonhoeffer was executed.
Yesterday morning I listened to a New York Times report about a man named Maoz Inon who runs a hostel in Tel Aviv.
On October 7th, when Hamas terrorists broke out of the Gaza Strip and staged their bloody raid on Israel, Mose received a desperate text from his parents. The text said that they had locked their doors, but that Hamas fighters were closing in on them.
It was the last that Moaz heard from his parents.
He learned, later, that the whole house was blown up and that his parents perished.
And yet, in the interview, Moaz said the following:
“I don’t stop crying. I’m crying for my parents. I’m crying for my friends. I’m crying for those who are kidnapped. I’m crying for the victims on the Palestinian side. And I’m crying for all the victims that are going to suffer.” “We don’t sleep at night, we don’t eat, we are under emotional trauma,” he said. “We are just broken. But from these traumatized days, we must learn the lessons from history. “What I’m saying is we have to stop doing what we were doing before. We need a new policy. Someone needs to be brave enough to stop the cycle of blood, dislike and violence that has been going on for a century.”
Violence is the easy way to respond to violence.
teach us the true way. The way that demands real courage.
This true way
is the way of God