Let's Face It, Christianity Has Been an Accomplice to More Wars and Genocides Than Any Other Religion
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Like the vast majority of Christian religious leaders of his era, Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Reformation, met the definition of a “Constantinian” Christian, that is a Christian who espoused theological teachings that were tolerant of violence and accepted non-democratic, authoritarian and male-dominant practices. Those teachings represented the theological framework of the Christian church that became the state religion starting with the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early Fourth Century.
Luther also was an Augustinian monk, an order named after Augustine of Hippo, who died in 430 and was later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. St. Augustine regarded the nonviolent ethical teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as simply metaphorical and therefore irrelevant in times of crisis. Augustine epitomized Constantinian Christianity, and Luther was a good student of Augustine.
Indeed, most of the influential religious leaders of the 1500s (including Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII and the various popes) seemed to have an unwritten ecumenical agreement that you could kill one another and still be following Jesus. A cursory reading of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation Wars that drenched Europe in the blood of Christian killing Christian in the 16th Century will attest to that statement.
Constantinian-type Christianity (in stark contrast to Sermon on the Mount Christianity, which was the original form of that religion and the norm during the first few generations of its existence) follows a number of aberrant, anti-gospel, violence-tolerant church teachings that had been blessed by the murderous Emperor Constantine. Many of those teachings were made doctrinal by Augustine.
Constantine, it should be pointed out, was a ruthless military dictator who had rivals and even had members of his family killed. He was never a Christian in his lifetime and only consented to being baptized when he was on his deathbed. Augustine shaped his theology to be in conformity with the authoritarian, obedience-demanding, pro-violence, justified-war politics of the emperor; and Luther followed suit.
The Lutheran Church
Luther’s reformation attempts created great schisms in Christianity when he tried to reform a corrupted Roman Catholic Church by endorsing violent means and therefore predictably failed to bring any peaceful Christ-like transformation to the “reformed” church. (See the horrific details of the massacres in the Peasant’s War of 1525 – that Luther endorsed and that ruthlessly put down a peasant’s liberation movement.)
I was born and raised Lutheran but have always been uncomfortable with Lutheranism’s tendencies towards conservative politics, conservative theologies, flag-waving patriotism and teachings that tend to justify (or be silent about) American war-making. (Those tendencies are also prevalent in other American Protestant churches.)
After considerable study of the history and theology of the earliest form of Christianity, I now know that the Protestant church’s simplistic acceptance of their nation’s wars is totally contrary to the ethical teachings of the nonviolent Jesus which was faithfully taught by the earliest communities of faith.
After being confronted with these truths about the early pacifist church, my theology and politics have both moved to the opposite end of the theological spectrum of the church of my birth, toward the left-wing, pacifist, anti-fascist, nonviolent teachings of Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. and away from the traditional violence-justifying doctrines of Augustine and Martin Luther.
In Luther’s defense however, he did make three insightful statements which resonate with me and which give me some hope that the Protestant churches might wake up some day and start teaching what Jesus taught.
As has been the experience of so many other non-violent (and therefore anti-war) Christian activists, King’s commitment to the Sermon on the Mount ethics of Jesus has shaped my response to America’s current Bush/Obama foreign policies of aggressive militarism and perpetual war (and the inevitable civilian deaths, refugeeism, starvation, pestilence and the spiritual and economic bankruptcy of the nations that participate in war).