2. Two Crosses: A Divided Christianity

Second Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

Two Crosses: A Divided Christianity

“At the beginning of Christianity there were two crosses. One was a real cross, the other was a symbol.” Jürgen Moltmann

What are the origins of Christian nationalism? It did not begin with the earliest followers of Jesus, who sought to follow his “Way” and were often persecuted by Rome.

For the first three centuries after Jesus’s death and resurrection, Christianity was widely understood as being anti- imperial. His followers remembered the “real cross” upon which Jesus and so many others had been executed by the Roman Empire. Following his example, many Christians were martyred for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Roman emperor or serve in the Roman army. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the state religion in the fourth century, Rome began not only spreading but also enforcing this official religion under the icon of the cross. A theology that rationalized just war followed. Now soldiers were required to be baptized and to fight under the banner of a glorified cross to promote the spread of Christianity. The cross had become a symbol of the Holy Roman Empire.

During the past two thousand years, Christian understandings about the meaning of the cross have diverged. Dominant forms of Christianity have often been aligned with the State, as in the time of Constantine. This dynamic is at work today in US civil religion, which promotes American exceptionalism and celebrates the United States as a nation uniquely blessed by God. Christian nationalist groups have used the glorified cross of domination to symbolize racist, sexist, and antidemocratic movements that merge patriotic and religious symbols, as at the insurrection at the US Capitol.

Yet those who are called to follow Jesus are invited to remember the “real cross” upon which Jesus suffered and died. This means keeping alive the story of the nonviolent Jesus, his passion for the reign of God and his crucifixion at the hands of the powers, God’s vindication of his life and ministry in the resurrection, his ongoing presence among us, and life in the Spirit that enables us to follow him.

In this blog series on The Religious Right, which includes excerpts from my new book The Cross In the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The blog posts in this series will be:

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity (this post)
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

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Contact Sharon below to request a free PDF chapter of The Cross in the Midst of Creation, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

Online Book Launch Event

This online Launch Day Event celebrating the release of my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation, was hosted by Richenda Fairhurst on June 14 as part of the Multifaith Climate Cafe. This event focuses primarily on Chapter 4, “Creation Crucified: The Passion of the Earth.”  The host, Richenda Fairhurst, wrote an article and created video excerpts of our discussion, which begins as follows:

The Cross in the Midst of Creation is Rev. Delgado’s third book, following Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, now in a Second Edition, and Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice. The books comprise a trilogy twenty years in the making. The first book rose from faith-based activism, the second expanded into an overview of climate change based on John Wesley’s (Methodism’s primary founder and theologian) teachings on Social Holiness. With this latest book, Rev. Delgado moves into the very core of Christianity, the theology of the cross.

The story of the cross is at the center this new book, and of Christian faith and belief. From the beginning, there were many Christianities, many claiming to be the ‘only’ true faith. These many traditions reflect a garden of thought, love, and faithful expression. But there are also times when interpretations gain hold in ways that are violent and destructive. Theologies of empire, starting with Emperor Constantine, have historically taken us on paths of destruction. And today, as we see life destroyed where it should be flourishing, Rev. Delgado wants to call us back to the cross to try again to understand the deep revelation rising for this moment.

Rev. Delgado spoke about her love for creation as an essential reason for writing this book. But she also writes with a sense of grief and urgency. “I think, the final thing that got me to write [The Cross in the Midst of Creation] was the way that [the theology of the cross] was being distorted—the way the story of the cross is being misused.” It is deeply troubling to Rev. Delgado that “it’s been used in that way to promote the very values that Jesus rejected, the values of status, wealth, and worldly power—the opposite values of Jesus.”

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The Wood is Dry

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Wood is Dry

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:31

This morning the tears finally came. Friends, the wood is dry.  People are getting sick and dying from the pandemic, which is just getting started. In some places, like New York, the hospitals are beginning to get overrun.  Healthcare workers are overwhelmed and risking exposure every day, often without enough supplies, respirators, or protective equipment. Schools and businesses are closing, and people are being laid off faster than during the Great Depression. We are beginning to see shortages of food. Racial violence and domestic violence are increasing. Economic insecurity, anxiety, fear, and tensions are on the rise.

Yesterday, a two-trillion-dollar stimulus bill was signed into law. It will take some of the economic pressure off at least some of the people but will provide many times more money to bail out the industries that keep the current economic system going. This system is called a free-market economy, but everyone knows that the government always (so far) can find enough money to wage war or to bail out the banks or to subsidize favorite industries that “pay to play” in order to elect and lobby the very leaders who make the decisions about policies that end up siphoning even more of society’s wealth up to the top. This is an example of the Shock Doctrine at its worst—taking advantage of a crisis to install policies that transfer wealth to the already wealthy. While the bill offers money for medical necessities in for dealing with Covid 19, loans to small businesses, and grants and expanded unemployment insurance to people are suffering, it also offers much more in bailouts for big corporations. The Trump Administration’s Treasury Department will be able to leverage the $500 billion dollars many times over, to the tune of $4.5 trillion or more, far more than the amount given to the people in this hour of extreme need. It has even been called a “corporate coup.” (See article below)

I not only grieve for what our people are facing now. I am also furious that our lawmakers don’t take this opportunity to create a system that is not based on the God of money, a system with the purpose of caring for people and protecting our earth.

This grief and fury must have been what Jesus felt at times, when he challenged the religious and political leaders who supported from and benefited from the unjust Roman system of domination and occupation at the expense of the people.  They targeted him as a subversive and put him to death because the popular movement he led pointed to a new way of living, demonstrated an inclusive and egalitarian community based on compassion, and challenged the status quo. Jesus could see that if the Domination System targeted him at that time, when the Spirit of God was so active and apparent among him and his followers, it would continue to do so long after he was gone.

In Luke 23:26-31, we read that as Jesus made his way toward his crucifixion a great multitude of people “bewailed and lamented him.”  But he turned and addressed them saying: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The wood is dry.  But I’m encouraged because I see green shoots all around: in the people who reach out to each other in this time of pandemic, in health care workers and others who risk themselves and give their all for the common good, in those who care for the children, deliver food to elders, facilitate online connection, and try to raise people’s spirits, and in those who continue to strive for social, economic, and environmental justice and systemic change.

The seeds of resurrection are already planted.  With prayer, dedication to each other, and courage, we rise.

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Lent and COVID 19

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent and Covid 19

This Lenten season is unlike any other I have lived through, with the threat of serious illness and death all around, businesses shuttered, people losing their jobs, the stock market crashing, social isolation, and responsibilities that people don’t know how they can meet. So many of us are staying home in order to “flatten the curve” to keep the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms the health care system, while health care workers and others courageously carry on for our well-being, risking exposure every day.

This is the context of Lent this year.  The story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, his forty days in the wilderness, his betrayal by the Powers that be, and his journey to the cross resonate for those of us who see these events from his life long ago as an ongoing dynamic that continues in the world today. As theologian Dorothee Solle said, “In the midst of reality stands the cross.”

So far, I have it easier than many. I’m staying home. I’m experiencing a sense of spaciousness and appreciating the gift of time—more time for prayer (which we so badly need) and for other spiritual practices that foster a deeper relationship with God. I am also finding ways to contribute to family, community, and world from where I am, via telephone, by becoming more versed in Zoom, by catching up with work on our nonprofit, and by working to create a mutual aid group among our neighbors. There is plenty to keep me occupied.

But as always, this pandemic will disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable. Yes, elders (like me) are most vulnerable to dying of the virus, but others are seriously impacted even now, and will be as the weeks go on.  I think of the children whose lives have been changed so completely, who are cut off from school and friends; parents who work but have to stay home to care for their children; families who don’t have health insurance, people who are sick, disabled, or without permanent shelter, people who are already confined and socially isolated, elders without support. Surely emergency laws to protect our vulnerable neighbors should be a priority, not just during this pandemic, but always.

Countering these impacts will require us to not only to reach out in compassion to individuals, but also to work for justice. This means advocating for policies that protect the well-being of the most vulnerable and working to transform the current system, which is not designed for people or planet but for multiplying wealth for the people at the top. Although the actors have changed, the Domination System goes on, and the ruling Powers even today are often blind to what compassion and justice require. “None of the rulers of this [or any] age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8.

I will continue to stay home and immerse myself in God, but I will also be available to reach out to others in compassion and to work for justice, prioritizing the most vulnerable. I close with these words that Martin Luther wrote during a plague in 1527, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” After the plague he lived another nineteen years.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

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Lent: Going Deeper

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent:  Going Deeper

This post was published at the beginning of Lent in 2017 as “A Lenten Call to Resist.”  It is the first post of a Lenten series that offers a progressive Christian understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.   The links to the other posts in the series are below.

We enter the season of Lent at a time of peril in our nation and world.  People are rising up, some emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of the alt-right, and some determined to stand in the way of injustice and oppression in all its forms.  Christians have a particular responsibility, since without the high turnout of white Evangelical voters Trump would probably not be president today.

As Christians, where we stand politically has a lot to do with how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ death.  “The word of the cross” is at the heart of Christian faith.  We might prefer going from the glory of Transfiguration Sunday to the joy of Easter without reflecting on the drama that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.  But as Dorothee Solle said,

“Naturally one can develop a theology that no longer has the somber cross at its center.  Such an attempt deserves criticism not because it bids farewell to Christianity as it has been, but because it turns aside from reality, in the midst of which stands the cross.”

The execution of Jesus was not a one-time thing.  Christ continues to be crucified as today’s ruling Powers enlist human beings in their service, subject the most vulnerable to abuse and oppression, wreak violence around the world, and plunder the earth for their own gain.  Our goal during Lent is to remember the path Jesus walked and accompany him on his way to the cross, to fully surrender to God as he did, and to act in solidarity with those who are being crucified on the cross of Empire today, as he was so long ago.

My blog postings during this season focus on how people who seek to follow Jesus can throw off despair and complacency, expose disempowering and hate-filled teachings that claim to be Christian, and reclaim the gospel (good news) as a force for peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.  If you follow this blog, please post your comments.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This series, A Lenten Call to Resist, includes the following posts:

Resisting Cultural Possession

Rejecting Theological Sadism

Jesus Was Not Born to Die

The Subversive Jesus

The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified

Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age

God’s Restorative Justice

Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Beale with crosses

Good Friday at Beale, 2015

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