I just got back from Off the Map Live (Hear, Listen, Connect) and soon I’ll upload my photos of the event. Many have commented on what felt strange about seeing so many different kinds of people gathering to talk about Jesus and what following him should look like.
But that wasn’t the strangest thing to me. What has always seemed stranger to me, coming from more of a peace-church background, is the strange flip-flop across history that followers of Christ made as they flipflopped from oppressed Christians to a powerful Christianism. The Christian community in the first century was outside, and in many ways opposed to, the power-struggles and values of the society of its day — both Jewish and Roman. Yet the Christians were culturally relevant — they understood the weighty issues of the day, and respected and honored their hearers. Even the way Paul dealt with pagans and gnostics, by asking Timothy to remain there in Ephesus and engage them in clear but patient dialog, shows that the focus was not on power but on persuasive ideas.
What the early Christians offered was intensely interesting to virtually every segment of society. Kings and governors had to hear from them because so many people were violently opposed to their teachings, and the recent events in Jerusalem had gotten the notice of leaders throughout the civilized world. Christians were a pain to leaders, partly because they did not fear the only real powers the State could muster: economic sanctions or lethal force. They also acknowledged a higher order; they held the dictates of their own conscience and the heavenly realm above as being higher in authority than the secular state.
Today, the Christian community has made a strange flipflop. Yes, we still acknowledge the spiritual order and our own conscience as above the secular state. But Christianism seems to me to actually place secular issues above spiritual ones. Case in point, the strange flipflop of Pat Robertson to endorse Rudy Giuliani. Or the advocacy of a Mormon by others who claim to be guided by the Bible. Not that different, really, from the actions of most putative Christian leaders since the days of Constantine.
I think if we look at the large picture we see that what claims to be Christ’s kingdom has chosen to intertwine itself with the world system, and attempt to use money and political processes to gain access to the wheels of power. Instead of its historical, first century identification with the poor and oppressed, Christianism is today the preferred religion of many powerful, educated people.
Today the preservation of the environment is more likely to be advocated by atheists and agnostics than by Christians. The rights of oppressed people are more likely to be championed by secular or irreligious voices than by Christians. For me, the climate at Off The Map Live was a quite refreshing contrast to that trend.