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The Subversion of Jesus by the Rich and Powerful – Part One

Violence against people of color. Violence against women. Authoritarian and confused reaction to a pandemic. A fundamentalist distortion of Christianity. And controlling influence by the rich and powerful. These are not independent and isolated phenomena.They are interconnected realities not to be seen in isolation. Nor are they new. They represent an integrated pattern and it is no stretch of the imagination to realize that this pattern has its roots in the biblical New Testament itself.

A dark process settled upon the early church between the life of Jesus and the end of the first century. The outline of the devolution is simple and clear. Jesus taught love. He was an outlier who did not live by the norms of society, and in his gathered community of disciples, men and women, oppression of any other was non-existent. There was no misogyny, no slavery, no patriarchy and no patronism, and Jesus was crucified because the way they lived was a direct challenge to the state.

Contrast that to the situation we find clearly expressed in the Christian Writings themselves. Whether it be from the New Testament writings of Timothy, Peter, Ephesians, Colossians, or Titus, the order of society and the order of the church is spelled out with precise clarity: wives are to be subject to their husbands in all matters, slaves are to obey their masters, no matter how cruel they may be, and everyone is to be submissive to rulers and authorities. Furthermore, priests and bishops now rule the church.

Whatever we may not know, what we do know is that these ideas were present and perhaps prevalent in the church of the later first century. This is unbelievable. The contrast between Jesus and what the church had become is total. The systemic structural underpinning of violence against women and people of color on the one hand, and authoritarianism and submissiveness on the other, are basic tenets of the New Testament itself. That conclusion is inescapable.

Christian fundamentalists today live with the illusion that they are faithful followers of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are, instead, a product of the first century church, which had turned away from Jesus and returned to the authoritarian patriarchy prevalent in society. This abandonment of Jesus and the reinstatement of patriarchal violence was, no doubt, accomplished by the machinations of the greedy rich and powerful, those who stood to lose everything should Jesus succeed in his attempt to create a new way. These wealthy, in concert with the priests and bishops, contorted Jesus’ gospel of love and created a religious institution that justified sexism, racism, and authoritarianism. The details of this transformation will be examined in future reflections.

For the moment let us remember these two basic facts: There is a stark contrast between Jesus himself and what the church became as the first century wore on. It is crucial that we see this transformation. Secondly, what the church became was largely due to the tactics of the rich and powerful, who were working to make the church into what they wanted it to be. Once we understand these truths, the causes of today’s turmoil comes more clearly into focus.

Read Part Two Here

Read Part Three Here

Read Part Four Here

Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith, and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Norwich, VT.

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