Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Being unequally yoked with our persecutors

The latest evidence of culture war, fear driven unequal yoking with unbelievers is taking place on social media as many Christians are gravitating toward a reflexive position of screaming about the President making a "moral equivalency" between the Crusades and the burning of a Jordanian fighter pilot by ISIS. First it would be helpful if the majority of people ranting about this perceived injustice would listen to President Obama's actual comments and second if they knew what the term "moral equivalency" means, because clearly they don't. As I posted previously in my post Obama Is Almost Always Wrong....But Not This Time, what the President said was uncharacteristically not completely off-base and/or insane. That hasn't stopped the "conservative" corners of evangelicalism from rallying to the side of Rome to defend  the Crusades with a elementary school playground argument (They stated it!). In the midst of this I have seen a lot of posts referencing token Crusades apologist and Roman Catholic Thomas Madden. Case in point, I have read posts appealing to Mr. Madden or penned by him in the American Enterprise Institute, National Review and even Kevin DeYoung writing for The GospelCoalition. Mr. Madden is certainly a qualified academic in every respect and a guy who knows more about the Crusades as a historical event than I ever will.

Having said all of that, keep in mind that Mr. Madden is a Roman Catholic and an apologist for not only the Crusades but also for the Inquisition. That is not a joke. An essay from a few years ago, The Real Inquisition, is full of choice quotes like these:

Its most startling conclusion is that the Inquisition was not so bad after all. Torture was rare and only about 1 percent of those brought before the Spanish Inquisition were actually executed.
Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community.
The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions.
As this new report confirms, most people accused of heresy by the Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentences suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely left the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Inquisition did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense, not the Church. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

Read further and you see Madden suggesting that the heretical Reformers made the Inquisitions seem far worse as a way to cover up "the 15-century gap between Christ’s institution of His Church and the founding of the Protestant churches". So in nutshell Madden argues: "Well sure some people were tortured and murdered but it wasn't as bad as it seems!"

We are apparently supposed to believe that the Roman church was an innocent by-stander serving to protect "heretics" who repented under the practice and threat of torture and murder. The Inquisition was actually a net positive that has been turned into a horrible myth by those darn Protestants who have no answer for why a vicious religious regime that tortured and murdered dissenters and kept the Scriptures as far away from those without a vested interest in perpetuating the system didn't have a lot of dissent to deal with. It is the same sort of risible logic used by those who feel the need to defend Calvin for the murder of Servetus. The difference of course ought to be obvious. I can recognize where Calvin was correct in matters of theology while not feeling the need to defend his actions regarding Servetus or some of his less charitable writings but for Thomas Madden there is a need to defend Rome no matter how heinous the behavior because considering the alternative undermines the entire house of cards.

For my fellow Christians, something to consider. Someone who defends men who persecuted the church and cheerfully murdered Christians for beliefs that most evangelicals commonly hold is someone that the church should be very reluctant to use as a source. What Madden seems to miss is that if even one person was executed by the state acting at the bequest of and as proxy for "the church", it is blasphemous and sinful. As far as I know Adolf Hitler didn't kill a single Jew but no one doubts his culpability for the Holocaust. In the same way hiding behind the subcontracting of your killing to control people and silence dissent by sending the state to do your dirty work doesn't absolve popes and inquisitors alike for their pronouncements which were de facto death sentences. Had the pope declared that murdering people for heresy was sinful and worthy of ex-communication I would imagine it would have stopped. Instead they chose to act as judge and jury while leaving the executioner part to the state. Since the state and the church were essentially indistinguishable other than a prohibition on "priests" actually doing the killing themselves, the argument that Rome was trying to save people is laughable on its face. So unreservedly quoting Madden by someone like Kevin DeYoung makes as much sense as using a pope as an authority on the Reformation. It would be nice to see some conservative brethren pointing out that the Inquisitions were evil, that the Crusades were a blasphemous co-opting of the name of Christ and that we should be seeking to love Muslims rather than finding excuses for sending yet another misguided and theologically bankrupt crusade to the Middle East

So really church, of all the issues to get critical of the President over (his devotion to legalized infanticide, his hypocritical flip-flop on marriage, his expansion of executive power, year after year of trillion dollar deficits, Obamacare, etc.), this is not one of them. It once again cements in the minds of those we are called to the Gospel that the church and the Western states are at war with them. That serves a lot of causes, mostly pagan causes, but does nothing for the cause of Christ. Our tendency to be perpetual aggrieved is unbecoming and juvenile. Maybe a thicker skin and greater humility is in order, along with a recognition that we shouldn't expect unbelievers like the President to understand the Kingdom.

As a final note in honor of Thomas Madden I present Mel Brooks on the Inquisition, one of my favorite movie scenes of all time (with some coarse language):


Curt Day said...

There is a new alliance between some conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics. What they have in common is that they gravitate around authoritarianism, especially when selectively applied to favorite American traditions. Their biggest complaint is that they have fallen behind in the culture war. This bothers them because what they want is to maintain Christianity's privileged position in society so it can legislate society's laws and control its mores.

This group's bend toward authoritarianism follows a worldwide political trend that crosses boundaries in the war on terror. Both the terrorists and the West have become more authoritarian especially since 9/11. So one might ask if the leftist criticism of the church has a significant degree of truth to it. That criticism is that the church is just another institution to maintain the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power.

Arthur Sido said...


I think both the left and right have some legitimate concerns about the church but both tend to be unable to divorce their preference for political coercion from the non-coercive nature of the Kingdom.

Curt Day said...

Not sure about what you mean regarding the non-coercive nature of the Kingdom when it comes to issues of death, theft, and environmental destruction. I say this because much of what the Church should address are serious transgressions of God's laws committed by groups, such as societies.

I think one thing the Church could do to rectify some of the legitimate concerns is to speak out regarding these concerns. Not that the Church should think of itself as an almost infallible source of wisdom about politics and economics, but at least it can point out the faults with the current system and move to help those who the system's victims.