Emperors don’t want the poor in spirit. They want loyalists.
Today I’m continuing my reflections on the recent CAC Conspire 2018 conference I attended. Last week I reflected on the thread of slavery and its legacy that ran through much of the conference. Today I want to focus on a single line.
Richard Rohr’s line above really caught my attention in terms of its relevance for understanding the cultural shifts happening in America today. Richard was speaking about the history of Christianity and the changes that took place after the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 AD. Overnight, Christianity changed from being an underground religion that brought hope to the powerless into the state religion, adhered to by leaders and sycophants who became Christians only because the Emperor did.
When leadership started to become Christian because it was politically expedient, rather than because of the message of Jesus, priorities changed. As Richard says, the Emperor didn’t want his political leaders to be poor in spirit. He wanted them to be strong. He also wanted them to be loyal to himself and to his regime.
I don’t often wade into political waters here on this blog, but today I will. President Trump wants the same type of loyalty as Emperor Constantine. As with Constantine, it’s less about loyalty to the structure of government than it is about personal loyalty, to him as ruler. As a result, Republican leaders who have chosen to stand behind Trump are shedding traditional notions of Christianity like an outdated skin, seemingly without any care for the consequences, or for the moral and spiritual whiplash they’re causing across the country.
This also means we’re getting a good sense for how those early “Christian” leaders might have looked and acted. Being poor in spirit—literally or figuratively—doesn’t matter. Following Jesus’ teachings isn’t important. A