The Roman Empire was sensitive to anything that could put its authority at risk. One such movement was spreading rapidly throughout the empire.
This movement told slaves and servants that they were valuable human beings, loved and worthwhile.
It told them to take control of their lives by choosing to live as the great people they were, to forgive, to love others unconditionally and to always do their best.
It told them that even though their situation was difficult, it wouldn’t stay that way. Their challenges would make them better and they would triumph over all adversity, either in this life or in the next.
Of course, we are talking about the early days of Christianity. The more draconian the empire’s efforts to stop it, the more it spread. The message “brought liberty to the captive and joy to those in sorrow.” It was a message of liberation and empowerment.
Unfortunately, Christianity then became the religion of those in power. In order to maintain control, they chose to de-emphasize the liberating message of Jesus. Church and political leaders stressed the authority of God and taught that their power was legitimized by the divine. They sowed a fear among the common people, telling them that if they did not submit to their lords, then not only would they suffer in this life, they would suffer for all eternity.
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The distortion of Christ’s message was used to legitimize feudalism, wars and colonialism. The fact that this was inconsistent with the Gospel was stated quite eloquently by the man who broke the yoke of British colonialism, Mohandas K. Gandhi. He said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Scandals and disillusionment are inevitable in a system that stresses unquestioning loyalty to those in positions of power. Quebec, for example, was once the bastion of Catholicism in Canada. While it can be argued that the Catholic church once used its powerful political influence to help preserve French Canadian culture, that same power was also misused by many Catholic leaders. It’s significant to note that the cultural renaissance that began in 1959, known as the Quiet Revolution, also resulted in a severe drop in church attendance in Quebec.
In many ways, the reduction of political influence in recent years has been very good for Christianity. It has caused churches to re-examine themselves and their message. It’s significant to note that many of them have outright apologized for their participation in such institutions as the residential school system in Canada and for allowing pedophiles to hide from justice.
With the rise in awareness about social injustice around the world and the role of churches in legitimizing this, many Christians are responding by re-emphasizing the liberating power of Christ’s message. If we add to this the growing awareness of the power of our own thoughts and the influence of positive Christian teachers, we can see more clearly what attracted people to Christianity in the first place.
It is not surprising that a humble man like Jesus of Nazareth became one of the most influential people in history. There is an undeniable truth to his message.
Spirituality is part of our human existence. We all have tremendous goodness within us. It’s liberating to forgive. There’s joy in love and service to others. We all face suffering and challenges, and we have the power within us to overcome them, if not in this world, then in the next.
Regardless of the political system or the religion that may dominate a society, the simple message of faith, hope and love will always triumph and endure. This is indeed good news for all people.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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