A Christian Plot to Take Over the World?
This post continues a discussion started in posts on this blog by James Arnold and Stephen Hale. Yeah, Christians want to convert everyone else in the world, but they have no business trying to take it over!
Some people accuse Christians of wanting to take over the world. Just punch “Christians take over the world” into Google, and you will find different theories about Christian schemes for world domination. You will have to sift through stories about a Christian group accusing Muslims or environmentalists or communists of wanting to take over the world, but that happens in the world of internet search. Well, is there a plot? Yeah, sort of. Are there Christian elected officials who have scary friends? Certainly.
Christianity is a comprehensive belief system. It commands obedience where convenience is preferred and submission when autonomy is preferred. What Christians believe about the world’s beginning is connected to what they believe about its ending, but Christianity governs the middle most strictly of all. Therefore, it is easy to see why Christians might take their beliefs very seriously, although they may take themselves too seriously. It is also easy to see that other people might think Christians want to take over the world.
I recently discovered a movement called Christian Reconstructionism. Hard-core Reconstructionists talk about something called “theonomy,” which is a variation on the theme of theocracy: in theonomy, the government uses the Bible to make laws to govern the family, the church, and the civil government. It is a primarily American thing, and if I understand it correctly, its proponents seek to make the United States of America into a Christian state, moving toward Christian dominion in the whole world.
I will not now dispute the theological claims of Christian Reconstructionism, but I will argue against its intermediate goal, namely the creation of a Christian state. I will make an argument from history, not from the Bible. I present the Byzantine Empire, Christian Europe, and the Taiping Rebellion in China as arguments against the wisdom of establishing a Christian state authority for the sake of Christianity itself.
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, ending the Byzantine Empire. This was the end of the remains of the Roman Empire, which had turned Christian in its final centuries. If it was God’s will to Christianize the very Roman Empire that formerly persecuted Christians, that was done; divine irony was accomplished. It seems also to have been the will of God to roll up and throw away the splendor of that empire. In the Bible, you see God plant and uproot kings and kingdoms as he will: why should he not do so with nominally Christian states?
Europe is theoretically known as Christian, but Europe is also known for its long and bloody wars. Indeed, it was one of the prime venues for the two most destructive wars of the twentieth century. Christian Europe stands as an argument against the notion that a Christian state (or collection of Christian states) will somehow rise above ethnic, sectarian, and political conflicts. If you want to argue that God used Europe to advance his purposes in the world, then you argue in favor of God’s powers of redemption rather than the overall goodness of Europe. Europe can provide models for what Christians should and should not do if they suddenly find themselves in possession of a country, but it does not stand as an argument in favor of establishing a Christian state.
The Taiping Rebellion against the Qing Dynasty in China lasted from 1850-1864. Here is roughly how things went: a Chinese man named Hong Xiuquan read a tract from Protestant Christian missionaries. He sort of became a Christian, and he founded a movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and establish a Heavenly Kingdom in its stead. The Qing called in European experts to help them put down the revolt, and when all was said and done, 25,000,000 people were dead. The Taiping Rebellion illustrates what happens when ethnic tension and folk religion loosely combine with Christianity. The Qing Dynasty was founded by the Manchu people, not the majority Han; the rebellion was partly against the supremacy of the Manchus. The rebels did not have good administration in the areas they controlled, and the moral bankruptcy of the leaders destroyed the movement from the inside.
When Christians resort to political power to achieve things that only God can do, they work against God. Christians usually want everyone else in the world to become Christians–I do not think this is a secret–but Christians should not take the places of Pinky and the Brain. Even if Christians managed to take over the world, what would they do with it? In the end, I think the Reconstructionists’ theonomy would give American Christianity too much influence on the world scene. God plants and tears up countries as he will, so making one of them a “Christian” state would not necessarily make God like it more.