A Sermon, ex Cathedra
Our New Testament reading today comes from the tenth chapter of Romans, verses nine through thirteen:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
My sermon today comes from the twelfth verse. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.
(This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.)
You may be seated.
David P. Goldman tells us that ethno-nationalism is the “snake” in the garden of Christianity. Jew and Gentile are, in their sinfulness, alike in God’s eyes, but from each He demands something different. The gospel of Christ proclaims that although God has already chosen a People, He has invited the rest of the world to be grafted on to the Tree of Life so long as they serve Christ first and foremost, lowering their earthly masters and loyalties to secondary status. The Church—understood as that invisible and glorious entity unfurled across time and space—is the one true nation to which all Christians belong. “King first, God after” or “Ethnicity first, God after” is to be completely inverted. Goldman quotes Orthodox theologian Michael Wyschogrod to help us understand this inversion:
As understood by Christianity, a model of dual loyalty develops. The individual belongs both to a nation and to a religion. He is a Frenchman and a Christian or a German and a Christian. As Frenchman or German, he is a member of a national community with territorial and linguistic boundaries. But he is also a member of the supra-national church which has no national boundaries. … The church is a spiritual fellowship into which men bring their national identities because they possess these identities but not because such identities play a role in the church. The church thus understands itself as having universalized the national election of Israel by opening it to all men who, in entering the church, enter a spiritualized, universalized new Israel.
Jews, the called and elected People of God in the Flesh, are the only people who possess a Divine Right to serve both religion and nation, religion and ethnicity equally. To everyone else, the salvation of God is offered through Christ, but only on condition of ethnic, cultural, and national abnegation. Perhaps not abnegation; rather, subjugation. Ethnic, cultural, or national identity that exists prior to or apart from the convert’s Christian identity is to be rendered less important. A Christian’s true master is Christ. It is heresy to serve Christ and _______.
Give unto Caesar what is Ceasar’s. But you cannot serve both God and national currency. A choice must be made. Leo Tolstoy provides the quintessentially neopuritan exegesis of Matthew 22:21:
Not only the complete misunderstanding of Christ’s teaching, but also a complete unwillingness to understand it could have admitted that striking misinterpretation, according to which the words, “To Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s,” signify the necessity of obeying Cæsar. In the first place, there is no mention there of obedience; in the second place, if Christ recognized the obligatoriness of paying tribute, and so of obedience, He would have said directly, “Yes, it should be paid;” but He says, “Give to Cæsar what is his, that is, the money, and give your life to God,” and with these latter words He not only does not encourage any obedience to power, but, on the contrary, points out that in everything which belongs to God it is not right to obey Cæsar.
To be Christian is to cease being pagan—that is, to be Christian means no longer identifying as Roman or Greek or any other ethno-nationality, at least as regards “everything which belongs to God,” that is, as regards everything. Gender included. Galations 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The New Testament creates a hierarchy of loyalties for Christians, with Christ at the top, family second, and everything else (such as nationality) a very, very distant third. Goldman writes that the greatest sins of the Christian world have been committed by people attempting to serve both Christ and ethnicity or nation equally, a fleshly privilege granted only to the Jews. In other words, there can be no question of a Christian nationalism or a Christian nation because such a political structure is implicitly forbidden in the New Testament. The Church is the only Christian nation, and she is wonderfully universal, gloriously supra-national, blessedly diverse.
It is our commission as Christians to preach the Good News of Christ, to make Christians of all nations, that is, to get rid of nations in exchange for the Church, united under Christ . . .
Or, if we decide, as most of us do today, that Christ was in fact a mortal man, and that God is nothing more than a state of mind or an ecstatic oneness with creation, we nevertheless must continue to fulfill the Great Commission. We must strive to make people serve, above all else, if not Christ, then a de-Christianized Christian morality, subjugating their national or ethnic interests to the worship of this morality. And because we know that Christ was a mortal man and the New Testament a culturally situated document, we can freely tweak our de-Christianized Christian morality as we spread its good news, amplifying certain elements and removing others altogether. It all depends on what tactics will make people give up their national or tribal identities (even if those tactics might backfire).
Switching out of True Believer mode, I can point out the obvious flaw in this Spengler-inspired exegesis: the idealistic exhortation to “put on Christ” at the expense of all racial, ethnic, or gendered interests was simply that: an idealistic exhortation. From the very beginning, Christian converts did not cease being _______ in order to become Christians. They remained Greek Christians, Roman Christians, Berber Christians, Ottoman Christians, Russian Christians . . . . so on and so forth. The history of Christianity is the history of peoples refusing to cease being peoples for the sake of becoming the Church. Medieval Europe under Rome was as close as this world ever came to a political structure that regularly subjugated ethnic or national concerns (nominally) to a greater Christian loyalty.
We shall never see such a structure again. We shall not see it because people no longer believe in Christ. More distressingly, we shall not see it because the only things to which people are willing to subjugate their ethnic or national loyalties are not Christ but various incarnations of the Son of Morning.