Immigrant children are currently being torn from their parents’ arms and locked in separate cells. Yet vast numbers of so-called evangelical Christians are silent or even supportive. The roots of Christian acceptance of this sort of evil may be found in a twisted form of Gnostic theology.
Gnosticism (the “g” is silent) is an ancient school of thought that shows up in various ways in the New Testament, especially the Gospel and the letters ascribed to John. Gnosticism has some good things going for it, but one dangerous belief is that the material realm is illusory or even wicked, whereas the spiritual realm is real and holy.
The separation of matter and spirit, and elevation of spirit as superior, serves the agenda of Empire, which wants bodies to be devalued. This belief gives justification to the oppression, enslavement and control of bodies, particularly Black and Brown bodies, women’s bodies, queer bodies and the body of the earth itself. Devaluing bodies justifies slavery as economics, rather than sacrilege. It justifies youth jails filled with Black boys as helpful institutions, instead of abominations. It justifies separating immigrant families as a deterring tactic, instead of the desecration of the holy.
From the moment the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, it tried hard to turn Jesus into a gnostic spiritualist. When Jesus says in his first sermon that he comes to “bring good news to the poor, release the captives, and liberate the oppressed,” voices of Empire say, “Well, on a spiritual level aren’t we all poor, captive and oppressed?” The Empire did not acknowledge that Jesus was an economically poor guy, not metaphorically poor. His nation was politically captive, not figuratively captive. His religion and culture were physically oppressed, not spiritually oppressed. Jesus used his life to work for their bodily liberation, just as much for their spiritual liberation. In fact the intertwining of spirit and body is the most foundational belief about Christ that a Christian can have.
Christian mystics hold that the notion of the incarnation is not just applicable to a thing that happened for three decades in the Middle East, but that the Incarnation is an eternal reality. Christ’s incarnation, while special in Jesus of Nazareth, is ultimately a window into a wider reality of God being present in all bodies, in all matter, in the fabric of the universe itself.
May the church re-awaken to the sacredness of matter and begin acting again like the land and bodies from all lands are dwelling places of God itself.
Rev. John Helmiere is the convener of Valley & Mountain. View previous Table Turning Theology columns.
Wait, there's more. Check out the full June 13 - June 19 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.