This past week I have been reading Cornel West’s Democracy Matters, which for the most part has been an insightful read on the contemporary situation of American democracy. In one chapter, West looks at the face of American Christianity and declares that as Christians we have often capitulated to imperialism and nihilism, opting for power and wealth when we were really called to be humble and just. West calls this Constantinian Christianity, in reference to the wedding of empire and Christianity in the fourth century A.D. I have included below a direct quote from this author that I think offers some hard truths that we need to recognize about ourselves (as Christians):
“Power, might, size, status, and material possessions- all paraphernalia of the nihilism of the American empire- became major themes of American Christianity. It now sometimes seems that all Christians speak in one voice when in fact it is only that the loudness of the Constantinian element of American Christianity has so totally drowned out the prophetic voices. Imperial Christianity, market spirituality, money-obsessed churches, gospels of prosperity, prayers of let’s-make-a-deal with God or help me turn my wheel of fortune have become the prevailing voice of American Christianity. In this version of Christianity the precious blood at the foot of the cross becomes mere Kool-Aid to refresh eager upwardly mobile aspirants in the nihilistic American game of power and might. And there is hardly a word about social justice, resistance to institutional evil, or courage to confront the powers that be- with the glaring exception of abortion.” (pg. 167)
West also includes a brief sketch of contemporary views on how the church should engage in public discourse. In opposition to theologians like Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank, whose position is that the church should generally stay out of the discourse and be prophetic by being a counterculture, West believes that Christians should contribute and guide the discourse by taking a stance of being-in but not-of the secular world. West points directly to Martin Luther King, JR. as someone who positioned himself in the public world but did not compromise his prophetic identity. Some really good points here, but sometimes West gets disjointed in presenting his points. Overall a good read though.