A court in Italy has legally determined that Christianity is not a religion but as a social construct defined by charity. This particular court understands charity to be “respect for one’s fellow human beings.”
That’s nice. But, they’re wrong. Very, very wrong.
Christianity does indeed invite and encourage the love of your neighbor. However, this is not an idea that is exclusive to the Christian faith. It’s one that appears in every faith that values the Golden Rule so that I don’t understand quite how this court has determined that the Christian faith is not actually a religion. Um. Yes. We are. We are a religion from the Latin that you’ve misunderstood to be charity instead of love. The Greek in our religious text is agape which translates to love. Not charity. It’s not simple kindness. We’re called to love people which is much more than respect — and might I add, much harder to do. We are a religion from the Latin religos meaning “bind back” meaning that we do bind ourselves to some basic theological tenets.
In the United Church of Christ, this is the hardest concept to explain. We only require our members to submit to any doctrinal ideas. When we are baptized or join the church, we are asked to proclaim our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We nuance the language sometimes. When we talk about this with new members, we talk about the importance of other metaphors so that brother or teacher or guide might feel better than Lord and Savior. And then, at least in my ministry, we usually explain it in the social context of that time where claiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior means that Caesar is not. By making this proclamation of faith, we are claiming that this way of love is the radical way we choose to live in the world. And yes, that radical way includes loving our neighbor and respecting other human beings — but that’s not all.
In our denomination, we ask you to engage in your faith so that you can better understand God’s movements in your life to seek more justice and more peace. We don’t test our members. We ask them to share their testimony. There are historic examples of these testimonies, not tests; but personally, I’m far more interested in how we continue to tell the story of how Jesus is our Lord and Savior now.
|Podbrdo Crucifix Close-Up by sacerdotal|
That’s not the concern of this Italian court. Not entirely. They are concerned about crucifixes in classrooms and whether or not the placement of this symbol interferes with the European Court of Human Rights tenet that all parents have the right to teach their children their own faith. To respond to this, the court has determined that the crucifix is not a religious symbol but a secular one. I’m not making this up. I know it’s Italy. It’s a land where Catholic imagery adorns every structure. It’s the home of the Pope. I know. It’s everywhere, but my dear Italians, the fact that your culture is so intertwined with the Catholic faith does not mean that the crucifix is a symbol of democracy and national unity.
Again, I’m more interested in how we claim the story of Jesus Christ here and now. For me, that doesn’t include a large emphasis on the cross. Yes, my Lord and Savior died a horrible torturous death, but I do not worship that death. I don’t place symbols of that death in my home. I don’t wear them around my neck. (If this is a totally new idea to you, I suggest you read Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us and maybe even approach Holy Week with The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem.) I don’t choose the cross as the center of my faith, but I do understand it’s historical significance.
I know what this symbpl means to the Christian story. I know the value that it holds for many people who share my faith in that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. It is a symbol embedded in our story. It’s in each of the canonical gospel accounts as something that happened to our Christ. It is not a symbol of democracy or any national power. That’s something Constantine did. He put the cross on the shields of his army. It was his determination that made Christianity a national religion, but it was a bad choice on his part. He should have chosen another symbol like the early Christians did. They identified each other with the ichthys symbol. Now, in global Christianity, there is such emphasis on the cross that it seems that we don’t know what it means. While films appear like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it seems that we don’t full understand how this symbol expresses our faith. Or worse. We don’t know what our faith means anymore. Is that what is revealed in this court decision? Have we watered down our faith so much that we don’t understand what it means to claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior now?