Occasionally, I end up going to one of those “Christian” stores, or I get some sort of advertisement from them. Where I live, they are called “Family Christian Stores” with an emphasis on the family part. In other parts of the country, such stores also exist, but with different names. We have all been to those kinds of places. When I was an evangelical, that was where you went to get a Bible or some accessory for it, but I still occasionally end up going there for one reason or another. These stores have books by Sarah Palin and Joel Osteen, and entire walls devoted to American flags and New International Versions. We all know the type.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an advertisement catalog from one of those stores, and for some reason I looked through it. First, there was a bunch of customized Bibles. Sort of like some sort of collector’s item, there was a bunch of needless varieties of Bibles for purchasing. I always see this whenever I go to any bookstore – people treating the Bible like some sort of fashion statement. What really annoyed me was when I saw this. They have this line of patriotic clothing, but it is not just patriotic. They mix Christianity into their patriotism in an amazing way. They even have a “Jesus Saves” shirt stylized to read “JesUSAves.” They literally made Jesus an American and linked Christian salvation to Americanism. They are mixing Christianity, capitalism, and the American state into one single chimera. Now, this is not new. I have known that they were doing this for a long time, but this example proved to be the ideal opportunity to bring up the issue.
There is a term to express the relationship between the arms industry, the military, and our government. It is the “military-industrial complex,” coined by Dwight D. Eisenhower back in 1961. In reality, however, the military-industrial complex can be seen as something much more than just the way the US military operates, because similar relationships between the state and industry have existed since the dawn of capitalism. Back when capitalism first started becoming popular 400 years ago, it was soon partnered with the emerging city- and nation-states in Europe to give rise to concentrated political and economic power, and under mercantile capitalism, large industries were partnered with the state to create monopolistic overseas empires. Even today, under corporate capitalism, it is the private sector that provides the munitions and technology that often supports the state, and they even buyout politicians. In return, we see the state providing tax breaks and police forces to protect their “private property” and contracts, and whenever the economy enters a recession or depression, the state swoops in to save the capitalists from ruin. For 400 years, the entire history of capitalism, the state and business have been in an inseparable partnership. Unfortunately, so has the church.
For a very long time, perhaps ever since the first generation of Christians died off, the church was on the road to supporting and enforcing the status quo. We like to blame it on Constantine, but it really goes back much further. Ever since this betrayal of the gospel by later Christians, the church has been partnered with the state, and it has abandoned the economic principles of the apostolic church in favor of whatever economic model the current empire is using. For the longest time, it was feudalism, and the church had armies of theologians working constantly to justify slavery and serfdom and petty wars of conquest. Today, the church in much of the world, and especially the First World, works to come up with all sorts of theological gymnastics to get around the gospel, so that an economic model based upon rampant individualism and consumerism, and countless wars, are justifiable. Looking at that “Christian store,” this is exactly what we are seeing.
Much of modern American Christianity is tied to capitalism and patriotism, and even those of us who think that we are separated from it, still benefit from it and take part in it involuntarily. The Bible that I use is not from some conservative evangelical publisher, it is from HarperCollins (a division of News Corp.), and most likely, there is blood on my hands for buying it. Mostly likely, a grossly underpaid worker in some foreign country made it, and the profits from it went to lining the pockets of the corporate elite. The patriotic religious apparel from “Family Christian Stores” was most likely made in a factory like the one that recently collapsed in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 poor workers. On top of that, think about what this patriotic religious merchandise promotes. Think about all of the “enemies” who are being slaughtered by soldiers and drones, where Jesus said to love and forgive them. Think about the police actions enforcing oppression. There are even military editions of the Bible.
There is a partnership like the military-industrial complex taking place in the church. There is has been a longtime partnership between the church’s ministerial establishment, the state, and the dominant economic system. Today, the church has been indoctrinating people about the American way of doing things. We have American flags in our sanctuaries, and we have preachers at presidential inaugurations. The Bible is used as a lucky charm to swear oaths upon, and where our missionaries go, so goes liberal capitalism. We praise soldiers as heroes, and give them New Testaments to carry around while they shoot at people overseas. There is a sickening partnership—a ministry-industrial complex—between the church, state, and dominant economic model.
I have been a member of two churches before I left to work on starting my own. The first was an Evangelical Free church, and I remember one election season when the church produced pamphlets of recommended political candidates. The other church was a conservative Presbyterian one. Not only was there a heroic mythology around the United States and its military, but one election season, the church had a representative from the Republican Party come to collect signatures. My pastor at the time said that he could not comment because of “separation of church and state,” but had he really wanted separation of church and state, he would not have welcome political organizations into the sanctuary to gain support. This is why we must openly acknowledge the existence of this ministry-industrial complex, because it is within our churches and communities right now. As you read this, in some sweatshop in Pakistan some shirt that reads “John 3:16” is being made, some Christian soldier is bombing an Afghan village, and some church is going to endorse some politician this next election. The good news that came to the poor, to the peacemakers, to the meek, and to the humble, now has a lot of blood on its hands, and people are not going to want to follow a messiah who is associated with that.