July 10, 2020

Racism: One Tragic Outcome of Misunderstanding Grace

Inclusion. Photo by Bradley Huchteman at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Traditional Western Christian theology has not always served us or our world well.

As a particular example of this, I would refer to our accepted understandings of “grace” and its implications. The debates between medieval Roman Catholics and the Protestant reformers focused on the nature of grace as it applied to individuals and their standing before God. “How can I be saved?” was the question; “How can I go to heaven and avoid hell?” Given the historical situation as it was, it was a necessary debate. However, the overwhelming dogmatic shadow this constrained definition of grace cast over Western civilization and its history is criminally unfortunate. Catholic and Protestant battles over the nature of individual salvation coincided with the onset of European colonial expansion, and became part of the fire feeding its twin engines of religious conversion and economic exploitation of indigenous populations around the world.

I would contend that a radical misunderstanding of God’s grace in Christ lies at the very root of our struggles with evils like racism.

Some theologians saw problems early on in the era of discovery and conquest. The Valladolid debate (1550–1551) was an early moral and theological debate in Spain about the conquest of the Americas, whether or not it was justified to convert natives to Catholicism, and what relations should be between the European settlers and the natives of the New World.

Las Casas and Sepulveda

On the one side was Juan Ginés de Sepülveda, a prominent humanist and Greek scholar who justified conquest and evangelization by war and forcible conversion. His opponent, friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, in contrast, was a staunch advocate of peaceful and persuasive conversion. These two sides were dealing with a question that had been argued back and forth in Spain — were the indigenous peoples of the New World full, rational human beings, or were they complete “barbarians” who could not make rational decisions for themselves?

Though the Valladolid Debate signaled commendable ethical reflections on conquest and colonialism, the result did little to actually help Europeans see the people of the New World as anything more than “barbarians” (rational or not) to be conquered, converted, and ruled over. According to Bonar Ludwig Hernandez, “although the Spaniards actually sat down to discuss the fate of the Native Americans, the Indians did not benefit in any tangible way from the debate.” Nor did it do anything to stop the tide of colonialism and imperialism by Spain or other European nations. By 1914, a large majority of the world’s nations had been colonized by Europeans at some point.

This subject, of course, is as complex as history itself, and I’m not suggesting that all the blame for the attitudes and actions of Europeans toward the other peoples of the world should be laid at the feet of poor theology. However, I can’t help but think that the world and its history might have taken a much different course if Paul’s theology of grace had been understood more fully and applied more faithfully by the church. As Klasie pointed out in his excellent posts recently, the “racism” we know today in the West is not innate but deeply rooted in the colonialism and imperialism of our past, which fostered our own particular tribal “in-group” and “out-group” perspectives on people of various ethnicities and skin tones. The church often played a key role in this history.

But all this is directly contrary to Paul’s theology of grace in the New Testament. Paul’s conviction was that Jesus came to be Lord of all and to reconcile all people to God and one another. This is God’s good news, his gift of grace to the world.

Hear what John Barclay, author of the essential study, Paul and the Gift, says about the subject:

Paul’s theology of grace is not just about an individual’s self-understanding and status before God. It’s also about communities that crossed ethnic, social, and cultural boundaries. This is what made Paul so controversial in his day. His mission to the Gentiles involved telling them that they didn’t have to fit within the cultural boundaries of the Jewish tradition. In his letter to the Galatians, for instance, he strongly criticizes other Jewish Christians who say you have to fit in the Jewish cultural box in order to be Christian. Paul says no—God has not paid regard to that cultural box.

…What we take for granted as having worth—our place in a hierarchy, our class, our wealth, our education, you name it—does not count for anything when we are encountered by Christ. In Paul’s day, the main forms of hierarchy were built around gender, ethnicity, and legal status. Men were considered more important than women, Jews were considered more valuable than non-Jews, and a free person was considered more valuable than a slave. Paul says that in God’s eyes, none of these social boundaries matter. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (Gal. 3:28).

What I find so profound is the capacity of grace to dissolve our inherent and inherited systems—what we might call social capital. What counts before God is not what we pride ourselves on—or what we doubt ourselves on. What counts is simply that we are loved in Christ. This is massively liberating, not only to us as individuals but also to communities, because it gives them the capacity to reform and to be countercultural.

• John Barclay, What’s So Dangerous about Grace? (interview at CT)

Barclay says that Paul’s distinctive contribution to our understanding of grace is its incongruous nature. In the ancient world, patrons who gave gifts to beneficiaries were encouraged to find worthy recipients. But Paul learned that God’s favor was not bestowed in that manner. Paul observed that God had showered the gift of Christ upon Gentiles as well as Jews, those he formerly deemed unworthy. And Paul’s own experience confirmed this as well. He knew that it wasn’t because of his Jewish privileges or zeal that Jesus laid hold of him by grace. Barclay writes, “Paul thus identifies a divine initiative in the Christ-event that disregards taken-for-granted criteria of ethnicity, status, knowledge, virtue, or gender.”

In other words, Paul’s teaching about grace brings “into question every pre-existent classification of worth.” The gift of Christ comes to all, without regard for any of the categories we have established to determine our worthiness or unworthiness.

That’s why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16, Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh.” “According to the flesh” means according to the categories humans have set up. He is not saying that all these distinctions have disappeared, or shouldn’t ever be taken into account, only that grace renders them insignificant as “markers of worth.” The Galatians need not submit to Torah-observance to make themselves worthy recipients of God’s favor. Peter need not fear that eating with Gentiles will offend God’s standards. Grace teaches us that, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, Roman citizen or barbarian — the distinctions we erect in order to divide and organize our world into “worthy” and “unworthy” are no longer the categories by which we are to judge and relate to others.

Furthermore, as Paul emphasizes in Galatians, social practice is the necessary realization of Christ’s gift. In that epistle, he argues that the good news of grace in Christ is actually lost if not enacted in social relationships that challenge common cultural conceptions of worth and standing.

Social practice is not, for Paul, an addition to belief, a sequel to a status realizable in other terms: it is the expression of belief in Christ, the enactment of a “life” that can otherwise make no claim to be “alive.” (Barclay)

The Church’s long history of cooperation with Empire in reinforcing human standards and divisions rather than contradicting them in word and deed has nurtured the growth and spread of such evils as racism. Paul taught and demonstrated that God’s incongruous gift of grace in Christ is meant to form dissident communities which follow the Spirit whose fruit is love, welcoming the “other” rather than judging them by “fleshly” categories.

Imagine that.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    “On the one side was Juan Ginés de Sepülveda, a prominent humanist and Greek scholar who justified conquest and evangelization by war and forcible conversion. His opponent, friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, in contrast, was a staunch advocate of peaceful and persuasive conversion. These two sides were dealing with a question that had been argued back and forth in Spain — were the indigenous peoples of the New World full, rational human beings”

    comes to mind, this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTsitO4TXF8

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      Interesting (to me) bit of trivia – apparently the theme tune to the Mission was written *after* they shot one of the scenes with Gabriel playing his oboe, the actor (who I understand couldn’t play) had to just muck around playing with the keys. As a consequence, when they composed theme, they had to match it to the actor’s finger movements to avoid re-shooting the scene.

  2. Robert F says

    Did the Eastern Church, which has a concept of grace not as rooted in the Western Church’s individualistic concept of salvation, do any better? Did it cooperate with Empire any less? The history of Russia, where Eastern Orthodoxy was the state religion supported and enforced by the imperial institutions of Czar — Caesar, the Emperor– and aristocracy for a thousand years, with its institution of serfdom, which was for all practical purposes slavery, does not seem to indicate that it did. If racism was less of a problem in the Christian east, and not knowing the specifics of how race played out in the east I’m not sure if it was or wasn’t, that is likely to have been due to an accident of history and opportunity rather than theology. From the time of the Eastern Roman Empire through to the modern era, Eastern Orthodoxy had a hand-in-glove relationship with Empire, supporting the divine right of Emperor and Kings and the feudal rights of the aristocracy over vassals and serfs, reinforcing the social stratification and divisions of the societies where it held sway. I don’t think one can point to evidence that the Eastern Church’s less individualistic theology of salvation led to it being less invested in Empire or less likely to reinforce and support “human standards and divisions” than the West; just the opposite may be true, as it tended to sacralize the existing social order, and the individual’s place within it, with all its roles and relationships of dominance and subservience, resisting change or improvement of the already existing arrangement for individual or society.

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      I suppose it is possible that the individualistic concept of salvation in the west, and the church brjng less in lockstep with the ruling powers, may have been part of the driving force in the slow dismantling of slavery / serfdom there, at least for their own people. Race-based justifications of slavery then became necessary to justify the treating other people in a way they regarded as unacceptable treatment of their own. If you don’t see anything immoral in slavery in the first place, your justification for enslaving other people will simply be “because we can”.

      • Robert F says

        Don’t leave out the Enlightenment. Once you discover the Rights of Man as individual beings against the divine right of King/Emperor and aristocracy, it becomes morally obvious that it’s wrong to oppress the individual under the old feudal systems. If you want to continue to oppress, to enslave, you have to posit inferiority of some other group as a whole, defining them as less than human so that they do not possess the same rights. Neither Western nor Eastern Christianity historically had the concept of such Rights of Man. Because of its proximity to the Enlightenment, which partially developed out of the Reformation and the Roman Catholic reaction it elicited, Western Christianity absorbed much of the moral thinking and language of the Enlightenment’s discovery of the rights of individuals, and along with it the idea that those defined as not fully human are not entitled to those rights, and may be enslaved — even for their own “good”! In the Russian Christian east the idea that human individuals have inherent rights started to develop much later, because of distance from the Enlightenment, and got all mixed up in the Marxist revolutionary movement before full social development could occur.

        • “Once you discover the Rights of Man as individual beings against the divine right of King/Emperor and aristocracy, it becomes morally obvious that it’s wrong to oppress the individual under the old feudal systems. If you want to continue to oppress, to enslave, you have to posit inferiority of some other group as a whole, defining them as less than human so that they do not possess the same rights.”

          Because, well, we can’t NOT suppress and exploit others, now can we? Where’s the fun (and of course, profit) in that? What? Jesus was an anti-hierarchical, egalitarian pacifist who called for redistribution of wealth? No way! There’s gotta be a loophole there somewhere…

          • Robert F says

            The idea of the divine right of kings and aristocracy is deeply embedded in Christianity; I would say it is already embedded in much of the language of the New Testament. Very quickly the early Christian community strove to assure the local aristocratic leaders appointed by the Empire that they were no threat to the Emperor or imperial order, since the Kingdom of God was not of this world and they did not intend to overthrow the existing social order by political or military means. And most of the time in most places that assurance was effective in procuring a place in the existing imperial societies for Christians to live at peace, and the Christians indeed did all they could to be good, non-trouble making subjects whenever and wherever this was the case. Of course we all know there was significant trouble and persecution of Christians despite this, but when eventually Christianity passed over into becoming the religion of the Empire, it had no intention or desire to overthrow or change the imperial order of divine right of Emperor/king and the dominance of aristocracy. It harnessed itself to that order, not only sacralizing but baptizing it as ordained and intended of God.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Don’t leave out the Enlightenment.

          Perhaps. I take this quite differently: how very **LITTLE** the meta-narratives, theologies, and philosophies – and all the debates therein – actually matter. It is **VERY** easy to take them too seriously. They, demonstrably, swamped by economic and political currents; more often than not, I believe, they are bent to service those ends, rather than driving them.

          The Protestant Reformation was concurrent with the rise of Mercantilism, the embryonic stage of a “Middle Class”. Protestantism worked well for that rising power bloc. I take the economic unraveling off the feudal order to be the fuel in the engine of the Reformation, and Theologians stepped up to provide some narrative. Surely some feed-back occurs.

          A Theology rose to prominence that best suited the needs of the empire. 🙁

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Don’t leave out the Enlightenment. Once you discover the Rights of Man as individual beings against the divine right of King/Emperor and aristocracy, it becomes morally obvious that it’s wrong to oppress the individual under the old feudal systems. If you want to continue to oppress, to enslave, you have to posit inferiority of some other group as a whole, defining them as less than human so that they do not possess the same rights.

          Which is exactly what happened.
          “Scientific/Rational” Racism — even the modern definition of “Race” — is the Enlightement’s Dark Side.
          https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/06/taking-the-enlightenment-seriously-requires-talking-about-race.html

      • Robert F says

        I just think most of Christianity East and West, regardless of differences in theology of salvation, has a poor historical track record with regard to cooperation with Empire and the habit of approving oppression and enslavement in the support of Empire, and sacralizing oppressive feudal social relationships. That it got so thoroughly entangled with ideas of race in the West has to do with Christianity in the West itself getting tangled up in Enlightenment moral language and thinking, not with different doctrines of salvation.

        • Christiane says

          even in the Nordic countries, the treatment of the indigenous Saami people was much like the way that American Indian cultures were treated. The children of the Saami were sent away to missionary schools and forbidden to speak their native language, and to use the terms of their own culture. It was a brutal kind of oppression meant to ‘Christianize’ the indigenous Saami and turn them away from their ancient and beautiful culture.

          but the way in which ‘Empire’ extended its claws into new lands or into ancient cultures ‘in order to bring the faith’ was, of course, a sham where ‘Christianity’ became a front for colonization and oppression of Middle and South American cultures, of the American West,, of Hawaii, of India and many of the British ‘former’ colonies, now parts of the British Commonwealth . . . a sad history, this wiping out of cultures not so much for ‘spreading the faith’ as for greed and profit and the oppression of native peoples . . . .

          sometimes it is said that the ‘Christian far right’ is neither right nor Christian, but is a political movement which uses ‘Christianity’ for all manner of power grabs and controlling of people and wealth. . . . . . so if ‘dominionism’ is on the horizon for our own nation, lets keep human nature and world history in mind so that we can have some better perspective on what it is REALLY about

          • Dana Ames says

            Christiane, you need to know that it wasn’t that way with the Alaska Natives and the Orthodox Church. The first missionaries were monks, part of that quiet river I mention downthread. They always considered the Natives to be full humans and stood up for them against the fur trade bosses. They did not force conversation. They built schools in the Native communities for the children and did not send them away from their families or make them cut their hair or forbid them from speaking their languages. They did not cut down totems. They rather quickly learned all the major Alaskan Native languages and translated the service books into those languages. If a young man showed academic promise, they found a sponsor to send him to the University in Russia.

            More germane to today’s topic, they had no problem with the marital unions between the Russian fur traders and Native women. They brought sacramental normalizing of the relationships and encouraged the men to treat the women and children well.

            Dana

            • Dana Ames says

              “conversion”

              Damn auto-correct!

              D.

            • Norma Cenva says

              I’ve never heard this before.
              Quite the far cry from the depredations of the Spanish Conquistadores in Meso and South America, and the British Mercantilists who did pretty much the same in North America.
              Thanks for the info.

              • Burro (Mule) says

                An excellent book on this subject is Alaskan Missionary Spirituality by Michael Oleska.

                Things are never as grim as RobertF makes them out to be.

                There were some bright spots in the stories of the Evangelization of the New World on the part of both Catholics and Protestants. I’m thinking of Ss. Juniper Serra and Kateri Tekakwitha, along with the Jesuits in the Parana basin, as well as David Brainerd and John Eliot for the Prots.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If you don’t see anything immoral in slavery in the first place, your justification for enslaving other people will simply be “because we can”.

        With or without invoking “DEUS VULT!” for Cosmic-level Justification.

    • Not to mention Russia’s own program of expansion into native held territories (Siberia and Central Asia)…

      • Christiane says

        and the stealing of the nation’s riches by the Russian oligarchs . . . all great friends of Putin

        they put the money in foreign banks or ‘invest’ it in phony real estate deals (there is a tie here to US politics, but enough of that already)

        • Robert F says

          And Putin a great friend of the Russian Orthodox Church, that fully supports him and his imperial ambition to reconstitute the USSR’s former territory and sphere of influence.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            An old, old tradition in Russia.
            The Russian Orthodox Church sucks up to the Tsar like any other Court flatterer with access to POWER.
            In return for becoming the official State Religion/One True Church (Die Heretics!), they award the Tsar the Divine Right to rule (and conquer).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And Russians can be just as racist as anyone else.
        To a Muscovite (i.e. a True/Great Russian), Wogs begin at the Moscow Ring Road.

    • But it’s not just the “individualistic” view of grace/salvation, it is a failure to recognize the all-inclusive nature of grace/salvation and the fact that God’s gift is universally applicable — to all individuals regardless of status vis a vis human categories.

      Grace, for Paul, not only reconciled the human being with God, it leveled the playing field between all human beings before God. And, that grace is designed to also reconcile human beings to one another and create communities that reflect the all inclusive nature of God’s grace in Christ. THIS is the insight about grace that the Church missed.

      • Robert F says

        Grace, for Paul, not only reconciled the human being with God, it leveled the playing field between all human beings before God.

        It was supposed to do that in the Christian community — though it frequently failed even there — but not in the imperial social and political order. When Paul appealed for his rights against the magistrate, he was appealing to the Emperor, not to God. Paul believed the Emperor and his Empire were ordained by God to rightfully rule over the world, until the realization of the Eshaton.

        • Yes, it was to START in the Christian community, but God’s plan was never to stop there. The goal is the reconciliation of all creation, and the Christian community is to be a sign and witness of that. It is incontrovertible that Christianity had a profound impact on Western culture. My point is that its impact would have been even more powerful with a fuller understanding of grace.

          • Yes. But the problem starts with Christianity’s captivity from the beginning to sacralizing imperial social structures and ways of thinking, not Western Christianity’s individualistic theologies of salvation.

            • Which was probably inevitable when the banner of Christian thought and theology passed from the (mostly) Jewish early disciples to the disciples born and raised in gentile Roman culture.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            +1

    • Dana Ames says

      Yes, you’re right, we’ve been all that in the East, and more. The thing is, very little of the attribution of inferiority has had to do with race, in my understanding. It doesn’t take too much digging to find that ethnophyletism is condemned as sin, based on doctrine. That persons of a certain ethnicity will make war on other Orthodox is not done because of doctrine.

      Anyone interested should try to read up on the idea of synergy between the empire and the Church. This was the ideal, especially in the Late Roman Empire, from Constantine on. No sucking up to the emperor and no rubber-stamping in either direction, largely because of the Eastern doctrinal understanding of the full humanity of Christ. That we failed can’t be attributed to doctrine. Also, the LRE has a history of emperors coming from nowhere classes and rising quite spectacularly through the ranks of society/military.

      Finally, there has always been a mostly quiet underground river in both the LRE (aka the Byzantine Empire) and Imperial Russia – the faithful monastics. That tradition had a great influence for good even while empires were trying to suppress that influence. That’s the tradition from which Dostoyevsky was inspired.

      The revolutionaries in Russia were, to my knowledge, almost entirely of the educated privileged, elite upper classes and were mostly Nihilists who had for years rejected anything the Church had to say. Raskolnik was poor, but it was his attitude that dominated: some people are so superior that they have a right to kill the underclass. He didn’t get that outlook from Orthodoxy.

      Dana

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The revolutionaries in Russia were, to my knowledge, almost entirely of the educated privileged, elite upper classes…

        That fits with my observations of the Social Justice/Liberation Theology movement as filtered through Azusa Newman Center in the early Eighties. It was the “Yuppie Puppy” Rich Kids from the high-priced gated communities who were the most rabid Marxist-Leninists (with a Christian coat of paint). They seemed to embrace the most radical forms of Socialism as a 180-flip rebellion against Mummy and Dadsie.

      • “That we failed can’t be attributed to doctrine.”

        … isn’t that appealed to by every failed utopian idea?

  3. Michael Z says

    It’s not just our view of grace that’s individualistic – our understanding of sin is, too.

    I’d break sin into four categories: 1. particular “sins” that individuals commit, 2. the underlying “sin” or brokenness inside us that causes us to commit those sins, 3. “sins” that a society or other human organization commits, and 4. the underlying “sin” in that human organization that causes it to commit sins. If our focus is only on type 1, we can watch a police officer choke someone to death and say that it was wrong, but not ask ourselves what was broken inside that individual or the police or our society that led him to do that.

    This is also, of course, why conversations about ethics never get anywhere between conservatives and progressives in the US. The moral logic employed by conservatives is almost entirely focused on particular sins that individuals commit, whereas progressives are looking at all four layers of sin. For example, saying that a 30+ year old Roy Moore taking advantage of a 14 year old girl is wrong because of the power differential that exists between them and makes consent impossible, or that a pattern where black people are 2-3 times more likely to be imprisoned for the same crime is wrong because it’s structural inequality, requires more complex moral logic. Someone only looking at particular individual sins might label those events “promiscuity” or “unfairness” but not see the larger pattern that they’re a part of.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      This is a good comment.

    • Indeed. It’s easier to pretend that the system that benefits us is mostly just and fair, and that any problems are attributable to the flaws of those whom it fails.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        And when do those systems “fall”? When we realize they are unjust/unfair…. or when we realize they have stopped benefiting us? Even in Protest and Revolution we are inclined to ascribe far too much Morality to ourselves.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The moral logic employed by conservatives is almost entirely focused on particular sins that individuals commit, whereas progressives are looking at all four layers of sin.

      Which again ties in with the Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Mated with “I Thank Thee, LOOOOOOORD, That I Am Nothing Like Those Filthy Sinners Over There!” One-Upmanship.

  4. https://www.dailynews.com/2020/06/20/protesters-in-l-a-topple-statue-of-junipero-serra-who-helped-colonize-california/

    How does this action linked square up with the history presented in the article. Were the early Priests who brought the Catholic faith to the new world villains or Saints, acting in good faith. Are they to be judged by 21st century standards or in their own time period realm of knowledge.? Were not the Catholic leaders strictly thinking about spreading the true faith that would save the unsaved for their own eternal good? Did they make a mutual aid deal with the King to be conquer and slave, a win win situation? This is why history is so important and how we learn, change and grow for the better. Would the new world the Spanish conquered be better left alone? Very relevant to today’s headlines. This was a very informative piece. If I have missed the point again, I am sorry, I am not a good point getter. If my questions/comments are not relevant just ignore them, I will understand.

    • Serra was canonized in the last few years. At the very least, those who canonized him, who live now and — one would think — should know better yet chose to canonize him nevertheless, should be judged by current standards. But besides that, the Valladolid Debate mentioned in the post took place nearly two centuries before Serra’s life, and shows that even then there were people in the Church in influential positions who understood the value of human dignity, freedom, and rights as applied to European colonization of other parts of the world; let us judge the rest of that generation by the values that were available to their understanding in their own time as evidenced by their own contemporaries.

      • Yes. There were and always have been those who spoke truth to power. They are often ignored or sidelined by “history”, but they were there. And they, if the OT and NT are anywhere near true, are the standard for judgment, not those who made “reasonable” accomodations.

        • And it’s interesting that a humanist and classical scholar took the side of brutal colonization in the Vallodid debates, whereas a clergyman was opposed to it. This shows how values akin to later Enlightenment values could support slavery and exploitation on the basis of those subjected being deemed less than human.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > not those who made “reasonable” accomodations.

          I dunno, Abraham, David, Saul, Esther, and Nehemiah can all be read [by me at least] as accomidationists.

          Fighting from inside the belly of the beast is a very messy business. And we’ve all been eaten.

          • Fighting from inside the belly of the beast is a very messy business. And we’ve all been eaten.
            +1

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Serra was canonized in the last few years. At the very least, those who canonized him, who live now and — one would think — should know better yet chose to canonize him nevertheless, should be judged by current standards.

        And now his statues are getting torn down like Saddam’s after his overthrow (or Lenin’s after the Second Russian Revolution).

        • Robert F says

          Pulling down Serra’s statue is somewhere on a continuum between pulling down Saddam’s statue at one end, and blowing up the Buddhas of Bamyan at the other, but which it’s closer to is likely in the eye of the beholder. Is there an objective truth involved?

        • David Greene says

          Seattle bought one of those toppled Lenin statues from then Czechoslovakia and set it up in the funky Fremont neighborhood, not far from the Troll under the bridge.

    • In fact, those who set official European Christian ethical social values intentionally took a step backwards to accommodate the needs of colonization. It was the expedient thing to do, not the right thing, but they allowed themselves to be blinded by the lust for religious and political power.

    • “Are they to be judged by 21st century standards or in their own time period realm of knowledge?”

      We can choose or not choose to publicly honor such people. By their own standards, they may have been good and just, but do not all people like to believe that of themselves? From the perspective of natives, their legacy is much more questionable.

      “Were not the Catholic leaders strictly thinking about spreading the true faith that would save the unsaved for their own eternal good? ”

      Any “Gospel” that speaks of eternal goods while ignoring or condoning present evils is no Gospel at all. See the Book of James for examples.

      • There is no reason to keep on honoring them or the values they supported, especially not for Christians. In many cases, even some of their own contemporaries knew better.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Were the early Priests who brought the Catholic faith to the new world villains or Saints

      Both. There is no necessity to choose.

      Humanity is a mess.

      • All good comments above to a complicated, perplexing issue. The more good discussion into the history of not only what happened but why the better. I was vaguely aware of the debate within the Catholic Church about the support for Spanish colony missions but did know not the name or many details. The article fleshed it out and gives a new perspective. We cannot change history, we can learn from it and change , hopefully for the better or we can let history dominate and control our present actions.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The reason we know so much about Spanish atrocities in the New World were that Catholic priests documented them in an attempt to preserve the record and appeal to Church authorities to rein it in. Even Popes attempted to denounce enslaving the New World Natives, but they were just Old Men Cloistered in Rome who Didn’t Really Understand the Situation(TM).

          • In actually, they too were power players on the European stage at the time. Unfortunately for them, the Spanish/Holy Roman monarchs were far more powerful. Rome got sacked on several occasions because of Vatican/HRE power plays.

      • Robert F says

        Yes, both, but we shouldn’t expect them to be honored as Saints, or not to have their statues pulled down. I don’t care if Serra’s statue disappears forever, never to be seen again; and I don’t care if “Gone With the Wind” ends up gone with the wind.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > I don’t care if Serra’s statue disappears forever

          Sure; but then I don’t really care in anyone’s statue disappears forever. I’m fine with public spaces devoid of statues [although I do not believe that is going to happen].

          > I don’t care if “Gone With the Wind”

          This one baffles me. People, Buy a copy on Blu Ray! Problem solved. The content of streaming service libraries change every d___ damn.

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      “Were not the Catholic leaders strictly thinking about spreading the true faith that would save the unsaved for their own eternal good? Did they make a mutual aid deal with the King to be conquer and slave, a win win situation?”
      To get up on my favourite hobby-horse, that’s where the biggest theological misreading of Paul comes in. You can say there is a “level playing field” and insist that human social distinctions and measures of worth are irrelevant to whom grace is extended, bit if you still divide the world into the “saved” (which is always us lot) and the “damned” (which is them lot) you can justify any behaviour at all. Paul didn’t say (in Augustine’s flagrant re-write) that *all kinds of* people will be saved; he didn’t say that everyone has an equal *chance* of being saved regardless of position or race or social caste: what he said was, expressly, that Christ Jesus had saved everyone, that *all* would be saved, and the issue for individuals was how they would work out that salvation (and work it out they would) in whatever individual circumstances they found themselves.
      The unchurched “natives” can be categorised as not fully human because God himself categorises them as not fully human (indeed worthy of eternal torture) unless embraced by the light of Christ. Any measures can therefore be justified in saving them from this fate (and de Sepulveda was right). If, on the other hand, as I believe Paul says, they are already “saved”, and we will be united in Christ with them if not in this world then the next and in the eschaton, then the most we can and need do is help them along the road while they indeed help us (and de Las Casas was right). We are damned to bigotry and racism and prejudice not by judging who is saved and damned by the wrong standard, but by judging people as “saved” or “damned” at all.

      • Iain you win the Internet today. Great comment. Right on point.

        • Rick Ro. says

          +1. Certainly speaks to many of us who are here’s issue with Calvinism. Utterly depraved, except some are more utterly depraved than others, and those saved are the “elect,” who become quite “judgy.”

          • Yes, we Calvinists always seemed to exempt our own intellects from the effects of total depravity…

          • Calvinism certainly represents the extreme position on who’s-in/who’s-out, but Evangelicalism in all its forms that I’m aware of operates under the assumption that not all are “saved.” How many Evangelicals have even heard the term “Apocatastasis?”

      • Robert F says

        Yes, if all that matters is eternal salvation, then any means may be justified. If, however, salvation is given to all humanity in Christ, not something that has to be appropriated by the individual, then everybody can relax, and no need to baptize colonial conquests and slavery as means to convert, or the forced mass conversions and baptisms — sometimes of entire nations and peoples! — of the churches first millennia.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yes, if all that matters is eternal salvation, then any means may be justified.

          “So what if I rack him ’til he die? For I shall have Saved His Soul.”
          — “The Inquisitor”, Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    The debates between medieval Roman Catholics and the Protestant reformers focused on the nature of grace as it applied to individuals and their standing before God. “How can I be saved?” was the question; “How can I go to heaven and avoid hell?” Given the historical situation as it was, it was a necessary debate. However, the overwhelming dogmatic shadow this constrained definition of grace cast over Western civilization and its history is criminally unfortunate.

    The origin of the Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation?

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    That’s why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh.” “According to the flesh” means according to the categories humans have set up.

    Unfortunately, “according to the FLESH” has been redefined to mean Only Pelvic Issues.
    (I urge you to reread my epistle on Semantics and Redefinition, My Dear Wormwood…)

  7. Dana Ames says

    Also important to the evaluation of the actions of the Spanish missionaries is the dualistic view of a person that had come to Western theology through its philosophical basis. Because of this, it didn’t matter so much what was done to the body as long as the soul was saved. This was the premise behind using torture during the Inquisition – which arose alongside Renaissance Humanism, not earlier.

    Dana

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And the Renaissance also had a side effect of goinf Fanboy over any and all things Greco-Roman.
      “Romans enslaved others — So Must We!”
      “Romans used torture — So Must We!”
      “Rome had a Caesar — So Must We!”
      “Rome Ruled the World — So Must We!”