In the year 312 C.E, the Christian movement made a wrong turn from which it has never recovered. In that year the Emperor Constantine was crossing the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber River into Rome in a battle that would lead to his becoming the emperor of the Roman Empire. While on the bridge Constantine reported seeing a cross in the sky beneath the Latin words “In Hoc Signo Vinces” which meant “In this sign, conquer.” Constantine took this sign as a vision from God and ordered all his soldiers to put crosses on their shields, and they ended up decisively winning the battle. Until that time, the Christian movement had been a small struggling sect separate but related to Judaism and held no prominent place in Roman society. However, after Constantine’s vision and conversion, Christianity became the religion of the empire, and this struggling sect inhabited and embraced the seat of power.
Not only did Constantine’s conversion lead to the persecution of the Jews, but that mindset of a triumphalist Christian mindset over the centuries has led to Crusades, inquisitions, wars, pogroms, genocide and a view of religion that is arrogant, controlling and divorced from the teachings of love, faith and justice it supposedly promotes. Most troubling for me is that fact that the cross, the symbol of ultimate self-sacrifice and love, has become for many non-Christian people, especially Jews and Moslems, a sign of violence, persecution and war.
While I am a product and indirect beneficiary of this history, like Carroll I find it sickening and repulsive. And like Carroll, I want to say that my faith in Christ stands against power as defined by politics, economics, and military might. My faith cannot affirm a church structure and polity built on hierarchy and a lack of respect for the dignity of people be they Jewish or African, a woman or a gay person. My view of faith cannot abide a triumphalist Christianity professed in hymns that have words like “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”
I don’t know who or what Constantine heard or saw on the Milvian Bridge, but I do know that the wholesale acceptance of that “affirmation” of Christianity by the most powerful person in the world at the time led the Christian movement away from the core values and beliefs that had shaped the movement for the previous 300 years. Christian leaders at that time made a huge blunder thinking that the emperors blessing was somehow God’s will. We have been paying the price ever since.
In 312 we took a wrong turn, and we need to find our way back home.