Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
Spreading the Gospel & the Doctrine of Discovery
For non-Europeans, coming in contact with the gospel was never good news.
For instance, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the “gospel” was defined by Catholic popes as the religious, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians. It became the de facto international law of that time establishing the principle that when a nation “discovers” land, it directly acquires rights on that land.
Of course, they added pious-sounding language to the papal bulls that established the “Doctrine of Discovery” to include the attempt to convert heathens to the Christian faith…fulfilling the Great Commission. But this was never the primary motive. The minute any native population refused conversion; they were eliminated. It is notable that within 75 years of the Doctrine of Discovery, the native populations of the western hemisphere were reduced by 95%. For those that survived “discovery,” it led to the decimation of their lives, culture, language, and any meaningful existence.
The doctrine of discovery was also the justification for the wholesale destruction of West African tribal societies through the slave trade. During the period of European enslavement of Africans, 12 million people were captured, enslaved, and shipped to the Western Hemisphere. Two million of them would not make it through the “middle passage.” Africans were not Christians. Some were Muslims, and therefore subject to the “good news” of the “gospel” which was enslavement. The Great Commission was more like the Great Cultural Catastrophe.
Additionally, the gospel “good news” was not that great for enslaved people in the United States, even when they did adopt the Christian faith. Enslavers justified the enslavement of Black people by appealing to “God’s will” and the Biblical mythology of the “sons of Ham” being created by God for slavery. Christian nationalists in the Confederacy fought for their vision of white supremacy to defend their “Christian” way of life. It was the Doctrine of Discovery updated to the 19th century. Then good Christian Nationalists implemented a Jim Crow system after the Civil War and justified it again with the gospel good news. It was now God’s will to segregate and discriminate against people of color.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Great Commission was taken up by Protestants sending missionaries to the poor souls in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa. The presumed “gospel” by this point included the implied idea that not only should these deprived people adopt Christianity, but it should be a Western Christianity with all the cultural features of Euro-American society. It was another pretext for colonization as these missionaries, who referred to their work as the “white man’s burden”, worked alongside conquering armies to impose Western-style governments while helping themselves to the resources and riches of those countries. The poverty of many of these countries still lingers today because of the so-called, Great Commission.
21st Century Great Commission
What is this “gospel” that today’s Christians want to take into all the world? What will it look like? We already know because they have been hard at work bringing their gospel to places like Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa. Here is what the current crop of Christian Nationalists wants to impose on people because they believe they have been given all authority by God to do so:
Ban any and all gay-oriented literature, public expressions, marriages, gathering places, or any other scintilla of existence for the LGBTQ+ community. That is the gospel. I’ll return to this one in a moment.
Ban the teaching of CRT which is a code phrase for teaching children the real history of racism and white supremacy in the history of the country. The reason for this is simple. The gospel as defined in history has always been associated with white-patriarchal colonialism and domination. If kids were to figure this out, it would unmask the current movement of Christian Nationalists.
Control and ban books. It is no surprise most of the books being targeted are those written by marginalized authors. The minds of young people must not be filled with any alternate philosophy that brings doubt to the authority that Evangelical Christians claim over society.
Ban abortions and control women’s bodies. From the beginning, Patriarchy has been part of the “Christian” gospel inherent in the doctrine of discovery, the imperialist missionary movement, white supremacy, and today’s efforts to promote more births of white babies.
There is your 21st-century version of the “good news”…the gospel of Jesus Christ that modern-day Christian Nationalists not only promote in the United States, but worldwide. The Great Commission of Jesus had worldwide implications even though the known world at that time was much smaller than it is today. But today’s evangelical movement believes they have the authority to export their supposed gospel to other parts of the world.
Conspicuously absent from modern Evangelical definitions of the “good news” is any reference to the moral or ethical teachings of Jesus. Nothing from the Sermon on the Mount. Nothing about do this for the least of these. Nothing about being peacemakers. Nothing about “the first shall be last.” The gospel has been completely reduced to a few culture war issues that coincidentally help conservative politicians get elected in red states.
The Neo-Colonialism of the “Good News”
As the United States began legalizing same-sex marriages and culturally became more accepting of such relationships in the 2000s, Evangelicals turned their attention to other parts of the world where their homophobia would have more clout and impact. In 2009, American evangelicals held a three-day conference in Kampala to expose the “gay agenda.” From then on, anti-gay legislation has worked its way through that country’s legislature until this year, when the death penalty was approved for aggravated homosexuality…the gospel, good news! It is the “Family Watch International,” an Arizona-based evangelical homophobic religious group that continues to foment this type of fear and hatred of the gay community throughout Africa.
But the Evangelical Great Commission doesn’t stop in Africa. Since the 2000s, there has been a concerted effort to ally itself with the conservative Russian Orthodox church. Since 2014, Russia has been passing anti-gay and anti-abortion legislation with the blessing of both President Putin and the Orthodox Church in that country. The law criminalizes homosexuality and abortions. Not coincidentally, the Russian laws borrow heavily from mainstream evangelical and conservative politicians in the United States and Europe.
Lyubox Erofeeva, executive director of the Russian Association for Population and Development, a “women’s advocacy group,” said, “It was 100 percent clear that everything was copied from the experience of American fundamentalists and conservative circles of several European countries…” The Russian Orthodox church has come to view American Evangelicals as partners and allies in their march to strip rights from women and the gay community.
If you are looking for a rational explanation for the affinity that the extreme right, including Christian Nationalist politicians express toward pro-Putin policies, you can begin to look at the money that flows from American evangelical organizations to their colleagues in Russia. Christian Nationalists have come to view Moscow as the bastion of family values, not Washington D.C.
There are other examples such as Ireland’s fight over abortion rights that ultimately led to approving abortion rights for women in 2019. American religious anti-abortion right wing (especially Catholic and Evangelical) organizations heavily influenced the movement to keep abortion illegal in that country.
Be assured that Christian Nationalists view the United States, and its cultural pluralism as an abomination. Their goals are indeed world-wide. Though a minority of people, they are calling on the Great Commission which they believe gives them the authority to impose their version of the “gospel” of Jesus Christ on any and all nations that they can influence.
And that….is not good news.