Original Christians

The following is excerpted from Living in the Shadow of the Cross: Understanding and Resisting the Power and Privilege of Christian Hegemony, by Paul Kivel. 

The original Christians were West Asian and North African Jews, predominately Arab. Jesus, Mary, the Apostles and all of the early leaders in the church were Jewish Arabs of varying ethnic and cultural identities, and with diverse but certainly not white skin tones. The bulk of early Christian churches, monasteries and other religious centers were in the Middle East. The center of the early church was in Constantinople, in present-day Turkey. When a second center was established in Rome it remained weak and marginal until the seventh to eighth centuries. It wasn’t until the rise of Islam, the weakening of the Eastern Church and the consolidation of its power that the Roman church emerged as a powerful international force. During this process western Christianity was Europeanized and whitened, its roots whitewashed.

Women, people of color and many others could become Christians of a sort, but they were considered inferior imitations of the real thing because they were contaminated by their difference from the white male physically and the morally perfect images of God, Adam, Jesus, the Apostles and a long line of church leaders continuing into the current day. A person from any of these groups was considered more likely to revert to non-Christian ways, succumbing to evil and becoming a subversive element.

“Original” white male Christians feared the destruction of the Christian community and God’s work on earth. From this perspective, if Christian hierarchies were disordered, then God’s kingdom was in disarray and Christianity would fail. White Christian men had to be willing to sacrifice their lives as soldiers of Christ – knights, gunslingers or superheroes – to save Christian civilization.19 Male behavior based on control, obedience and the ability to commit violence in the name of God was essential to fulfilling this role. Terror of being out of control, (losing it), fear of disorder and a sense of constant danger were key components of this personality and social framework.

At the same time, because of that ongoing violence, all others experienced terror based on fear for their very existence. This trauma leads to emotional, spiritual and somatic stress. It is not post-traumatic because dominant western Christianity is still attacking individuals and cultures. Widespread media images of danger –demonization – and everyday forms of attack which non-original Christians and non-Christians experience produce an onslaught of aggression and a constant sense of insecurity in all those labeled Other by dominant Christianity.20


[19] Somewhat more secular Christian roles include teacher, missionary, scientist, explorer.

[20] Most white male Christians are also poor or working class, disabled, gay, bisexual, transgender, immigrants or part of other non-original Christian categories; they have complex identities and, often, ambivalent loyalties to dominant western Christian norms and institutions. 

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