A Christian Nation?

While an increasing number of USAmerican Christians would be comfortable with the notion of calling the US a “Christian nation” – primarily because of the separation of church and state, and the relative lack of Christian morality at work in the culture – we are known around the world as just that.  In conservative evangelical Christian circles, there is a lot made of patriotism blended with religious practice. And “we” (not unlike other “Christian” nations around the world) blend our nationalism in such a way that assumes that we hold a special status with God. People think that because our forefathers were mostly Christian, and prepared our founding documents with God in mind, we should hold a “most favored nation” position before God.*

With that in mind, it’s been extremely interesting to spend time in Ethiopia, home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC). (The photo for this post is of His Holiness, Abune Paulos, patriarch of the EOTC – our group was very honored to have had a private audience with him in Addis Ababa). While in the city of Mekele, we visited the St. Frumentius Abba Selama Kesate Berhan Theological College. We had a lecture about the history of the EOTC. They trace their history as a church all the way back to 1013BC, when Queen Sheba (of Ethiopia) visited Israel’s King Solomon. According to their history, she gave birth to a son by Solomon, who inaugurated a Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia that lasted from 982BC until AD 1971. The Ethiopians accepted and practiced Jewish law.

Then, in AD 42, as recorded in the New Testament (Acts 8), an Ethiopian Eunuch, who worked for Queen Candace, had an encounter with the apostle Phillip, in which he converted and was baptized, and brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to Ethiopia. We were told that Ethiopia appears throughout the Bible – about 40 times (including a number of references to Cush and Abyssinia).**

It would seem that if any nation on Earth would have a claim to being a Christian nation, it is Ethiopia! Given that, I’m trying to figure out why the EOTC doesn’t get more airplay in the US.  All we ever hear about are the Roman Catholic Church, and the churches that came out of the Protestant Reformation. Catholics and Protestants. Protestants and Catholics. Once in a long while, we might hear the Orthodox Church mentioned in passing, but even then, it’s the Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches that are being referenced. I would guess that only a tiny percentage of USAmerican Christians have even heard about the existence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The conservative evangelical churches in the US revere scripture as sacred and central. Among them, a large number believe in the inerrancy of scripture. So why haven’t they taken Ethiopia more seriously? Indeed, why isn’t Ethiopia revered for having been a very early adopter of Christianity? Yes, there are some doctrinal differences between the Orthodox Churches (there are six of these churches) and Western Christianity, but is that it? Is it an issue of politics, since global power has been in Western hands, essentially since the days of Constantine? Is it straight-up racism? It’s hard to say. It’s not that I think there’s a disdain in the West for the EOTC, but that we don’t even know or care enough to have disdain.

Modern evangelicals have treated Ethiopia, not as a nation with a Christian history, but as a destination for missionary activity. Members of the EOTC have been targets for conversion to evangelical belief. Unfortunately, this has largely included disrespectful, harmful methods. It has come to the point that Ethiopian Orthodox Christians tend to view Evangelical Christians with the same level of caution as they view Muslims.

All of this has made me reflective about nationalism and Christian practice. It’s been many years since I have considered myself a patriotic American. I don’t believe that we Americans are God’s chosen people or hold any special privilege in heaven. But I have to wonder what I would think if I had been born Ethiopian. Nationalism and religion are mixed in liberal portion here . . . is that more legitimate than USAmerican Christian nationalism, because of their history and consistent practice of Christian faith? I’m inclined to say no, but it’s hard to say.

Whatever my answer to these questions, this has been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. I’ll keep thinking, keep praying, and maintaining my allegiance to the Kingdom that transcends any I have known on this planet.

 

 

NOTE: I wrote this post while in Ethiopia about a week ago, prior to my return to the States, and my move to the UK. Other posts about my trip, and the transition to the UK will follow. I pinky swear!

*Some would add to this list of Christian attributes, the fact that the US has been a friend of Israel.

**It should be noted that the EOTC has an extended canon of scripture, including the Apocrypha and others (81 books in total) so some of those mentions may include references outside of the Western church’s Bible.

 

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  1. Interesting. You are right that few people know about the EOTC… especially normal people like me despite being curious. Some questions that popped to mind. Has the EOTC always had the extended canon of scripture? How did their canon evolve and how did that influence their practices and doctrines? Which scriptures did they rely on early and when did they adopt the Western Bible?

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