Our Cross to Bear — Christian Socialism and the Fight for the Future
by Eustace Deere
(Editor’s Note: The following is a piece by a guest contributor. It was originally published in “Rebuild Christians for Socialism,” January 9, 2021)
Growing up Roman Catholic, we, the parishioners, were required to recite the words of the jeering crowd during Palm Sunday mass. "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" We'd say as the trial of Jesus Christ was read aloud from the gospels.
As a child, this made me very uncomfortable. How could I speak words like that out loud about the Son of God? How could I even pretend to be a part of the crowd that called for the torture and murder of Christ Himself?
I realize now that saying these words should, in fact, be discomfiting. The power of the crucifixion is that it forces us to confront the fact that we are all responsible. We're all capable of becoming that bloodthirsty mob. Not merely the Jews, as millennia of bad theology has taught. Not just the Romans.
All of humanity is responsible for His persecution. All of us have this venomous potential. Often we tend to think of original sin in terms of apples, and snakes, and misogyny, but this darkness - this potential - I feel more closely hits the mark. That is the sin that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross frees us from. It does so by showing us another way.
The crucifixion is a wake-up call - a lens to view social injustices through. We're called upon to ask ourselves honestly - which side of the hammer am I on?
On January 6 - the Feast of the Epiphany - thousands descended on Washington, and stormed Capitol Hill. Lives were lost. Bombs were found. Our entire political reality was destabilized (worse than before). And all of America was placed in danger.
Millions are asking: Why would anybody do this? Why escalate to carnage and bloodshed over the loss of a single election?
The terrifying fact is that the insurrectionists were convinced in their hearts that they were the righteous ones - that they were among the persecuted, even as they attempted a fascist coup fueled by promises of persecution for others. After years of being fed their own worst hatreds and deepest anxieties, these people came to passionately believe the most insidious lies possible.
They allowed themselves to be exploited by fear. They became the bloodthirsty crowd that the gospels warn us against again and again and again, all the while convinced of their own victimhood.
So where does this leave us?
How is it possible that so many people could back such a flagrant tyrant - to take up the Romans' hammer, and yet perceive themselves as the ones on the cross?
These questions weigh heavily on a lot of hearts.
We may be in the right to say "I told you so," since the left has, in fact, been warning people about this very thing for decades, but I think we also have a responsibility, both as socialists, and as Christians, to examine this historical moment, and acknowledge our own failures leading up to this point.
In a country where folks had the slightest bit of class consciousness, it wouldn't be possible to stir up a populist rebellion to install a man who fights against the best interests of working people. As socialists, it falls on us to educate people - to shine a light on who's exploiting whom; and how a better world can be won.
If we don't foster class consciousness, who will?
As Christians, our task is very much the same. The gospels are a call to revolutionary action—To aid the poor, and the colonized, and the marginalized. Christ spoke out against every social injustice of His day. This is the actual "good news." That the mighty will be cast from their thrones.
Yet so many Americans believe the opposite. Tens of millions vehemently demanded concentration camps for immigrants; defended hellish prison conditions, and advocated cruelty to the homeless, the disabled, and oppression for every racially, economically, and sexually marginalized group - all in the Name of the Lord.
But how many Americans know that liberation theology even exists?
Really. Stop and think about it. (I've met folks who don't even know that most Christians believe in evolution).
We can blame the corrupt political system, the corporate media, the Democrats, the Republicans, the rich, or the propagandistic education system for the lack of class consciousness in America. We can blame the capitalists cashing in on prosperity gospel, or the GOP, or the churches for the fact that American narratives on Christianity are so profoundly un-Christian - and we would be absolutely correct in doing so. They are all irrefutably responsible for the world we've inherited.
But this is on us too.
Every person sleeping on the streets tonight is a victim of our failures to organize efficiently enough to influence policy. Same with every mouth unfed. Every death at the hands of police. Every prisoner denied the basic dignity of access to soap and books.
It may not be fair to take all of this on ourselves, but revolution is more than a war - more than a dream - more than a cause. It is a responsibility.
Learning to look at the world that way has helped me, as a leftist, to remember how high the stakes are - how little leftist sectarian debates actually matter while fascism takes root all around us. As a Christian, it's helped me to see what it really means to love all of humanity.
Nobody lives in a perfect state of adoration. To love humankind is to carry a cross. To be humbled and to accept responsibility - however dire - for the state of the world.
Looking back at those Palm Sunday masses now, I think not only of the "Crucify Him" crowd that we are warned against becoming - not only of the Romans and the proto-colonialism that we are called upon to oppose with everything our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls can muster.
I think of the one faction in Jerusalem that the gospels don’t mention - one that bears equal blame: the people who simply went about their lives that day as though nothing was happening at all.
Eustace Deere is a genderqueer Catholic, archivist at his parish, revolutionary leftist, and an essential worker.