Seventeen centuries ago, the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. It is recorded that he saw a vision of a cross above the sun bearing the Latin message, In Hoc Signo Vinces meaning “in this sign, you shall conquer.”
And conquer, he did. Not only militarily, but religiously. It was during his reign that Christianity went from being a despised and persecuted sect meeting in catacombs to avoid being fed to the lions or crucified, to become the official state religion of the world wide Roman Empire.
For all practical purposes, it was Constantine who launched the civilization which came to be known as Christendom. Joseph Pearce, the writer in residence at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, defines ‘Christendom” thusly,
Christendom is best and most succinctly defined in traditional ecclesiological terms as the Church Militant…Her war is with the world and its worldliness. Her war is not fought with soldiers but with saints and also with those sinners who are trying to become saints. Her weapons are not those that bring death but life to her enemies. The culture of life that she brings with her is animated by the goodness of virtue, the truth of reason, and the beauty of God’s image in His creatures. She is the wellspring of civilization.
Up until a few years ago, colleges and universities in America offered a course called Western Civilization. It was the secularized version of the study of Christendom. Mostly, it was a chronicle of wars and battles, conquests and defeats.
Evangelism always has the smell of warfare. We talk about battling for the hearts and minds of people. Almost in the same breath, we mention boots on the ground.
Constantine went from ruthless persecution of Christians to ruthless promotion of Christianity. It took a long time and lot of bloodshed for Christendom to become the wellspring of civilization.
In our day, the most truculently militant religion is Islam. Mohammedanism brooks no dissent. The mass murder of non believers, the beheadings of Christians, the slaughter of those branded as ‘infidels’ brazenly portrayed in videos on the Internet, sends the chilling message that the days of religious warfare are not yet relegated to the history books.
I came to ruminate about these things as the result of an email from a very good friend in Florida. It was one of those chain letter initiatives that are so often inspired by good intentions and so often based on ‘facts’ that are not factual.
The message claimed that the President of the United States has abolished the National Day of Prayer created by Congress; that he celebrated a Muslim Day of Prayer instead; that he has said that America is no longer a Christian nation.
A visit to Snopes was enough to persuade me that the chain letter is based on a hoax. Among other things, it claimed that the President was authorizing elective courses in the Quran for American school children. That claim, Snopes points out originated on a satirical web site called the National Report.
It is not the first time that well meaning, but naïve, conservatives have fallen for National Report satire. Among their other offerings: outrageous fictional stories such as "IRS Plans to Target Leprechauns Next," "Boy Scouts Announce Boobs Merit Badge," and "New CDC Study Indicates Pets of Gay Couples Worse at Sports, Better at Fashion Than Pets of Straight Couples."
In the ‘Quran in the schools’ bit of political tongue-in-cheek, National Report gave an actual telephone number for the National Muslim Outreach Hotline. The number was that of the Republican National Committee.
I felt sorry for my Florida friend, who sent me the chain letter. It called for recruiting a virtual army of 100 million vocal Christians who would stand together against the Islamizing of America.
I sure would like to see 100 million American Christians standing up for their faith. That’s why I answered him by suggesting that he ask his friends to sign the Manhattan Declaration. It’s a clarion call to Christians to sign up and be counted. 551,274 have already signed. I invite you to do so as well.