Posted by: rogermitchell | November 1, 2011

the abominable poppy (ii) passing children through the fire

My research, as set out in my book Church, Gospel, and Empire, expected to be released next week, makes the case for a disastrous miscegenation (miss-marriage) between the church and empire in the fourth century that set theology on a course that made it subsequently dependent on a view of God and salvation in which God was an emperor and law-giver who needed to be appeased by blood sacrifice. The only difference between him and the pagan gods was that he was the supreme or only One, and the sacrifice he required had to be bigger and more effective than the sacrifices with which the lesser gods were appeased. He was ultimately only satiated through the sacrifice of his son. Honouring God for his supreme lordship and remembering or re-enacting the ultimate violent blood sacrifice of his son thus became the centre piece of theology and liturgy. It was not a big step from this to regarding the violent sacrifice of our sons as necessary for the establishment of a law-based society.

The problem is, I believe, that this is not the biblical story but the result of the colonisation of theology by the politics of empire. This politics lies at the heart of this marriage of church and empire that is called Christendom, the child of which is the Western nation state with its deep rooted dependency on the purchase of sovereign power through money, otherwise known as sovereign debt. The underlying motif and necessary practical price of this system is the sacrifice of our sons and daughters that the red poppy and the remembrance day ceremonies affirm. The ghastly reality is that far from being the good news and testimony of Jesus, it appears to be nothing less than the cornerstone of the Babylonic Empire that he came to confront and disarm through the cross.

This violent version of the gospel is in fact its opposite. In the Old Testament history that Jesus was positioned at the fulness of time to fulfil and abolish, it was precisely this understanding of spiritual power that was the logic behind that most difficult of stories, the overthrow of the Canaanites. Whatever we make of these accounts, they have to be brought to the light of the testimony of Jesus, which is the good news that God is exactly like Jesus of Nazareth, that if we have seen him, we have seen the Father, and far from requiring blood sacrifice to appease his imperial sovereignty, he pours his own power out in the gift of himself for the human race and the creation that he brought into being as an extension of his own eternally loving trinitarian life.

As the Leviticus and Deuteronomic narratives make clear, the justification for the Canaanites removal was the abomination that was to be found at the heart of their religio-political culture, namely the “passing of their children through the fire,” that is to say the appeasement of their gods through the violent sacrifice of their children (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10). In other words, what today lies at the heart of our Western culture and is symbolised by the abominable poppy. In the next post I will look more closely at these OT narratives in the light of the testimony of Jesus.



  1. Wow Roger – can’t wait for the book. This all reminds me of a church service I attended a few years ago in Halifax. It was an evangelical church. I was a visitor. It turned out to be the Sunday near November 11. I wasn’t thinking much when I went. So there I sat, in a city heavily dependent upon the military from its inception. And in the middle of the service the pastor began a video all about the glory of military service. I was appalled, got up and left. I suspect this pastor and the congregation had no real idea what they were celebrating or worshipping at that point. c.

  2. I thank God that you have been given the gift of time to do the research for this and the spiritual gifts from the spirit to discern something I have been feeling in my gut for a long time. Thank you for sharing your research and I look forward to the book. This year we are all wearing white poppies even my girls have wanted to wear them to school and college to try and stand for a whole new way of looking at things. We sometimes feel we are scrabbling around trying reconcile our faith in Jesus and his gift and the way society and the church present this story. Your posts and the work of Pete Rollins and Brian McLaren and Phylis Tickle are so helpful. Thank you again.

    • Hi Helen,
      I’m glad you have found this stuff helpful. The book should be out in a few days time.

  3. Hello Roger,

    Can’t get your use of “appease” out of my head. I think I hate that word. The required deference from the subjects of that power structure must be one of the first symptoms we learn to identify, even in ourselves, so we don’t digress to the place of thinking our violent acts are any way justified. On the other hand, so we don’t give legitimacy to that group either by regarding it as valid. When it appears we are asked to “appease” in order to satisfy the demands of that “special group,” I’d rather not. Gonna get killed anyway in that structure, might as well do it, saying “No!” Now the challenge to be like Jesus who loves that group of folks too, “for they know not what they do.”

    Darrell attended a Quaker Historical Society Annual Mtg. in Philadelphia a couple days ago where an academic lecture was sharing on Lucretia Mott, a 19th century radical Quaker abolitionist who said “Any great change must expect opposition because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.” In the same way, Roger, you are shaking that foundation along with it’s mistaken appeasement theology.

    Can’t wait for the book to come out. It’s going to shake things up a bit.

    • Hi Lorrie,
      Those early quakers were amazing. Thank God for them! I’ve not heard of Lucretia Mott, but what a great comment: “Any great change must expect opposition because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.” This is fully true of the cross itself and its final outworking in the apostle Paul’s exposition of the resurrection after which “comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). What a description of the nature of the kingdom of God! It consists and culminates in the abolition of all rule and authority and dominion! All who advocate dominion theology need to reflect on this privilege-abolishing way of life that is truly the trinity’s mode of being that they created us to share!

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