Along the Way: Another Inquisition

Jeannie and I have stood in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I imagine some of you reading this have as well. It was one of the main locations (there were many others across Europe) for the Inquisition. [1]

Alleged infidels were rounded up and interrogated by “the righteous.” With unbridled authority, they could unilaterally determine who was in and who was out. Expulsion was without due process and recourse. Dismissal was immediate.

If the guilt was grave, they were led across the plaza, down a long stairway, and on to a place (where a memorial cross now stands) where they were beheaded. All “in the name of God” and for the upholding of orthodoxy. The inquisitionists rejoiced. Jesus wept.

We have entered another inquisitional age, where self-righteous tribunals have declared themselves to be God-appointed guardians of true faith. In their “pure church” councils and enclaves, they define orthodoxy to suit their aims, one of which is the exclusion of those who are not like them. Their prayer book begins, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…” (Luke 18:9).

Nancy Pelosi’s being barred from Holy Communion by the Archbishop of San Francisco is the latest illustration of the inquisitional spirit. But it It is not a Roman Catholic problem; the spirit is alive and well in Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and non-denominational Christianity. It is active and dangerous in other world religions.

But keeping things in the context of Christianity, it is the spirit by which Christian fundamentalism/nationalism advances–a legalism that traffics in shaming. [2] And like the Inquisition, great harm is done–harm that was viewed as “defending the faith” at the time, but in retrospect is seen to have been destroying it.

And so it will be again.

[1] We usually think of the Inquisition as a short-lived, intense persecution. But in all its iterations it ran from 1184–1834.

[2] Diana Butler Bass’ post on May 4th, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” (part of a larger series about Christian fundamentalism) reveals how shaming is a deformative tactic.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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