Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Allison Connelly, whose bio is available here.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King can be found here.
Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is designated as the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This title rubs me the wrong way, as it often has. Part of my challenge with today’s solemnity is that it is frequently used by churches and Christians to pontificate about secularism, patriotism, and political leadership. White Christians too often have interpreted the concept of “Christ the King” to justify forcing the United States to “submit to Christ’s kingship.” Preparing this essay, I came across too many homilies, prayers, and songs giving voice to conservative white Christian fears of “rising secularism” and “hostility against the church.” In other words, this version of “Christ’s kingship” seeks to impose a narrow and oppressive type of “Christianity,” practiced only by some, on the entire population of the nation.
For many Christians who subscribe to such views, some of whom I know personally, a key complaint about “secularization” is that their homophobia is less tolerated. Such Christians align themselves with homophobic and transphobic religious institutions, claiming that “freedom of religion” means they are entitled to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. They fear a “secularized” society will deny them this right. How can I find meaning in celebrating a feast day used to justify Christian supremacy and even violence?
Struggling with the concept of “Christ the King,” I’ve found the reflections of public theologian Rev. Elle Dowd incredibly helpful in providing a context for the feast day. Elle writes:
“[T]he solemnity of Christ the King was fairly recently established by Pope Pius the 11th in 1925 in response to the increasing threat of the rise of fascism in Europe leading up to World War II. At the time, authoritarian leaders of fascist regimes were being lifted up as all powerful demigods, and the Roman Catholic Church created this holy day in an attempt to reclaim power for the church. If this feast tells us anything, it’s this: Fascism is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Reign of Jesus Christ stands in strong opposition to the death-dealing policies of tyrants and fascists.”
Knowing this history helps me: the celebration of Christ the King started not as an opportunity to weaponize religious power, but rather as a reminder to people of good faith that nationalism and fascism are not our moral authorities. This feast rejects the idea that such ideologies should control the world’s narrative.
Even though much has changed in century or so since this solemnity was created, a reminder of the limits of fascism and nationalism feels as necessary as ever. As a queer person, I feel this especially deeply: Catholic groups across the country have been spearheading efforts to ban books about LGBTQ+ people. Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has championed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida and banned gender-affirming care for transgender people. And, just last week many of us honored Trans Day of Remembrance, when we memorialized the 26 known trans people killed in the U.S. because of transphobic violence, which is on the rise this year. Clearly, the themes that led to this feast’s founding in 1925 are as relevant as ever in 2023.
So, if fascism, nationalism, and corrupt political leadership are not our ultimate moral authority, what is? Our readings today offer one alternative. I listen to the words of Jesus:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least [siblings] of mine, you did for me.”
These words stand in stark contrast to power- and resource-hoarding, xenophobia, degradation of the poor, inadequate healthcare, and dehumanizing systems of incarceration and punishment, which were as much a hallmark of Jesus’ time as they are of our own. We should be reminded that just like LGBTQ+ people today, Jesus, a Jew from Galilee, was himself a victim of fascism and nationalism at the hands of the oppressive Roman Empire. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that his authority is not the way of this world, not the way that our very human minds and spirits get called away from what is right and just when tempted by power and comfort. Rather, Jesus’ authority—which should be ours, too—is God’s dream of goodness, justice, and peace for all people.
When I think about Christ the King in relation to my own sources of authority and wisdom, this feast becomes meaningful, affirming, and even freeing. I do not rely on myself alone, nor on the imperfect systems of politics and society, to find my ethical and moral grounding. If Christ is King, and the ultimate moral authority, then I am not, and neither are people who ban books, or gender-affirming healthcare, or honest conversations about sexuality and identity. Today and every day, may we remember that the guiding forces of our universe are not fascism, nationalism, or hatred, but rather love, care, and justice— and may we act accordingly.
—Allison Connelly-Vetter (she/her), November 26, 2023