Mark Charles Church Empire Houghton College

January 26, 2018

Mark Charles: Church Has “Prostituted Itself Out to the Empire”

For several years now, Native American activist Mark Charles has spoken at churches and campuses across the United States, decrying America as built on racism. Most recently, while speaking to Christian college students, he challenged millennials to pursue “decolonizing” the American Church.

Charles declared that the Church had “prostituted itself out to the empire.” He meanwhile lauded millennials for embracing “pluralism” and “decolonizing” American free market capitalism by using cryptocurrency, Airbnb, and telecommuting. He followed up by challenging Christian millennials to pursue social and racial justice by getting the Church “out of bed with the empire.”

Mark Charles presented this message to students at Houghton College in New York. He spoke during the Christian college’s chapel service on Wednesday, February 23, kicking off the institution’s 2018 Faith and Justice Symposium.

As usual, Charles repeated his attack on the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. He criticized the Declaration of Independence for its reference to “merciless savages” and called the Constitution as a “racist document rooted in white supremacy.”

He also called out the Church for its “complicity” in America’s racial sins. Charles bashed Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas for “theological gymnastics” in support of imperialism. He said these Christian thinkers had provided justification for secular governments pursuing warfare and colonization—specifically, through Just War Theory and the Doctrine of Discovery. Charles alleged that the Doctrine of Discovery in particular “has become embedded in the foundations of our country.” He said:

The fact that to this day our nation honors Columbus as the discoverer of America reveals the implicit racial bias of the nation, which is that native peoples, indigenous peoples, people of color are not fully human. This makes the Doctrine of Discovery a racist doctrine that is the direct fruit of a Church that has prostituted itself out to the empire.

Towards the end of his presentation at Houghton College, Charles turned to his reasons for hope. He praised millennials for “not buying into the colonial divisions of this nation” by not joining churches, denominations, and political parties. He said in contrast to their parents and grandparents, millennials were overwhelmingly embracing pluralism.

He also praised millennials for buying into the so-called “sharing economy” and thus bucking economic colonialism. He called them to likewise challenge colonialism in the church and culture:

Just like you’re decolonizing the economy with your cryptocurrency, just like you’re decolonizing the housing market with your Airbnb, just like you’re decolonizing everything else that you’re doing – the workforce by your working remote jobs and you have all these different gigs and hustles that you’re doing, and not working  for one company – I think you have the opportunity to decolonize the Church and to help it get back to the root and the basic teachings of Jesus so that we can stop trying to make this nation a Christian nation. There’s no such thing as a Christian nation. It doesn’t exist.

Charles acknowledged before he began speaking that his comments about the Church and racial justice would likely make some students “very uncomfortable.” But he encouraged them not to walk out but remain engaged for the entirety of his presentation.

Houghton College President Shirley Mullen seemed aware that the remarks could prove provocative. At the beginning of the chapel service, Mullen defended focusing the school’s annual Faith and Justice Symposium. This year the symposium focused on racial justice with Mark Charles scheduled as the first speaker.

“Someone came to me yesterday and said that they’d heard that some of the aspects of the symposium might be controversial, and I think that they thought somehow I’d be worried about this,” Mullen said. “So my response was, ‘Well, that’s part of what it means to be an educational institution, and I would suggest especially a Christian educational institution, is to learn to think well, to confront new ideas and to seek God’s guidance in what we ought to be doing in the world.”


11 Responses to Mark Charles: Church Has “Prostituted Itself Out to the Empire”

  1. John McAdams says:

    The problem is that what Charles is teaching is not “a new idea.” It’s just the same old political correctness.

  2. David says:

    And just how, precisely, is using crypto currency, air BnB, or telecommuting, an exercise in actually decolonizing anything?

    Why is it that when radicals imagine radical change, it isn’t all that radical? Is it really all that counter-culture, or anti-captialist to rent somebody’s home? And is investing in digital currency not, in some respects, just feeding another global “beast”?

    I would agree with him that a nation of Christians is likely superior to a “Christian nation”. But speaking of pluralism as though it were a virtue in itself, does not take either relativism or objective Truth seriously enough.

    If that’s where Millennials are actually going, they’re welcome to it. But you can count me out.

    • Mike says:

      Somehow, he seems to be equating the church to a building with walls. This core fallacy is just one of his many mistakes; it just happens to be a foundational one.

  3. Fred says:

    A sad day for a once-great Christian College. The first signs or maybe the middle signs that Houghton will go the way of All Flesh.

    • Houghton used to be a respectable Christian liberal arts college, even though run by Wesleyan Methodists, who did not represent an intellectual liberal arts tradition. It is this no longer: not Christian in a Biblical (orthodox/ Evangelical) sense and more of a vocational training school. What Mark Charles advocates is an anti-Christian political correctness. I do not dispute that students should be exposed to such nonsense. What I object to is that the administration should be found approving it. Many colleges in American history were founded with Biblical Christian principles and most have long since abandoned them for a dogmatic secularism; Houghton seems intent on joining them.

    • Emily says:

      Hi David and Fred! I’m a current Houghton Theology student, and I would totally encourage you to check out any of our other chapel recordings online at Houghton.edu, especially those by our Dean of the Chapel, Michael Jordan if you are concerned that we are no longer teaching Christian Biblical/evangelical ideas. We are also certainly not a vocational training school. While Mark Charles did speak some controversial words in Chapel last week, he brought our attention to many simple statements that undeniabley have made life difficult for people of different races, and even women, throughout our county’s history. For that I am grateful. Additionally, this article has slightly skewed the meaning of his call to hope- while he did affirm that millennial are more pluralistic, this was not a call for us to abandon the church in the name of inclusiveness, but instead to recognize that the Church has the opportunity in our generation to offer something unique (I think it is Biblical Orthodoxy) which is outside the bounds of pluralism and constitutes an example of real faith to our peers. Thanks for taking the time to think on these things 🙂

      • As someone who has studied higher education at the doctoral level, worked professionally at secular private and public institutions, and now Houghton, I will say without hesitation that this is a world class institution centered on Christ. Come find out for yourself, if you doubt this. Visit, attend cultural events, sit in on a class or two, worship with our student organizations, talk to our outstanding students or local alumni, and especially our faculty. I have never seen a more authentic and deeply passionate community for Christ anywhere. That’s what allows this resilient community of faith to grapple with the MOST diverse and controversial topics of our time. This community embraces challenging dialog with uncommon hospitality. But, don’t take my word for it. Come and see for yourself.

  4. Proud to be a graduate of Houghton College. Kudos to Houghton for continuing true liberal arts education by challenging all to think critically. IRD could learn a lesson!

  5. Bob says:

    I applaud the Houghton College administration students for their willingness to listen to one with whom many of them (and I also) disagree, but considering the current oppressive and outright tyrannical atmosphere of higher education, I also doubt the College administration would be either so warm or welcoming to a evangelical-orthodox speaker with whom they would disagree.

  6. Eli says:

    I attend Houghton College and heard him speak in Chapel. I basically walked out when he cited the moving of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem as an example of a “religious war” waged by “Christendom,” effectively comparing it to the Crusades. Not to mention the fact that he also cited solidarity with the #MeToo movement as grounds for editing the U.S. Constitution to make make all the pronouns “gender neutral.”

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