Every week at church, I watch people line up to take communion. The act involves eating a bit of bread and drinking a bit of wine (or juice for the teetotalers and the underaged). But this is not simply a tiny appetizer, served in anticipation of some a larger meal to be eaten later. The elements of communion have significant symbolic meaning for Christians. As I observe this tradition week after week, I am moved by the diversity of people who come together in remembrance, and I think the Kingdom of God must be a place where people of every kind are offered a seat at the table.
Historically, the American church has done a poor job of dramatizing this vision gospel while we wait for Christ to complete this work. Instead of embodying a Kingdom ethic, we busy ourselves trying to decide who is welcome and who isn’t. In the process, we’ve pledged allegiance to political “powers and principalities” in an effort to preserve some version of America that is more reminiscent of Judas than Jesus. As I encounter narrative in video games, I can’t help but to view them through the lens of anticipation for the Kingdom. But this lens is tinted by my disappointment in the naked idolatry of the American church.
As I played through Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I heard echoes of this legacy in the fictional Church of Seiros. Though not immediately obvious, the Church of Seiros bears a sad similarity to the church of America.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest entry in a 30-year-old series of tactical role-playing games. Like the more recent games in the franchise, Three Houses places a particular emphasis on characters and relationships.
Three Houses takes place in and around Garreg Mach Monastery in the mountains at the center of the continent of Fódlan. The monastery serves as home to both the Church of Seiros and the prestigious Officers Academy. At the beginning of the game, you are offered a position as a professor at the academy, where you take responsibility for one of the three houses that make up the student body (each of which will present a very different perspective on the events of the game). Your job is to prepare today’s youth to become the tomorrow’s leaders. I decided to take charge of the Golden Deer House, alongside a mischievous student-leader named Claude von Riegan.
In between weeks of teaching lessons on sword fighting and white magic, I found myself exploring the grounds of the monastery. I’d form unbreakable bonds with my students, sing songs with the church choir, return lost trinkets to the inhabitants of the monastery, and engage in mock battles with the other houses. But over the course of a school year, we became entangled in the machinations of a plot against the church.
At the beginning of the game, the Church of Seiros appears to be an significant force for good in Fódlan. The three nations of Fódlan have a delicate balance of peace that would likely devolve into conflict if not for the Church. However, as you progress through the story, it may be that the Church maintains this peace by cultivating fear and distrust of foreigners.
Claude, who is the son of a noblewoman from Fódlan and the king of Almyra (a foreign nation). Born into both worlds and yet neither, he grew up on the receiving end of this prejudice. He was treated poorly by people from both nations, and he eventually decides to use his power to “break down the walls that separate Fódlan from outside world.” He wishes for a nation that sees the personhood of all.
I find Claude’s story to be a compelling one. He is such an idealist, I can’t help but to want to be a part of his pursuit of justice. Being a bit of an idealist myself, I would expect the Church of Seiros to stand alongside him for the good of all people, including the “beasts” from beyond the borders. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Claude sees that the church’s power makes them at least partially responsible for good that is left undone. As he gains power, he realizes that he must take that responsibility on himself. He believes that he can unite Fódlan in diversity of perspective and open the continent to share culture. Claude von Riegan is a globalist.
As the events of Fire Emblem: Three Houses take their course, the Church of Seiros is brought low. Surprisingly, Claude steps in to help rebuild—and perhaps reform—what remains of Garreg Mach Monastery.
Though Claude may appear very naive, he is willing to do what is necessary to build the world that he envisions. He calls upon the diverse set of allies that he makes as the leader of Golden Deer house, recognizing that his own power is not enough to bring about the flourishing he dreams of. In this anime story, the power of friendship has a greater reach. The relationships that are central to the gameplay in Fire Emblem: Three Houses seem to pay off. They band together fight the evil behind the evil, and they win. They build a new and better world together.
For some impressive in-depth analysis of Claude von Riegan, check out this post from user u/SigurdVII on the r/FireEmblem subreddit.
In the real world naiveté is no match for entrenched systemic realities. I used to view the American Church much like the Church of Seiros appears in the early hours of Three Houses: as a foundation upon which to build a flourishing society. Especially in the last 4 years, I’ve seen Evangelicals reveal the truth about the god that they serve, and I’m not sure that it is the God of the Bible, the God that I believe in. Perhaps it is naive of me to assume that Christians will step in as this version of the church is brought low, but I’m doing my best to trust that the story of humanity is a redemptive one. Let me be clear, I’m not a perfect embodiment of Gospel living, and don’t I expect anyone else to be. However, I do want to love my neighbor a little better each day. I pray that the church will dramatize the Kingdom of God as we wait for Christ to return and bring about flourishing for the life of the world.