Mark Twain once remarked that if Jesus were here today (early 20th Century), the one thing he would not be is a Christian. Those words resonate when one thinks about some of our ultra-conservative, "Tea Party" Christians today and compares the spirit of Jesus' life and words to those who use his name to promote a mean-spirited, hateful, and bitter political and social agenda.
A slogan among Christians today is "what would Jesus do?" Of course, it is difficult or to know what a 1st Century Palestinian Jewish rabbi would do or say in today's social context but it is interesting to think about. Many Biblical fundamentalists and literalists who practice "Biblical quarterbacking" might not agree, but if one avoids a legalistic interpretation of the Gospels (and the Jewish Bible for that matter) and looks at the totality of his life and teachings and applies them in spirit, one might come to the conclusion that the "Christian Right" is neither.
The Jesus portrayed in the New Testament was a man of integrity, compassion, love and mercy who spoke out against injustices but, as is the case with many fundamentalist, extremist Muslims who misinterpret the Qu'ran, "Christians" of the same stripe often use Bible verses to justify their own selfish agendas. In fact, Jesus (and other rabbis) taught the "spirit" and not the "letter" of the law to be much more important. He and other rabbis taught that the Old Testament laws could be summed up as loving God and loving your neighbor. When in doubt, the love of one's neighbor was more important.
What WOULD Jesus do? The Gospels are silent on abortion (although Jewish rabbinical teaching long held that life begins at birth, not conception). Can we imagine Jesus telling a scared 12-year old rape victim that she must have the baby? Or can you imagine Jesus hating gays and lesbians? Actually, Jesus was silent on the subject of homosexuality. Would he have demanded his "religious freedom" to the point that he would have refused to serve gays? Of course, many Evangelical Christians claim they actually "love" gays and lesbians in spite of their "sin" but still want to deny them basic civil and human rights. Isn't that a lot like an old-school segregationist saying he or she "loves" black people?
It is hard to think of Jesus demanding that all "illegal immigrants" be rounded up and deported, especially the children from Central America who are fleeing conditions that were, least in part, caused by the U.S.A. The Gospels report that Jesus liked kids and warned those who would oppress them. And, even the Old Testament warns us not to "oppress a stranger in thy land."
Today, would Jesus vote to cut food stamps and other programs for the needy? Would he, a humble carpenter, bash unions and attempts by working people to obtain more dignity? Would he tell lies about "death panels" to oppose health care reform? (Didn't he provide free health care?).
Would Jesus, a man who was brutally tortured himself, justify torture in the name of "national security"? Would he support the death penalty when the Gospels themselves say that he stopped an execution in progress?
When one compares the actions and words of many "Conservative Christians" with those of Jesus, one has to wonder how "Christian" the former really are. Jesus put mercy and justice ahead of legalisms. On the other hand, Jesus was not passive. He spoke out strongly against injustice and hypocrisy. He gave the money-changers (bankers?) who were taking advantage of poor people a good flogging!
If some Christians are right, there will be a judgment. Will Jesus say to some of the Christian Right, "depart from me, I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity?" Are some of our Tea Party Christians violating the commandment not to use God's name "in vain" when they use that name to justify a selfish and greedy agenda?
Call it selfishness, greed, bitterness, hatred or "I got mine and you cannot have yours" but for "Christ's sake" please do not call it Christianity.
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, a taxpayer, a veteran, and a resident of Gilford. While he is not a clergyman or a theologian, he tries to be a man of "faith, charity, and hope".)
- Category: Letters
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