Sunday, August 05, 2018

Republican Religion Leaves Out Jesus Entirely


As I've mentioned a couple of times, a month or so ago Ted Lieu and I had a meeting with the leaders of VoteCommonGood, an evangelical group eager to help Democrats take back Congress in November. Their goal is to help put a check on Trump who they feel is immensely dangerous. We've been helping them plan out a national bus tour during which they hope to introduce Democratic candidates to evangelical communities from Bangor to San Diego-- with a big emphasis in Texas.

An old pal, Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back is the one who introduced Rep. Lieu and I to VoteCommonGood. He's very excited about their mission to, in his words, "convince enough Christian Republican voters that Trump and the Republicans have crossed a line into clearly anti-Jesus territory to help augment the blue wave on the way in 2018-2020. As the son of the 20th century's most famous evangelical intellectual (Francis Schaeffe' of opposition to Trump. This isn't about politics for those of us who try to follow Jesus, it is about the duty to save our country from danger. The media who have written off all white evangelicals as forever Republicans are in for a surprise in Nov 2018. We won't change all minds but we'll change a few... and that will make a difference. So please-- Democrats-- wake up to the fact that we anti-Trump evangelicals and former evangelicals are out there and working to elect progressives as candidates to curb Trump's God-hating inhumanity. And this may sound strange to many Democrats but we are fighting Trump and his ilk in the name of Jesus."

Yesterday, one of the pastors we met with sent me an essay from last spring by Michael Coren in The Walrus, Conservatives Don’t Own Jesus. The subtitle from this former right-winger is "By teaming up with Christians, progressives can reclaim the political agenda." Trump, he reminded his readers, primarily in Canada, "is an adulterer, a liar, and a bully. He is divisive and dangerous and an appalling role model for those around him. No matter: 81 percent of white born-again or evangelical Christians and 60 percent of white Roman Catholics voted for him, and a majority of white evangelical Protestants still back him. He is held up by numerous Christian leaders as a protector of the faith. Among his supporters is Franklin Graham, multi-millionaire son of the recently deceased Reverend Billy Graham, who wants Muslims banned from the United States because Islam is 'very evil and wicked' and who has demanded that LGBTQ people be barred from churches because Satan 'wants to devour our homes'. It’s no surprise that many progressives believe that organized Christianity stands in direct opposition to the aspirations of social democracy... Progressives may want to ignore the church, to reject it, even to despise it. But they shouldn’t. If the progressive movement seeks to shape this county, then it needs to influence the levers of power, such as culture, media, politics, and-- yes-- faith." His argument is that "reconciling progressive ideas and Christ’s teachings isn’t just possible, it’s absolutely inevitable."

There are those on the left who see religion as a distraction from the genuine challenges of poverty, echoing the Marxian notion of faith as the “opiate of the people.” Having watched Christian groups try to restrict the rights and freedoms of lLGBTQ people, they are angry at religious leaders who support and defend arch-conservative administrations. In return, I offer the vision of a joint enterprise based on the moral agenda we share: a dedication to the social values that liberate the very people to whom Jesus devoted his work and teachings. He came for everybody but certainly seemed to prefer the poor and needy. He came to provoke the complacent and empower the vulnerable. He was never a figure of the status quo.

...[A] majority on both sides of the issue would like abortion rates to decline, and the way to achieve that is entirely liberal and, yes, entirely Christian: by making contraceptives readily available, by insisting on modern sex education, by reducing poverty, by funding public daycare, and by generally empowering women. And yet Catholics insist on opposing “artificial contraceptives” and, alongside their conservative Protestant allies, lead the campaign against modern sex education. As for abortion itself, most on the Christian right want it defunded and ultimately banned and criminalized.

The Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister has done an effective job of explaining the gap, the difference, between care for life and opposition to abortion: “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” Christian conservatives appear to care for people just before they’re born and just before they die. In between, not so much. That’s not the rebel Jesus, that’s not the stinging demand for social change and justice that the Gospel insists upon.

Economics and financial power? “In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” This is not gentle compromise, this is downright revolutionary! Then there is, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Here is the rebel Jesus, who embraces the redistribution of wealth and power. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” When a wealthy young man asks what he must do to obtain eternal life, Jesus’s reply is simple: sell everything you have and give the money to the poor. This is socialism-- pristine, exquisite socialism.

When Jesus speaks of war and peace, he uses words that, in the ancient Greek version, are not passive and liberal but aggressively interventionist, strident against violence, and militant in bringing about peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”; this is, at its heart, telling listeners that if they make war, or even allow war to take place without doing all in their power to prevent it, they don’t know God. Jesus is less a pacifist-- witness the attack on the money men in the temple-- than a committed objector to war. No selling arms, no military-industrial complex, no profit in other people’s misery.

Much to the frustration of the political right, which embraces individualism, the secular left holds high the idea of the collective. This is where the coalition between progressives and Christians is at its most evident. At the heart of the Christian rebellion are the lyrical absolutes of community and fraternity. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” And this extends far beyond one’s own people or culture. When Jesus tells his followers, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me,” he is echoing the command initiated millennia earlier in the Old Testament: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

So Jesus didn’t mention abortion, contraceptives, or euthanasia, but he did expose and condemn hypocrisy, selfishness, and the dangers of wealth, anger, and inequality. He didn’t speak of the free market, but he did reject those who transformed a place of worship into a market of profit. He didn’t obsess about sex, but he did welcome and embrace those accused of sexual sin. He didn’t build walls and fences, but he did insist that we rip down all that might separate and divide us. He didn’t call for war and aggression but did demand we throw away weapons and all that might hurt or kill our brothers and sisters. That is the rebel Jesus: cutting through the pain and the suffering and the confusion of this broken planet and pulling back the curtain to show the splendid truth of the world’s possibilities.

He turns the world upside down, challenges the comfortable, sides with the outcast and the prisoner, has no regard for earthly power and worldly ambition. The rebellion of Christianity isn’t safe and was never supposed to be. The rebellion of Christianity is dangerous.

Yet conservatives have transformed a faith that should revel in saying yes into a religion that cries no. Its founder died so that we would change the world, but many of his followers link Jesus to military force and dismiss those who campaign for social change as radical and even godless. So many conservatives have manipulated Christianity into a cult of the bunker, seeing persecution around every corner and retreating into literalism and small-mindedness.

This is all nostalgia rather than the rebel Jesus. It’s as though the cosmetics of the Gospel, the veneer of the message, has become more important than its core and its central meaning. Jesus spoke less about the end times than the time to end injustice, less about whom we should love than about how we should love everyone. The pain of another is personal pain, we are our neighbour, we exist and live in a collective of grace, and to exclude any other person is to exclude God. It’s a message that should positively bleed from our very soul. We must extend the circle of love rather than stand at the corners of a square and repel outsiders.

It was the rebel Jesus who shaped Martin Luther King’s struggle against racism, William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery, and Lord Ashley’s work against child labour. It was the rebel Jesus who led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to give his life to resisting Nazism and sustained Tommy Douglas as he struggled to save countless lives in this country through socialized medicine.

So, what should we conclude, either as secular progressives or as committed followers of Christ? That the Gospel doesn’t simply ask for change, doesn’t just plead for reform, doesn’t sing for a better society. It roars that we make the world a better, kinder, and more socialistic place. That’s the shock and awe of real Christianity; that’s the rebel Jesus.
Doug Pagitt is a pastor in Minneapolis, as well as a writer, radio host and the executive director of Vote Common Good. This morning he told me that "it is shocking that it is shocking to make the claim that conservative Christians don’t maintain a monopoly on Jesus. To see that conservative Christians choose to support a President who daily lies, brags about grabbing woman by the genitals, is un-repentant in regard to his own marital unfaithfulness, and, as we heard in the recording with his lawyer Michael Cohen, is brazen in seeking to use pastors and religious leaders as part of his cover-up of an affair with a playmate is enough to show the 'Jesus-brankrupt-ness' of their faith.
I am thoughtful of the “what would Jesus do?” phrase that was popular in the 90’s.

While it was the 1990’s that brought about the WWJD bracelets that many conservative Christians embraced, it was actually the 1890’s when the phrase was first used and carried serious meaning.

It came from the title of Charles M. Sheldon’s novel, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?

As an evangelical Christian minister and writer this phrase was asking the question for not only personal life but for societal structure.

This notion of organizing the Christian life and our commitments to the Common Good for society on how Jesus would love and care was the motivation for the Social Gospel expression of the early 20th century.

The conservative expression of Christianity has not for more than a hundred years in this country held the ownership of the message of Jesus.

A Jesus oriented perspective always seeks to include, to expand, to be gracious, to be truthful and to be about the Common Good. That is what sits at the heart of the “Good News” that is indeed good for all.

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At 2:20 PM, Blogger Thomas Ten Bears said...

I've reminded a reichwinger or two of late you don't have to be a peace-freak to be against war, my long hair never has covered up my red neck, and the only way a I know of to shut down a bully is bust him one in the mouth.

They always run crying to the cops.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hypocrisy abounds in Jesus' most ardent "followers".

The fact is that evil perpetrated by whites is 90% likely to be in the name of jesus. And a small minority of whites think this is in some way contrary to what a mythical character in a serial of bronze-age novellas might have hypothetically intended. Got mitt uns... anyone?

"...VoteCommonGood, an evangelical group eager to help Democrats take back Congress..."

That goes for these people too. I understand their distaste for the Nazi party and its current fuhrer. But I don't understand why they want to hand power only briefly back to a corrupt warmongering torturemongering anti-immigrant (look up obamanation's record) anti-women (ditto) anti-gay pro gun and pro corporate anti labor party of liars and cowards.

I suppose jesus was a, hypothetical, devotee of lesser evilism? Lesser evil = good?

Why can't human beings just recognize the truth here. jesus never lived; and everyone who invokes his name is only doing so to justify and sanctify their own impulses, whether nefarious, benign or altruistic. And in this shithole (as in Nazi Germany and many other instances) you can currently cross out benign and altruistic.

At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

god the father wiped out earth (flood), soddom and ordered his lackeys to snuff out the caananites, to name just 3. why would the Nazi god junior be assumed to be any different?

The democrap god is a bit less dramatic. He just kills people by deprivation of sustenance (so the wealthy can get moreso).

and a couple billion human skidmarks worship both of them. boggles the functioning mind.

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did Yeshua the Nazarene ever make the Forbes 500? No? Then who cares about him?

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:32 gets it.

the American (both republican/Nazi and democrap) religion is capitalism, which boiled down to its basic urge is greed. The novella character jesus was mute on capitalism, so he was/is irrelevant to their religion.

Fortunately for the Nazi sect, the novellas are quite lousy with hate, violence, genocide, misogyny and the like. So they have holy dispensation for the rest of their limbic urges.


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