The Party of Jesus

A friend posted an interesting link from Salon, Why Conservative Christians Would Have Hated Jesus, on his Facebook page.

Jesus never could have been the pastor of a contemporary evangelical church nor a conservative Roman Catholic bishop. Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics thrive on drawing distinctions between their “truth” and other people’s failings. Jesus by contrast, set off an empathy time bomb that obliterates difference.

Jesus’ empathy bomb explodes every time a former evangelical puts love ahead of what the “Bible says.” It goes off every time Pope Francis puts inclusion ahead of dogma. It goes off every time a gay couple are welcomed into a church. Jesus’ time bomb explodes whenever atheists follow Jesus better than most Christians.

Put it this way: Godless non-church-going Denmark mandates four weeks of maternity leave before childbirth and fourteen weeks afterward for mothers. Parents of newborn children are assisted with well-baby nurse-practitioner visits in their homes.

In the “pro-life” and allegedly “family friendly” American Bible belt, conservative political leaders slash programs designed to help women and children while creating a justifying mythology about handouts versus empowerment.

In “God-fearing America” the poor are now the “takers,” no longer the “least of these,” and many conservative evangelicals side with today’s Pharisees, attacking the poor in the name of following the Bible.

So who is following Jesus?

Confronted by the Bible cult called evangelicalism we have a choice: follow Jesus or follow a book cult. If Jesus is God as evangelicals and Roman Catholics claim he is, then the choice is clear. We have to read the book–including the New Testament–as he did, and Jesus didn’t like the “Bible” of his day.

Confronted by bishops protecting dogma and tradition against Pope Francis’ embrace of empathy for the “other” we have a choice: follow Jesus or protect the institution.

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…” Jesus undermined the scriptures and religious tradition in favor of empathy. Every time Jesus undermined the scriptures (Jewish “church tradition”) it was to err on the side of co-suffering love. Every time a former evangelical becomes an atheist in favor of empathy she draws closer to Jesus. Every time Pope Francis sides with those the Church casts out he is closer to Jesus. Every time conservative Roman Catholics try to stop the Pope from bringing change to the Church they are on the side to those who killed Jesus.

These are all valid points and it may well be that Conservative Christians do not follow the teachings of Jesus as well as they ought to. Nevertheless, I believe that liberal Christians would hate Jesus more. Jesus had very strict views regarding marriage, divorce and adultery. He opposed divorce with the sole exception of sexual immorality. He taught that even looking at a woman with lust was adultery. (Matthew 5:27-32) Jesus almost certainly would have opposed the concept of same se marriage. (Matthew 19:3-9)  Actually, when Jesus”undermined” the Jewish Scriptures it was more often in the direction of greater rigor. Jesus loudly condemned the sophistries and the technicalities of the Pharisees. (Matthew 23:13-36)

Jesus did not preach any sort of post-modern relativism. He confirmed the authority of the Law and the scriptures ( Matthew 5:18)and when he did make alterations, he did so under his divine authority. He taught that the truth is real and that he was the Truth. Jesus did not preach that there are many paths to salvation but that He was the only way the Father.(John 14:1-6) Jesus forgave sinners, but he insisted they give up their sins. He did not tell the adulteress to continue her lifestyle but to go and sin no more. (John 7:53-8:11) Most liberals would condemn Jesus as being judgemental, narrow minded, prudish, bigoted, homophobic, and possibly racist. (Matthew 15:21-28) They would prefer the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar over the Jesus of the Gospels.

I am not arguing that Jesus is a conservative, liberal or anything else. The issue here is that people have been trying to recruit Jesus into their party, whether political or religious denomination, since the beginning of Christianity. Paul wrote about this very problem in his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians. Jesus is not a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal, a Catholic or Baptist. Jesus is Himself. He is not asking to join any of our parties. He wants us to join His party, and He insists that once you join, you put His party ahead of any other concerns.This means,among other things, that if another member of the party emphasises different aspects of His teachings than you do or if they serve in a different fashion than you, you ought not to argue or boast over who is the better servant. We all have our orders.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Don’t try to define Me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


But, we ought to be sure we are following orders from the right source. The only information we possess about the life and teachings of Jesus are the Gospels. Our guide, or orders, on how to behave as Christians is the Bible. The writer of this article seems to be deprecating the role of scripture.

“Worship in the Spirit and in truth,” is not about a book, let alone “salvation” through correct ideas or tradition. For people who call Jesus “the Son of God” you’d think they would also reject the veneration of the book he’s trapped in and church dogma that has crucified him again each time a gay man or divorced couple are refused the sacraments.

Evangelicals struggle to conform Jesus to a book, not the other way around. And the conservative bishops have aligned themselves with the American neoconservative wing of their church against not just the Pope Francis but against the emancipating logic of Jesus’ empathy time bomb. If Jesus isn’t the “lens” evangelicals and Roman Catholics read the Bible and their traditions through then whatever they say to the contrary they do not really believe Jesus is the son of God.

At present, scripture is the only way we can come to know who Jesus really is and what He expects of us. Naturally, we should take care, when reading the Bible, not to allow our own preconceptions to cause misunderstanding, and we should always consider the historical and social contexts. But, if we try to go beyond, or even against, the Jesus of the Gospels, we may find ourselves serving an imaginary Jesus. This has also been a problem throughout the history of Christianity among many denominations. If the Jesus you worship happens to be a Republican, Democrat, Catholic, American either White or Black, New Age hippie, environmentalist, capitalist, communist, or any other faction, then there is a real danger that Jesus is imaginary. You had better read the Gospels to find the real Jesus. Don’t worry. He is patient and really wants you to find Him.

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