I am seriously disheartened by the form of Christianity that is most prominent in the United States today. Conservative Evangelical Christianity dominates the public sphere. Evangelical leaders make statements which demonstrate their support the politics of the privileged minority while using their media platforms to raise more money for their lavish lifestyles. In the face of serious national disasters, they have the audacity to blame these tragedies of suffering and death lesbians and gay marriage. They cling to flat-Earth perspectives of science, denying climate change, while peoples who live on islands and in coastal regions face perils of rising seas. They twist words from the Bible to support white privilege and racism and anti-immigrant views. The word “gospel” means “good news” but they are purveyors of bad news and bring harm to countless people in the US and around the world. It is these individuals who influenced the writing of anti-gay legislation in Russia and Uganda (1) and have prevented proper medical care for women in Africa and other parts of the world (2).
It’s not surprising that Christianity in America has also become crooked and twisted. Columbus’ misguided adventure to India resulted in establishing both slavery and genocide for indigenous people in the Caribbean (3). Spanish missionaries like Junipero Serra who established most of the missions in what is now California enslaved the native people there (4). The English colonists at Plymouth quickly learned ways to kill entire tribes in order to take their land (5). There were also the Christian slave-traders who transported Africans to the new world. It has been estimated that three people died for every two people who became slaves in the Americas (6).
Given the history of Christianity in the Americas, it is probably not surprising that white Evangelical Christian leaders have forgotten that Jesus of Nazareth was a brown man and a Jew. Jesus never started a religion. That was not his mission. Even his early followers had planned to remain Jewish after the death of Jesus. Events of history after the first generation of the Jesus-movement led to the gradual evolution of a religion separate from Judaism.
The mission of Jesus was to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives and to announce God’s favor….for who? Jesus’ mission was to those on the edges of society and not the moneyed people of power of his day. Jesus was himself poor. He was likely illiterate. (Scholars presume that 98% of the people living in Roman occupied Judea were illiterate.) What knowledge Jesus had was rooted in an oral tradition passed down over generations. Jesus grew up living in poverty and died as an enemy of the state — a common criminal stripped of everything. (That loin cloth depicted on your crucifix….he almost certainly didn’t even have that.)
It seems obvious to me that these so-called Christian leaders of today misrepresent Jesus. They miss the truth of the stories handed down to us about Jesus. Because there was no health care available to the suffering poor, he brought healing. Because people were hungry, he miraculously fed them. Because the religious leaders of his day used religion as a source of profit, he turned over their tables and did what he could to stop them from using religion to take advantage of good-hearted common folks.
When I was a child, my first home was in a coal mining town. Later, we moved to the outskirts of a small steel manufacturing town. On the bus ride to school in both places, I often saw workers coming home from the night shift in coal mines black with coal dust. The steel mills were cleaner, but the work was also hard. I wasn’t raised with the kind of Christianity prevalent today. In my Eastern European family, we knew hymns that were tunes from mountains of Eastern Europe. We ate and drank and danced in our church halls and basements. It wasn’t refined. It was loud and messy. It was the kind of community where Jesus would have been at home. People lived on the edge. Often, we did without. People found hope from their faith….not for the hereafter but for the hard lives they lived.
The teachings of Jesus make sense in the lives of those who have experienced oppression, whether that’s been economic oppression, social marginalization, or tragedy in life because that’s the life Jesus knew and lived in his era. The heart of the message of Jesus is that love transforms our lives. It is because of love that we can each find life, goodness, and hope in every moment of every day. As Jesus said, “the realm of God is within you.”
Those so-called Christians…..they don’t represent the message of Jesus. They want everyone to do what they say so that the leaders themselves can benefit from power, prestige and financial gain. They promise their followers that they will live forever in glory after death. But that’s not the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t promise pie in the sky when we die. The realm of God is already here. It’s within us and around us. It’s for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed. And Jesus’ words to the oppressors: reform your lives! Stop extorting people! Use your resources for others.
Anyone who cares to pay attention can easily see that the teachings of Jesus in the gospel are in direct contraction to the oppressors who use religion for their own gain. Don’t take my word for it. You can see it for yourself in any of the Gospels. They really are good news. But the goodness has been distorted by purveyors of Conservative Evangelical Christianity so that it’s become very bad news for the already difficult lives of seniors, immigrants, women, LGBT people, and many, many others.
Picture source: pixabay.com, CCO
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.