Friday, March 24, 2006

Red and Blue Politics: What Would Jesus Do?

With the Senate poised to take up the divisive issue of immigration next week, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York has become one of the leading voices against suggested legislation coming from the other side of the aisle. The fomer First Lady said that proposed legislation criminalizes undocumented immigrants (as if being here without documentation isn't already criminal according to existing laws), and boldy proclaimed that Republican-sponsored bills were not only in opposition to Democratic values, but were antithetical to the views of Jesus Himself. The proposed legislation, in her view, "would likely criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus Himself."

Needless to say, many in the evangelical community are shocked to hear Senator Clinton appeal to Jesus as an authority for anything! But Clinton isn't the only politician, and the democrats certainly aren't the only party, claiming God is on their side. And the propensity on both sides of American politics to play fast and loose with the person and message of Jesus Christ should cause His followers grave concern.

But efforts to shape Jesus into our own image are not new. In the 19th century, amidst the rise of classical liberalism and the demytholigization approach of Rulolph Bultman and David Strauss, German theologian Martin Kahler expressed concern that the "Quest for the Historical Jesus" was in reality simply a re-making of Jesus into the image of those who sought to critique His person and message. Though Kahler himself rejected the authenticity and historical accuracy of the New Testament Gospels, he was reticent to accept Bultmans approach of re-interpreting Jesus' message in light of history. As a result, Kahler sought to promote a total separation of the "Jesus of faith" from the "Jesus of history." As a liberal, Kahler understood that if one rejects the veracity of the Biblical text, the only other option is to separate faith from history, otherwise, the "re-interpreted" history that results would be far less historical and far more convenient to the views of those seeking to do such re-interpretation.

Kahler had a great analogy for this. He compared those looking for the "historical Jesus" to those looking down into a well, and claimed that it is no surprise to find that the Jesus they construct in the end looks very much like the reflection they have been observing.

In the case of the Jesus Seminar, our Savior comes out as an arrogant academic seeking tenure at an ivy-league school. Coincidental?

The above review of this small but significant part of Church History allows us to see a very similar parallel in remarks such as those made by Senator Clinton yesterday. Instead of starting with Jesus, and being conformed to His image, many start with themselves and seek to conform Jesus to their own image.

But there is no reason why evangelical Christians should have to even struggle through such an issue. We do not distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. We believe both are described with perfect accuracy in the text of the Bible. Yet so often, even Bible-believing Christians yield to the temptation to form their Savior in their own image. Though forthcoming descriptions have been published in similar form in far more eloquent fashion, it is helpful to examine the "Blue" Jesus, and the "Red" Jesus, and compare them both to the Jesus of Scripture.

The "Red" Jesus. This Jesus is a "gun-totin' redneck," and proud of it! His definition of a tax is "legalized theft." He cares little for the environment. After all, the whole planet is goiing to burn under God's judgement one day anyway, so why not help things out a bit? He is anti-abortion, but simultaneously anti-charity. If she got herself into that mess, then she can get herself out of it. The "Red" Jesus also takes his cues from John Calvin when it comes to church-state relations: The state should simply adopt policies as they are dictated by the church. This of course includes immigration policy, which, according to the Red Jesus, can be articulated clearly and sufficiently with two words: "STAY OUT." The preaching of the Gospel is accomplished through the acquisition and retention of power, and is spoken in the most offensive manner possible. Let's face it: most of the world is going to hell anyway, so why should we care about how our message "sounds" to them?

But what about the poor? Red Jesus doesn't care about them! Red Jesus writes them all off as simply lazy and uninitiated, Sure, they are the "least of these," but that is most likely because they contribute the least! This of course includes the people of China. Its not America's fault that they won't take the initiative to rise out from under their oppressors, so Red Jesus will normalize trade relations with them because it doesn't matter how the Chinese treat their women and children, so long as we can use strategic partnerships with them to make a buck. Heck, the Red Jesus will use those monies to fund "faith-based initiatives." Yeah, that's what we need: government using the tax dollars of Baptists to fund the work of Mormons! Makes perfect sense!

To be sure, what I have described represents only the worst of Republican politics. But the above should be well noted, and sufficient to substantiate that Jesus is not a Republican. This is admittedly troubling to me, because I am a Republican. As such, I'd sure be more comfortable if I knew God shared all of my political views. I could take the Hillary Clinton approach and define Jesus on my terms of course, but I think there is something about the second commandment that would make this wrong.

The "Blue" Jesus: This Jesus is a liberal, bleeding-heart, tofu-eating, PETA-supporting socialist who believes that government is the answer to all things. The blue Jesus doesn't need to carry a gun. Guns are dangerous, and if we could get rid of all the guns, we would get rid of all the violence. Of course, Blue Jesus can't afford a gun anway, because the politicians he has elected have raised his taxes to the point that he can barely afford groceries, let alone a gun!

Blue Jesus believes that the government needs those taxes to help the poor. After all, the problem of the poor isn't laziness, or sinfulness. Its a bad environment. In fact, that is everybody's true problem: bad environment, or abuse as a child, or not enough attention, or economic disenfranschisement. Therefore, Blue Jesus works dillegently to ensure that the government provides and access and funding to what these people need.

In the event of an unplanned pregnancy, this would of course include abortion. But this can't be limited to the first trimester. A girl should have the entire term of her pregnancy to decide whether she wants the baby . . .em, excuse me, I meant to say fetus. Actually, the later she makes this decision the better, because late term abortions, especially of the DNX (i.e. partial birth) variety provide huge amounts of grant money to doctors and research hospitals, as well as fetal body parts on which to experiment. Sure, this may involve piercing the back of a baby . . . .excuse me again . . . . fetus' neck and sucking out its brains, but we have to sacrifice the one to serve the many!

Blue Jesus also thinks the whole attempt to define marriage is stupid. If two men or two women want to get married, that should be their right. After all, people should be able to believe what they want, and act the way they want. Blue Jesus encourages Muslims to remain Muslim, Hindus to remain Hindu, and so on. Blue Jesus would certainly not claim to be the "only way" to God. How arrogant! And of course, Blue Jesus would say that, with regard to immigration (or any other area for that matter), that the law of the land really doesn't matter, so lets just keep ignoring the problem. We will not take the intolerant road of telling an undocumented worker that he or she has broken the law, and then enforce that law. Blue Jesus doesn't even bother with changing the law to make the immigration process less cumbersome for those who want to make a better life for themselves. Blue Jesus just ignores the law. Changing it would take up too much valuable time that could be spent saving another spotted owl.

"Red Jesus" and "Blue" Jesus are prime examples of what Dr. Kahler warned us about over one hundred years ago. Worse yet, Red Jesus and Blue Jesus are idols: gods that we have fashioned in our own image. So why is it that our culture, both inside and outside the church, continue to define Jesus only as they would like Him to be, like some wierdo spiritual angle on Extreme Makeover?

The answer? I believe it is because the real Jesus; the Jesus who historically existed, born of a virgin, dying in time and space for human sin, and being historically and literally resurected by God the Father, that Jesus is hard to handle! The Jesus of Scripture isn't confined to a political agenda or any other box. This Jesus is unplugged!

-He creates the entire world in six days.

-He destroys that same world by flood over forty days, violently drowning every man, woman, boy, girl, and baby not in the ark.

-He kills the first-born sons of an entire nation of people, including the Princes.

-He destroys Sodom and Gommorrah by fire.

-He is born in a barn, and raised in a blue-collar household.

-He hangs out with prostitutes, drunks, cheats, theives, and worst of all, employees of the Internal Revenue Service!

-He grows up within Judaism, only to vehemently condemn the leaders of His own faith, calling them "whitewashed tombs."

-He gets angry, REALLY angry, at those who use faith to take advantage of others. He gets a whip, cracks it across a few backs and trashes the entire joint.

-He calls out Judas in front of all the others, revealing in His omniscient understanding Judas' intent to betray Him. Then He basically says to Judas "Do what you gotta do, but when you're done, you are gonna wish you were never born!"

-He dies in a bloody mess on a Roman cross.

-He rises bodily from the grave, demonstrating that the "box" called death can't hold Him either.

-He advocates, as a nation-building strategy for His eternal and indestructable Kingdom, the suffering, persecution and death of those who follow Him.

-He is coming back as the strong, powerful, white haired, tatooed warrior to kill all His enemies.

To sum it all up: The Jesus of the Bible can't be domesticated! And since this is the real Jesus, any other "Jesus" who perfectly fits our understanding, worldview, or political persuasion is by definition a false god.

Hillary Clinton an idolater? Who would have thought that? But she isn't the only one. And this kind of idolatry happens every time we emphasize some things about the Savior to the exclusion of others.

Check the Great Commission. Jesus doesn't speak for us. We speak for Him. Jesus doesn't support our views. We support His.

And Jesus has no desire to identify as a Republican or Democrat. Rather, Jesus expects . . . .indeed commands . . . .those of all political parties to bow before His sovereign goodness. There will be no political parties in the Theocracy that Jesus will soon return to establish. Those who want to be counted as belonging to Him had better realize this, and begin living as if it is true.

7 comments:

Ryan DeBarr said...

Joel,

I have never encountered this "Red Jesus" and I have spent my life in some of the most redneck, conservative, and Fundamentalist of places. I really don't believe that he exists anywhere except Bill Moyer speeches.

Which is not to say that Republicans don't have some often ugly political views. But I've never heard a Republican say that Jesus would have us ignore the environment or that Jesus would have us trade with the Chinese. Just doesn't happen. The closest the religious right gets to that is saying "God Bless America."

But I would have to agree that our favorite idolatry is to confuse God and Country and treat them as if they were the same.

Paramendra Bhagat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joel Rainey said...

Ryan,
I'm grateful that you haven't run into anyone like I have described. Unfortunately, I have. In fact, while what I described is in no way representative of the best of Republican views, I have not embellished at all! Each of the sentiments listed I have personally heard out of the mouth of a so-called "conservative." For that matter, same thing with the democrats.

Paramendra, Thanks for dropping in, and for posting. Unfortunately, yours is the very first post I have found neccesary to remove. The article you reference is inflammatory and abrasive. And I would have removed it even if it had been written from my own political perspective, for two reasons:
1. Too much of what I read in your post exists in BOTH political parties.
2. The subject of my writing here is from a Biblical worldview perspective, and is not intended to ever be an apologia for EITHER party.

martyduren said...

Awesome post, Joel. Send it to Richard Land.

Rick said...

Joel, awesome post. I believe the shaping of the Red and Blue Jesus you refer to does happen, but rarely does anyone shape Jesus to the extent you have listed. I'm assuming you used the opposite ends of the spectrum for illustration purposes. There are a few people out there on the extremes, and they are easily identified and cancel their views out. It is the ones like most of us who are more subtle and not so extreme who are causing the most damage. We all try to rationalize our political beliefs with our faith and most times it leaves us disconnected. I appreciate your section on who Jesus really is, scripturally. Pretty hard to argue with what the Word of God says.

Yesterday in church we studied Romans 14:13-23 and legalism versus the freedom we find in Christ. What a great discussion topic to see how we all have re-formed God in our own image rather than us in His.

Ryan DeBarr said...

Marty,

I am taking a class to Richard Land this semester, on this very topic. I do not totally agree with Dr. Land on some things. Yet, I don't believe he is as bad as what Joel has listed here. In fact, we've spent six to ten hours on this very subject and he's not promoted a "Red Jesus."

I have to take Joel at his word and believe the "Red Jesus" may exist here and there. He's certainly a potential danger that we need to be reminded of, as Joel has done here. But it would be hard for me to overstate my redneck Fundamentalist conservative credentials, and I've not heard this specific Red Jesus from any church going person. I have occasionally heard something approaching "Red Jesus" from non-church going Republicans that played religion in public. But I've never quite heard him from the pulpit.

Joel Rainey said...

For the record: "Red Jesus" was in no way intended to be a caricature of Richard Land! :)

That said, I think that sometimes, the work we do in our own particular corners of the body of Christ often results in ministerial myopia. For example, as a church planting missionary, it is sometimes easy for me to forget the issues our established church pastors deal with that are very real.

I think ultimately, this is what often happens with those who speak for ERLC, Focus, AFA, etc. The whole mission of the church becomes "culture war." And since we tend to put our most flamboyant folk in those roles, it is often those roles that get the most attention.

You guys (along with other posts I have read elsewhere recently) have me thinking and wondering: is there a Biblical, legitimate place for the "culture war" approach? Lots of younger guys like me seem to say "no," but I'm not sure. Certainly it doesn't deserve the prominent place it presently has at our table, but I do think that appropriate measures of cultural confrontation are healthy, although I'm not suggesting for a moment that the American Family Association has given us any sort of precedent for what this should look like! :)

As for Land; I've met the guy. I honestly like the guy! And in most cases, I agree with the guy! Do I think he goes overboard at times? Only if Rush Limbaugh is a partisan! But again, I would say that these moments are probably fueled by a kind of myopia from which we all suffer at times.