speaking up: a rallying cry against the misrepresentation of Jesus

Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” – Matthew 25

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telling the truth about Jesus

Today’s post is circling back around to a recurring topic that often leaves me scratching my head in disbelief. I’m talking about the way the public face of Christianity has been hijacked and distorted by the religious right.

In consequence, the truth about the character of Jesus and the work of The Church (compassion, generosity, love, welcome, forgiveness, acceptance, invitation, “come as you are,”) has been set aside in favor of intolerance, rejection, bullying, condemnation, judgement, exclusivity, harsh rhetoric, and more.

More and more people want nothing to do with a religion they perceive as more interested in social control than social justice, more committed to reactionary politics than reformation, and more inclined to reject people as sinners than to welcome them as children of God.

More and more people want nothing to do with a religion they perceive as more interested in social control than social justice, more committed to reactionary politics than reformation, and more inclined to reject people as sinners than to welcome them as children of God.

“Pipe Down”

Several years ago, after my weekly column in The Tampa Tribune raised some similar questions, I was told to “keep your voice down,” because Christians need to “stick together,” and “back one another up.”

Always one for unity, I thought seriously about the request. But the more I thought about the gag order, the more convinced I became that I need to do exactly the opposite! I need to speak up more clearly and more often. Because more damage is being done by fundamentalists shutting people out than by me disagreeing with their message, apologizing for the bigotry, and inviting people in.

more damage is being done by fundamentalists shutting people out than by me disagreeing with their message, apologizing for the bigotry, and inviting people in.

The simple equation for me is this: I understand that I am wrong a lot (news flash, BTW, we all are!); but the more closely I follow Jesus, the more I tend to fall on the side of grace.

Given the fact that none of us get it right all the time, doesn’t it make sense to lean more toward grace than judgment? When I am held to account one day (read Matthew 25 for a good look at that), I’m increasingly convinced that God is still going to find me far short of the mark when it comes to compassion, and love, and forgiveness, and invitation, and acceptance, and – so very much – in my practice of grace.

IMG_4513In the meanwhile, I am increasingly committed to a life of following Jesus. And Jesus, always, challenges me in terms of the practice of invitation, and love, and compassion.

This is what it means to be a Christian. Anyone who tells you to ramp up the rhetoric aimed at who you’re against, and those you’ve decided God rejects… well, that’s a law-based religion I really don’t recognize any more.

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him.  He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” – Luke 4:16-21

In love, and because of love – DEREK

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