My friend Jen is not particularly aware of the Christian Left, and she is not alone. For United Church of Christ clergy like myself who have screaming “we exist!” into the cone of silence that is our media, that’s a real problem. As someone like William Barber ihas a featured place in a NY Times article, and his hard, moral work has given us the light of day to talk and be heard about the Jesus we serve.
One would think that fundamentalists were the only kind of “Christian” around. I would run screaming from Jesus if that were true. A bit of history is important here. “Fundamentalism” is not, I repeat, not as old as Jesus. It came about in the late 1800s and said one was a “Christian” only if they believed in 5 “fundamentals” of faith: 1) The Bible is perfect in every word (innerant) 2) The Virgin Birth of Jesus, 3) that all the good people who are alive when Jesus comes back will float into heaven (the “rapture”) at the end of time, while 4) the bad people will go to a literal Hell, with flames and all that. 5) is that only the people who claim “Jesus as their Lord and Saviour” will avoid Hell. Everybody else is on their own unless we can get to them and save them.
Left leaning Christians believe what Bernie Sanders said, “Jesus was a Socialist Jew”. We believe that the early church in Acts 2 is socialism 2,000 years before Marx. We believe that love of neighbor and love of God are central to the faith (because Jesus said that), rather than whether a Virgin can give birth. We may actually believe some of the 5 fundamentals (I can do 2 of them myself), we don’t think they are what Jesus cared about most — not at all.
Jesus didn’t own anything. Jesus wanted us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the sick. He didn’t care if you had a membership card to his club. He talked to women when no man was supposed to. He touched unclean people all the time, he talked to “half-breeds”, like Samaritans, when he wasn’t supposed to. He just broke the rules all the time and it didn’t go over well with The Powers-That-Be. Just to confuse matters, he did it out of love, not out of anger. He didn’t much care who the political leaders of his day were, but he did care about what they did. He believed in the equal value of all people and he wanted to know why, if everybody was equal in God’s eyes, why weren’t we treating them like it? He was.
There are , and have always been, people who liked the status-quo because it worked for them. Jesus was not one of them and it got him killed. Left-leaning Christians accept that as a possible cost of our faith. We’re not happy about it, but we know it’s possible — likely even — if we do this life right. Bet you never heard Jerry Falwell or Loel Osteen say that, but St. Francis did. And MLK did.
That whole “God loves everybody, so why don’t we?” thing is primary for us, and anybody who has ever been oppressed in any way gets that. Anyone who has ever said, “Hey, don’t I matter?” gets it, or should. That’s our connection to Black folk’s faith. When plantation owners wanted them to understand God loved them more, they saw the Old Testament slaves and said, ” Hey, wait, what’s this stuff?” God frees slaves! Jesus says you’re supposed to love us as equals! What’s with that? We thought you said the whole Bible was true! Once again, God and Jesus messed with everything the powerful believed. That’s our Jesus!
That belief in taking the Bible “seriously, but not literally” connects us to millennials and evangelicals. I don’t think even the New York Times gets how that works, but it makes sense to people like Bono and Jim Wallis, both of whom believe budgets are moral documents.
So, we “Left-leaning” Christians are finally getting heard. We hope to keep it up, and we hope you’ll notice our Jesus, found in the actual scriptures, not the works of Adam Smith, Ayn Rand or the “prosperity gospel”. You can seen why we’re not thrilled about healthcare cuts or budgets designed to kill people. When you “lefties” are organizing, count us in. Let us introduce you to the guy we work for.
Resisting with Peace,
AUTHOR’S CORRECTION: if you read the comments, you’ll note that “my friend Jen” is Jen Chapin and (through her work at WhyHunger, as a musician, an activist, and as history teacher) she knows and likes a whole lot of us Left-leaning Christians. I continue to be impressed by her knowledge. I commend to you her song ” Gospel” which features samples of a supporter and strategist for MLK. For those interested in such things, check out Vincent Harding’s organization “Veterans of Hope”, Mennonite theology, “On Being” on NPR, liberation theology, … and, of course, support WhyHunger.
2 thoughts on “Jesus Was A Radical, and Other “Liberal” Thoughts.”
actually, your friend Jen happens to be a student of politics and a history teacher who is pretty aware of and interested in the Christian left… (for what it’s worth)
Oops. Well, ok. You’d be one of 10 people in America who is. My denomination is restructuring so we can, among other things, we can free up mission and lobbying money because we’re “invisible”. I forget you teach history, but I don’t usually think of “theological history” as being the same as history. A theological “best seller” , a teacher once said, is “like, 1000 copies”. But I am glad to hear it. Does my description of it work for you?