I have wonderful friends and family. They know I believe in them. How? I take them at their word, respect the boundaries they define, and trust the intent of their actions. When they tell me they’re going to do something, I believe them. When they step up to take responsibility for something, I trust they will follow through and no intervention is required from me.
I wish Christian evangelicals had that same faith in their god. Despite the words of their sacred text, they seem to think it’s up to them to enforce their god’s rules. For example, there’s the whole sermon Jesus gave on the mount, including the “Judge not lest ye also be judged” portion of Matthew 7:1. Jesus is telling his followers to mind their own business. He explicitly lays out the parameters he wants his devotees to adopt for their own lives while telling them, just as explicitly, not to mind other people’s business. Wherever Jesus is quoted throughout the new testament he is telling people how they should behave, not how they should make others behave.
When it comes to proselytizing, Jesus’ final words in Matthew 28:19-20 tell his disciples to go out into the world and teach as they had been taught. How had they been taught? By example. He didn’t tell them to burn down society. At no time did Jesus demand everyone follow him or adopt his teachings. He simply lived his principles and those who noticed and were drawn became his followers. At no point, ever, did he force anyone to follow him or adopt his teachings. In fact, at the sermon he gave on the mount he told them to let their light shine (Matthew 5:14).
When it came to the separation of church and state, Jesus again was very explicit. Mark’s telling of the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians makes it clear. “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to god those that are god’s” is pretty straightforward.
All of it is distilled into one prime directive, laid out in Mark 12:29-31. Love god, love your neighbor as yourself (i.e. with empathy, as if your neighbor was you).
These are the commands of the New Testament, yet Christian evangelicals continually retreat to the Old Testament, the old agreement, to justify their actions. The god of the burning bush made those old agreements with Abraham and his progeny. Because our species is apparently incapable of living without explicit rules, the old commandments were spelled out over time with law after law after law, until there were so many laws they were too burdensome for many to follow.
The whole point of Jesus’ life was to fulfill all those laws and provide a simple new covenant. In Jesus death, the old covenant was supposed to be completed; in his resurrection, a new covenant was supposed to be born. Neither the old nor new covenant was with non-believers. Neither the old or new covenant asked non-believers to adopt a particular lifestyle. The first was with the children of Abraham. The second was with those Jews who committed to follow Jesus’s teachings and, later, those non-Jews who made the same choice.
In all the biblical stories of Jesus, he only gets angry once, and it isn’t with Romans or Pharisees. His rage was reserved for those who were bound by the Abrahamic covenant. John 2:14-15 tells how the retailers and money-changers were using the temple’s sacred space for commercial purposes. Jesus saw that as a defilement of the original covenant, a desecration of the holy by the profane. Jesus’s anger was reserved for those who entered into a covenant and broke it to enrich themselves: hypocrites.
In our modern era, Christian evangelicals have taken it upon themselves to become the moral judges of the world, deciding who is or is not worthy of existence and humane respect, thinking they know who will or will not make it into a heavenly existence. Yet that mandate appears nowhere in their holy text. Rather, Jesus’s call is for them to teach, by example. To live their lives in ways that hold up the two most important commandments: love god, love your neighbor.
The lifestyle Jesus expects of his followers is clearly defined in Matthew 4-5, commonly known as The Beatitudes. Nowhere does he worry about who they have sex with, or even if they have sex. Nowhere does he mention where they live or who their friends are. Nowhere does he demand financial tribute. Instead, he spells out priorities for believers’ lives.
In I Corinthians 13, Jesus’s converted apostle Paul clarifies the pathway for implementing the new covenant. He redefines power as kindness, respect, and empathy. There is no place in this new definition for the meanness, humiliation, cruelty, and lies marking today’s evangelicals.
If evangelical Christians actually believed Jesus, they would trust he would take care of things as long as they lived the lives he set out for them. Their anger would be reserved for those in their midst who broke the new covenant, whose actions violated the principles of I Corinthians 13. They would actively pursue a separation of church and state so every faith, including theirs, could practice its precepts, as long as no one was being coerced or harmed. They wouldn’t have to proselytize because the beauty of their lives would serve as a beacon.
But they don’t trust their god; don’t believe in him. They think they have to do all the work, clean up after him, make sure nothing gets missed. They negate John 3:16’s claim that god loved the world so much he gave his only son to teach them how to live. The louder evangelicals get, the more Christian worship has declined in our country. The more they try to manipulate politics to “do god’s work,” as if he is incapable of doing it himself, the less faith others have in their god.
It's a pity, really. Christianity, like most religions, is trying desperately to keep our species from self-destruction. As each generation learns the hard lessons about the long-range ineffectiveness of power forced at gunpoint, the pure guidelines of most faiths offer a redefinition of what it is to be powerful. Rather than power as an instrument of oppression, it can be an instrument of mutual affirmation and support. Rather than power as an axe to separate, it can be a thread to unite. That is what all the religions of the world teach. Too bad their followers don’t actually believe them.
Christians are now in a period of preparation leading to the celebration of their faith’s founding principles. Lent is of a period designated for deep spiritual self-reflection. Now would be a good time for evangelicals, individually and collectively, to examine how far away they’ve strayed from Jesus’s teachings. Returning to them might save this country. Continuing down their current path will destroy it.
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Welcome! I am an essayist, poet, and facilitator, passionate about social justice and integrity, who lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. These observations are based on a lifetime working in the private and non-profit sectors, in a variety of organizational development capacities.