Wasn't Jesus a Liberal?
Part Two - Part One Here
By Gary Vance
10/10/05 -- -- I wrote an essay in October 2004 entitled "Wasn't
Jesus a Liberal?" in an attempt to refute the denigration of liberalism by the Republican dominated Religious Right that increasingly claims only conservatives have the moral high ground and the endorsement of Jesus. Published on several sites on the internet, the essay encouraged a startling number of replies from readers thanking me for expressing thoughts and values that they also held. Many told of how they felt oppressed and ostracized within their communities of faith for sharing these views. What I learned is that their churches have disenfranchised vast multitudes of Christians who now don't know where to turn.
I was saddened by the responses from the Religious Right. Their commentary, revealing a great degree of ignorance and apathy concerning the full spectrum of Biblically-based Christian ideals that might be tackled in the political arena, were bitter and vitriolic diatribes that questioned my credibility as a minister and my standing in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus was and is beyond any simplistic pigeonhole definition of the term liberal. The classic nobility of Christian liberalism originated with Christ. His teaching was absolute and was not tainted by shifting cultural mores like we find in todays definition of liberal. In a benign Webster's Dictionary definition of liberal, a particular line that alluded to a belief in the basic goodness of man offended my evangelical critics. Their criticism indicated that as a minister I should know what the Bible teaches concerning the hopeless depravity of man apart from God's salvation.
I chose the Webster definition in an attempt to bring into focus the more classical understanding of the term rather than the distorted, contemporary, partisan-driven connontation. The Bible teaches that God created humans in His likeness and that there remains in everyone something that He loves and is redeemable. (John 3:16) I think it is interesting that Christians who oppose the content of my essay seize on that one phrase of definition and overlook other aspects that relate to being progressive and tolerant.
The critics of the essay are offended by the idea that liberal Democrats might have a superior ideology. Especially when it comes to some social issues that have spiritual and moral implications. Basic classes in American civics teach that there are some fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican Party is driven by an ideological value that is primarily designed to help the wealthy to stay that way. The Democratic ideology is one that advocates for the worker and the lower echelon citizenry and their concerns. The connecting point and economic expression of these two opposing value systems is capitalism.
That gets us into murky waters when we start trying to sort through the details to discover the real differences between them. Therefore, it is important to revisit the foundational precepts of the two when faced with the daunting task of becoming informed voters of conscience. To do so serves as a clear reminder that the Democratic philosophy has a much nobler inherent character to which Christians should freely gravitate.
The types of decisions and policies that were enacted under previous administrations can be faulted in retrospect for failures on both sides. Corruption and compromise abounds in both political camps. It is hard for the average voter to sort through the many complexities of candidate records and positions. Sometimes it is even harder to finally make a choice that feels like anything other than picking the lesser of two evils.
Sadly, good Christians have been herded into the Republican camp by preachers, false prophets, and political hucksters who utilize a few hot button issues to capture their allegiance. These propagandists vilify and demonize liberal Democratic politicians because of positions taken on some of the most personal and private issues. Time has proven that neither party has much control over such matters in the legislative realm.
Now they find themselves blindly stuck in a quagmire. They have given their coveted blessing to a political party that exploits their vote. Endorsing tax cuts for the rich while championing a costly and unnecessary war compromises them. Current policies of the Republican Party are pushing citizens into poverty faster than in any other time in modern history. We are losing good jobs with benefits and there will be no minimum wage increase. The costs of energy and health care are ever escalating while social relief programs are drying up due to lack of funding. These are some of the consequences of just a few years of Republican dominance. The rich are getting richer while…well you know the rest of the cliché.
Christians played a pivotal role in the last election and gave Bush another term based on the hope that he might appoint some conservative judges to the high courts. It is interesting that people like Dr. James Dobson shriek about judicial activism and how wrong it is for liberal judges to legislate from the bench. Has anyone noticed that our current congress and president have not offered any significant legislation to bring the kinds of social correction that Dobson desires? They are essentially pinning all their hopes on judicial activism on the right. This kind of hypocrisy is not lost on the non-Christian onlookers.
I recall that all presidents in my lifetime have acknowledged some type of Christian faith. The current president is the first to politicize his claimed faith to such a great extent. He has essentially become the poster boy for the Religious Right.
Their belief is that he prays and in turn hears from God for important decisions. The policies that he has pursued do not in any way indicate that God has been leading him. They do however show a great consistency in support of the foundational ideology of the Republican Party. Every move is for the benefit of the rich at all costs. The whole planet and all of heaven looks on and sees this perverted expression of Christianity and are repulsed by it.
This mentality is far removed from the heart of God that is revealed in scripture. They embrace the little baby Jesus at Christmas and the dying and resurrected Christ at Easter, but give little thought to the life and teachings of Jesus in between. The primary quote of Jesus used by the Republicans has to do with the poor always being with us. They quote that verse in an attempt to deflect any call for helping the poor while overlooking the hundreds of verses that advocate for them.
The liberal Jesus challenged the rich to be generous with the poor. The liberal Jesus would much rather have the Beatitudes considered and embraced than public displays of the Ten Commandments. The liberal Jesus would not be arguing for the inclusion of God in the pledge of allegiance because He would find the whole concept of the pledge to be a shallow form of idolatry. The liberal Jesus is just as concerned for the welfare of the born as the unborn. The liberal Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which was Caesars when questioned about taxation.
Cutting taxes on the rich is the trademark of the Republican philosophy. Their whiny voices proclaim taxation to be the bane of democracy. Actually, our founding fathers opposed taxation without representation. The interests of the wealthy are by far the best represented in government while making up only two percent of the total population. They complain that they are unfairly penalized for working hard. They believe it is socialistic encroachment to take a portion of their earnings to fund programs for the poor and needy of our country. They never mention that they are still rich after taxes.
Republicans will never embrace the liberal positions that Christ advocated because there is seldom any way to make a profit from them. Only after a devastating hurricane does this president begin to address the issue of poverty. He does so with vague rhetorical generalities, but no real thought or planning is being brought forth because the problem is systemic. Solutions would require the abandonment of much of what is Republican.
Cronyism continues to be the modus operandi for this administration. No bid contracts for clean up and rebuilding a ruined Gulf Coast are already being reported. Money that was being spent a few years ago to improve the levees around New Orleans was diverted to rebuild the bombed out infrastructure in Iraq. Those levees broke in exactly the places where the work stopped. Now we hear grandiose plans spewing forth from Washington about rebuilding a glorious New Orleans and looking forward to basking on the porch of a new house for Trent Lott. The plan to pay for this will involve cutting funding for social programs that help the poor and elderly.
The fact that Christian leaders are not calling the policies of this government into righteous accountability is what troubles me the most. They went out on the limb with their endorsements and yet they still give this inept and misguided president carte blanche. Where is the voice of the true prophet? Why do they still blindly support him and his policies of greed and war?
They have become like all the other lobbyists that love their place dining at the table of political power. Never mind if their emperor has no clothes and little integrity. Never mind if his philosophies and policies are tight fisted toward the poor and generous to the rich. Never mind the vindictive actions taken against anyone that questions policy or dares to dissent. Never mind the radical departures from treaties and long held moral positions that ensure decent treatment for prisoners taken in war. The list is longer than I can bear to write.
It grieves me that there appears to be no turning in the deceived evangelical Christian leadership or their millions of followers. It leaves me wondering where I fit into this Christian expression in which I have so much vested interest. It has been suggested that I spend too much time and thought on matters that I can't really do anything about. At times I feel that way. Then a flicker of hope rises in my soul as I consider that ultimately Truth triumphs over lies and Justice triumphs over evil. This will happen with or without the endorsement and participation of the Religious Right.
I have to wonder. Does anyone in that vast multitude of Christians hear the voice of Jesus calling unto them to repent and turn away from the wicked pursuits of the greedy? Will any prophets arise to identify the sins of the king, the nation, and the Church?
Jesus prophesied that in the days prior to his return that deception would abound and the love of many of His followers would wax cold. There would be a great falling away. I am afraid this is the case. I conclude with one final question. Will the Church continue to be the lap dog of one political party or will it assume the position of becoming the watchdog of both? How this question is answered will greatly impact the future of America.
Gary Vance (firstname.lastname@example.org) was licensed to preach as a Southern Baptist in 1976. Most of his years as a Christian have been spent in the ranks of the evangelical, fundamental, and charismatic church expressions. He currently pastors a small church in Tennessee.
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