In the midst of a presidential campaign in which both primary candidates claim to be Christian yet their behaviors argue otherwise, in the midst of escalating war and senseless violence, in the midst of cruel poverty and starvation world-wide, something is obvious and needs to be openly admitted. Christianity has failed. The message of Jesus Christ has not saved the world.
There have been other voices in the desert trying to make this point. Ecological theologian and poet Wendell Berry, for example, wrote in 2005 that modern-day Christianity “…seems to have remarkably little to do with the things that Jesus Christ actually taught”. (Blessed Are the Peacemakers, p. 3). Indeed, if one looks carefully not just at politicians but at organized religions, one sees a great deal of selectivity in terms of what Churches say Jesus actually taught. Thus, issues ranging from abortion to sexual identity receive a lot of attention while war, capital punishment, and poverty are largely overlooked.
Granted there have been active voices that have tried to address the issues raised by Jesus. But the majority of us sidestep a variety of Jesus’ teachings, focusing instead on rituals and finding some sort of comfort zone spiritually. Church leaders too sidestep these issues, in part because of not wanting to make church members too uncomfortable. Some Christian leaders even espouse policies clearly at odds with Jesus’ teachings. Thus we hear some preachers encouraging the acquisition of wealth while others encourage us to pursue aggressive actions toward Muslims, refugees, and others.
Persons who in any way attempt to challenge or merely question Christian leaders are often subjected to attack and even imprisonment. As singer Jackson Browne says in “Rebel Jesus”: “But if any of us should try to understand why there are poor/He gets the same as the Rebel Jesus.”
Specific teachings of Jesus that have failed include:
- Loving you enemy. Beyond the amount of war and violence in the world, we are prone to attack anyone who disagrees with us politically or otherwise. Jesus’ message is clearly one of nonviolence without exception. There is no room in His theology for the concept of “justifiable war”. That teaching has been ignored for centuries
- Welcoming the stranger. The United States is not the only country currently taking a hostile attitude toward refugees from war-torn countries or from poverty. Jesus came for the marginalized, something for which He was criticized. Nowadays He is simply ignored.
- Embracing the poor. Many Christians try to soothe conscience with donations, even volunteer work. Jesus also clearly challenged consumerism but we don’t like to be made uncomfortable about our attachments to “stuff”.
- Maintaining attitudes of humility and service within organized religions. Many religions have become more concerned with property and position such that some religious leaders become “celebrities” operating megachurches or corporations to protect against lawsuits. Jesus openly challenged the power and prestige of the religious leaders of His day. As time as past, they have simply sidestepped Him.
So what are we to do? Post “Going Out of Business” signs outside our churches? Start going to our city parks and sing “Kumbaya”? I don’t know what we should do. Perhaps a place to start is for each of us to stop relying on someone else telling us what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps we each need to make a very personal decision. What does being a Christian really mean to me? What is it that I really believe? We can each start by re-reading or perhaps reading for the first time the entire Gospels without commentary or interpretation by someone else. We might then experience what Marcus Borg termed Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. In that way perhaps we can begin again and correct the mess we’ve made of His teachings