One of the things that gets me riled up is the conflation of things done in the name of a religion by fundamentalists with the actual teachings of said religion. Case in point, America in 2018 is being enthralled, in the most negative sense of that word, by fundamentalist “Christians” who are gleefully celebrating every oppressive thing the current administration does. This gives many non-Christians the idea that this sort of racist, misogynistic, militaristic, bigoted, authoritarianism is what Christianity is all about. Nothing could be further from the truth– the same can be said of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism as well, each faith has its own issues with its core teachings being perverted by violence, oppression, and coercion. Each faith has at its core, a version of the golden rule, which if enacted would preclude oppressing anyone.
This week a Methodist minister called out Jeff Sessions’ oppressive tendencies at a public gathering by reciting a passage from Matthew 25 in which Jesus pronounces judgment upon those who fail to welcome the stranger, feed and clothe the poor, visit the sick and those in prison. The pastor, using his prophetic voice, then asked Sessions, a Methodist, to repent. Why? Because Sessions is an authoritarian who clings to the old slave-holder religion and appeals regularly to “law and order,” which is the opposite of grace. He favors internment camps, strict immigration policies, mass incarceration, and warfare. He has been credibly accused of racism multiple times. (1) As Attorney General of the United States he wields enormous power and influence and thus far he’s used it to oppress marginalized peoples from various walks of life. And he’s doing it in Jesus’ name.
How so many people who claim to follow Jesus, can do this is a mystery to me. White evangelicals voted for Trump at around an 80% clip despite his obvious racism, bigotry, and repeated calls for violence on the campaign trail. Trump’s support is still strong among people in that demographic. Yet, Jesus was incredibly clear about his stance towards oppressive institutions. He carried on a tradition of Jewish sages denouncing oppression from government and religious officials. He articulated and expounded upon the golden rule found in the Torah. His parable of the Good Samaritan is my personal ‘canon within the canon’. In Luke, Jesus teaches that even someone who was despised as much as the Samaritans were by the Jews of Jesus’ time is our neighbor. And to them we are to show mercy. In other words, think of the person or group you despise the most–for me it is people who dehumanize, marginalize, and kill others for profit–and show them mercy. Grace. Compassion. Beyond that, we are to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us, and resist oppression nonviolently. At least, we are to do all those things according to Jesus. If we aren’t going to listen to Jesus and follow Jesus, why bother claiming to be a Christian?
We can not follow Jesus by oppressing people who are different from us, be they a different race or ethnicity, religious background, nation of origin, gender -regardless of whether they are cis male/female, transgender, intersex, identify as non-binary, or have Kleinfelter Syndrome (2), sexual orientation (whether we understand it or not), or illness (be it mental or physical), injury, or other debilitating, life altering circumstance. Oppression and the teachings of Jesus are completely INCOMPATIBLE with one another. Introducing legislation that favors one religion over others is oppression. Enacting and enforcing laws that systemically oppress others is a sin. Creating an environment of fear, by inciting violence and lending legitimacy to hate-speech, which makes marginalized groups fear for their safety during the course of their everyday lives is a sin. Governments and moneyed interests have been doing this for millennia. In the U.S., it is still being done in Jesus’ name, just as it was when European invaders wiped out native peoples and when the enslavement of Africans was justified in Jesus’ name. The latter led to the formation of the largest Protestant denomination in America, the Southern Baptist Convention. A denomination largely made up of white people. I grew up Southern Baptist in an all white church in Texas and was never once told of its racist history.
The teachings of Jesus and the Book of Revelation make it clear that we are to resist oppression nonviolently rather than aid and abet empire. Paul teaches in his letter to the Galatians, that in Christ there is no room for division, for all are equal. As a theologian I can affirm that Donald Trump is NOT God’s anointed leader who will help bring about “the Rapture” because the “Rapture” isn’t really a thing unless you’re a Dispensationalist, and if you are, look into its history. It’s bogus theology. Trump’s presidency may be the catalyst for more truly awful things, some of them with global implications, but it will not make Jesus come back again. (3) If the people, places, and things that we support engage in oppression then it’s time that we all rethink our support. That means examining our politics because that arena has so much potential for harming or helping others, and then adjusting accordingly. We are to love as Christ has loved and to live as if the Kindom of God were here now (hint, doing so brings it about). We must stop oppressing in the name of Jesus.
Peace be with you.
Dillon Naber Cruz
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Thank you and peace be with you.