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The Politics of Jesus 1: Introduction

The Politics of Jesus 1: Introduction

Traditional kingship (with absolute power, hoards of wealth, and power over the weak) has nothing to do with Jesus; it’s something Jesus rejected.  

Traditional kings demand allegiance and servitude, but Jesus offers liberation—from suffering, sickness and death, exclusion, persecution, and sin. Jesus is a “king” who serves the “least of these” and who finally receives torture and execution to bring freedom to others.

As we see in the Gospels, Christ’s kingship is inconsistent with traditional structures of power. And for this reason, Jesus tells Pilate that “my kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36). Passages like these have, unfortunately, fostered an ineffectual other-worldliness among Christians. And they have been used to legitimate “real-world” kingdoms. Jesus rules some magical sky-kingdom, while princes and emperors can dominate flesh and land.

But Jesus’ reign isn’t other-worldly. It isn’t apolitical. It’s just political in a radically different way. Rather than taking Caesar’s throne (or any throne—including the one Satan offered him),  Jesus is saying that Caesar’s days are numbered. By saying “my kingdom is not from this world” he isn’t saying “my kingdom is only spiritual, so you don’t have to worry.”  

Jesus’ kingship renders Caesar’s obsolete. It isn’t a mere “trumping” as though Jesus is simply greater than Caesar; it is an entirely different sort of kingship. 

As heirs to Jesus’ kingdom, we are ambassadors of the new reign, privileged to share the mercy, love, peace, and justice of Christ with the world. In the early days—the first century of the Jesus movement—the church was invisible to most people in the Roman empire. However, they had a growing reputation as an alternative and seemingly anti-social community that lived in the nooks and crannies of Empire.

Christians were thought to be extreme, subversive, stubborn, and defiant. The Roman writer Tacitus called them “haters of humanity.” They rejected the central facets of Roman religious and political life. In his view they actively undermined society with their indifference to civic affairs. Some critics even blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.

So, when Jesus said his kingdom wasn’t of this world, he wasn’t understood by Pilate or by the Jews or by his earliest followers as talking about the afterlife or some abstracted spiritual truth. Based upon the lethal response to Jesus (and the early reactions to Jesus’ movement), the “Kingdom of God” was understood as a challenge to Caesar and his reign. Their two kingdoms clashed.

The kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. As we read the Gospels, we are invited to imagine what it would be like if God ruled the nations.

But in order to imagine that, we’d need to recognize that Jesus’ kingdom isn’t the sort that one holds with an iron fist. Rather, it is an unkingdom. We may have inherited a cruel and domineering of God, but Jesus us reveals to us a God who rejects hierarchy or control.

Where the President of the United States insists on a troop surge, Jesus calls people to love their enemies. When he demands a wall, Jesus calls us to embrace strangers and aliens. Where dictators seek to secure their own power and prestige, Jesus calls people to serve one another and lay down their lives for friends. Since Jesus is (as Christians believe) the truest revelation of God, then he defines for us what the reign of God looks like.

The social, economic, political, and religious subversions of such an reign (or un-reign) are almost endless—peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice not subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed, embrace rather than exclusion.

In a very real and disturbing way, Jesus is calling for a loving anarchy. An unkingdom. Of which he is the unking. 

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American Jesus

American Jesus

Matthew 5:38-45 American Exceptional Version

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not merely resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek (or is even thinking about striking you on the right cheek), strike them down. Strike down their families. Strike down their villages. Strike down their nation, so that even their descendants live in fear. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, take everything they hold dear and laugh; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, force them, by any means necessary, to go one hundred miles. 42 Give to none who beg from you, for that enables laziness, and refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you, for that promotes idleness and entitlement.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 And I say to you, despise your enemies and preemptively bomb or drone those who defy you (or defy your ally or have natural resources vital to your sense of security), 45 so that you may be children of your God; for he makes his sun rise on the good, and sends rain on the righteous while bringing darkness to the wicked and drought to the unrighteous.

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Jesus Hates Islamophobia

Jesus Hates Islamophobia

Every time a Muslim refugee or Muslim citizen commit a violent crime in this country, it gets fed through the right wing media machine. Then hundreds of people, most of them professing Christians, leave hateful comments filled with revenge fantasies and violent rhetoric. Read the comments section of any major media article that even mentions Islam and you’ll see what I mean.

I have three things to say about this phenomenon.

1) This is called confirmation bias. One tends to find what one looks for. One pays attention to those things that support one’s beliefs and tends to ignore those that do not. We all do it. It becomes a problem when a bunch of people do it all at once and allow this collective confirmation bias to drive them towards fear and violence.

If I thought elderly white people were inherently violent, I would tend to notice all the stories about elderly white aggressors and would tweet and post such stories. Everyone else with my same bias would do likewise until there is a torrent of articles about the violence of elderly white folks. It doesn’t matter whether or not statistical data confirms my suspicion, just like the data showing that Muslim refugees aren’t more violent than other groups of people doesn’t matter to bigoted folks.

I get that this comparison is simplistic. But not any more simplistic than attributing all of the violence happening in a region to your superficial understanding of their religion.

2) If you follow Jesus, you have absolutely no justification for revenge. You have no justification for desiring violence against your enemies. Not only does Jesus tell us to love our enemies and lay aside our weapons, we are explicitly told revenge is forbidden.

When you use your Christian faith or evoke Jesus to support violence against your enemies, Jesus (sitting in heaven, I assume) feels phantom pain in his palms, side, and feet.

3) If you are concerned about the rise of anti-Western sentiments in the Middle East, about the rise of violent groups in the Middle East, or about the way in which Islam has been interpreted by those groups with violent intent, then stop scapegoating your Muslim neighbors. Instead of giving into fear, do some proactive research. Learn about the history of colonialism and conflict in the Middle East. Research the way in which global powers (like the US, Russia, China and the EU) use nations and factions in the Middle East and elsewhere like pawns, supporting one group yesterday and then condemning them as terrorists today. Ask yourself “why would we do that?” Look at a map of US military bases around the world, and at a list of drone strikes committed by the US in the past decade and ask, “where does anti-American sentiment come from?”

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