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The Ethic Jesus Taught and American Hypocrisy

The Ethic Jesus Taught and American Hypocrisy

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Last week I reminded our readers of Karl Barth’s affirmation that authentic spiritual leaders must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. This prominent theologian did not mean that the Bible should be interpreted by current events, but that current events should be interpreted by Scripture. Jesus did not detail how a nation or a city should be governed, but he both implicitly and explicitly laid out a set of ethical presuppositions in his teachings, parables and action. What he taught has dramatic implications for how we live with each other.

Jesus abhorred violence, and was later called “the Prince of Peace. While he was faithful to his people and his nation, Jesus’ concern extended far beyond these borders. He welcomed those of other national and ethnic groups, including Roman soldiers and Samaritans. He consistently befriended the nobodies, the despised, the left out, the “ratted on and spat upon.” His ministry was spent building bridges, particularly those that opened access to the nobodies. He gave himself to tearing down walls of bigotry and fear. He practiced radical hospitality. His first sermon at his home synagogue laid out this ethical agenda.

     The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind, 

    to set the oppressed free.…

He lived out a radical acceptance of the nobodies in his society. And the “poor heard him gladly.” He railed against those whose lives were spent in the arrogant accumulation of riches, and the system in which the rich prospered at the expense of everyone else. Many of his parables focused on the need to care for the natural world God gave us.

Take that ethic and place it against what Donald Trump described in his own words and in those he has called to execute his promises, and what you will have is the opposite of everything Jesus embraced! It begins by taking the greatest military force in history with a destructive power greater than the armed forces in the rest of the world combined, and spending billions of dollars to make them stronger. In confronting the despised others who might challenge us, there is no torture that is to be disallowed—even beyond water boarding. What is more, guns in everyone’s hands are to be welcomed and celebrated. And that is just the beginning of Trump’s ethical blasphemy.

Someone is brought in by Trump to deal with the problems of the poor who believes that the poor need to be blamed. The American health system is delivered to someone who has no use for the modest effort to protect the millions of uninsured Americans. Tax-supported education is now to be controlled by someone who promises to devalue and defund the nation’s public schools. Any alternative to fossil fuels is to be downplayed by those who do not believe in the scientific findings on climate change; and the Department of Energy is to be disbanded by someone who could not even remember its name. What seems more important is the short-term ability of fossil fuel corporations to make trillions of dollars.

I could go on and on describing how the Trump agenda is the opposite of anything Jesus had to say about how we are to live individually and with each other. And all that could be detailed without discussing Trump as a boastful, egomaniac billionaire who will determine how we spend tax money even through he probably does not pay taxes. Or I could go on to discuss his personal life, his treatment of women, his vulgarity, his life-style, his disdain for most of us.

But the thrust of this column is not about Trump or his policies.  He is what he is. What is difficult for me is to understand is how 83% of Christian evangelicals backed him and secured his election. I invite any Christian who has supported these policies to show me where anything in the teachings of Jesus that is in harmony with what Trump has as his agenda. It is conservative religionists, as well as Trump, who are to be called to account. If following Jesus bears any relationship to the agenda we are now inheriting, let those who support him demonstrate it.

Jesus’ call was for his disciples to follow him, not just to believe things about him. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Is it not to take him seriously so that we walk “In His Steps?” If not, then the secularists who claim that these self-identified “Christians” are false, hypocritical and simply politically motivated are not spiritually committed, and as such are part of the problem, not part of the answer.

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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