James L. Evans|
Misusing the name of Jesus
I am tempted to file a defamation of character lawsuit on behalf of Jesus. I wish Jesus would do it himself, but I know he won't. He would much prefer that we win people over to his viewpoint by preaching his word and following his example. And that's fine as far as it goes.
But what are we supposed to do when unscrupulous and self-serving pretenders wrap themselves in the cloak of Christianity and misuse the name of Jesus for their own benefit?
Let me explain what got me going on this.
Conservative pundit Warner Todd Huston recently posted an essay on his Web site in which he asks the question, "Is War a 'Christian' Thing?" His answer, of course, is yes. He believes there are times when warfare is entirely consistent with the teachings of Jesus. When our way of life is directly under attack, Jesus allows for us to defend ourselves. He points to Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple as an example of Jesus using violence to protect something sacred.
Well, first of all, no one got killed in that particular demonstration. The only weapon Jesus used was a whip made of rope. An instrument, by the way, that is mentioned only in the Gospel of John, where it is clear it was used on animals, not people.
This attempt to make Jesus an advocate for war by means of the cleansing of the temple is pure ideological desperation. It is a complete distortion of the teaching of Jesus. The cleansing of the temple was a prophetic act staged by Jesus to make a point. It was in the same spirit as Isaiah stripping naked and walking through the streets of Jerusalem with his hands tied as way of warning Israel about the coming exile.
To make Jesus an advocate of war is nothing less than a deliberate assault on his character. If Christians won't rise to protest this sort of scurrilous and unprincipled use of Jesus' name and his teaching, then perhaps it's time to bring in the courts.
The evidence for Jesus' commitment to nonviolent resistance is overwhelming. The Sermon on the Mount features numerous examples of Jesus advocating a nonviolent approach for dealing with evil. In fact, if all we had was Jesus saying "love your enemy," we would be hard-pressed to justify violence. Only in the most demented and perverse twisting of logic can love ever be translated into violence.
Why is it so easy for advocates of violence to persuade followers of Jesus that the Prince of Peace also is the Lord of War? Why are we so willing to accept the absurd notion that Jesus saying, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," is a justification for warfare? Any first-year Sunday school attendee knows that the "sword of the Lord" is the word, not an actual sword.
When the actual swords came out, Jesus said, "Those who live by the sword die by the sword."
We live in a world of brutal violence. That is why it is all the more important to remember and practice what Jesus taught. His words could not be more relevant than they are right now. Our continued commitment to an eye for an eye will only serve to eventually make the whole world blind. And frankly, there's too much darkness in it as it is.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.