I read an article yesterday about an old catholic nun who spends time ministering to death row inmates. She will bring them food, pray with them, encourage them, and make sure their basic needs are met. Yet, she doesn’t stop here. This whiskey drinking, dirty joke telling nun also speaks out against the death penalty and the systems supporting the path from conviction to the actual death of the inmate.
For her, it is about the words and actions of Jesus. She believes Jesus taught forgiveness and turning the other cheek, that no one is beyond saving. She sees the death penalty as a cruelty upon cruelty and as a way to punish someone every moment of every day for the rest of their lives.
Most of the folks I hang out with in church circles would call this lady a wacky liberal trying to trample on the constitution. They would say “this is what they deserve!” or “I don’t want my tax dollars going towards keeping them alive.” I guess I understand these guys need to be punished, and if they did take a life…….
But, that is the problem. It is the WHOLE problem. For so many years, I have accepted what has been told to me as true and the way God wants it. I think it stems from the inaccurate view of God being the judge up in heaven while Jesus comes as an “assistant coach” of sorts telling us God isn’t the big bad guy we think he is and that he really does love everyone. But, if I read my bible correctly, Jesus is the exact embodiment of God in the flesh (see Colosians 1:5-20). Paul makes no separation here. Simply, if you want to see who God is, look at Jesus.
Being the nice guy that I am, I have never challenged the prevailing political and social thought patterns of the day. For most of my life, Jesus was a white republican who supported the military and small government. Or maybe to be more fair, Jesus looked a lot more like the angry God of the old testament which was portrayed to me in elementary school. If God is angry, then absolutely we should kill those who kill, alienate those we don’t agree with, and keep everything for ourselves.
The problem is the Gospel, really.
The problem is, we have been suckered into a “red-blue”, or “republican-democrat” mindset. The name of God and the personhood of Jesus has been co-opted by those in power to bring about the results they want. It is so easy to prey on the moral and spiritual values of a people to get a desired result.
But again, the Gospel.
It is a problem for our present political climate. The Gospel is forcing churches to abandon political rhetoric and ask the hard questions.
Is it okay to kill a man for killing someone else?
Is it okay to give tax breaks to the super-rich while letting the poor get poorer?
Is it acceptable to discriminate against a person because of their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation…..especially if their lifestyle goes against our values?
Is it okay for the church to be in a position of weakness and not in the seat of power?
Does the fact we live in America give us special power, influence, or rights?
These are questions that are on my mind. Now, I am sure I’ll get slammed for some of these. But, I think looking at the Gospel, we are faced with more questions than solid answers in these areas. The older I get, the more I am uncertain about these things.
You see, the Kingdom of God turns it all upside down. As citizens of The Way, we find ourselves free of the dogma and rhetoric of our world. We can be free to think of a better and more hopeful way not guided by retribution, accumulation of wealth, or the burden of judgment.
This is really inconvenient to the principalities and powers of the day. We have seen throughout history the powers and influencers of the time using well meaning people to achieve their purposes. Will we be a people who accept the prevailing political talking points of the day, or will we be a people who challenge convention against the Gospel of Christ?
We would be surprised not only the answers we would find, but the pushback. I’m sure we would be called lots of names and have many assumptions made about our motives.
But, the Gospel.
It would be quite inconvenient.
For a good example of an influential conservative pundit who claims Christianity (and uses it quite frequently in this article to defend her stance), check this out. There probably isn’t a better example of an opinion maker using the name of Christ for purposes contrary to the Gospel I can find.