Lately I have been hearing some rather outrageous assertions made on the behalf of God from supposed “Christian” leaders. Pat Robertson called the Haitian earthquake God’s judgment on the nation he claimed “made a pact with the Devil.” Most recently, the Christian Right’s favored child Glenn Beck instructed Christians to abandon congregations that encourage “social justice” as a part of their teachings. While many Christians have out against them, I think there may be a bigger picture not being seen.
These men represent only the most recent string of extreme statements by Christian leaders that appear to conflict with the core tenets of Christianity itself. Quite often, however, these statements are widely embraced, especially by followers of the Evangelical orientation. As a person who comes from that tradition, having attended Christian high school and Evangelical services, I often got the idea that Jesus was most angry with the gays, the godless liberals, and the Lady Gagas.
I know how I felt about such ideas, seeing them as hateful, unproductive, and un-Jesus-like. However, I felt that in order to properly address such concerns, I had to explore them in theological terms. So I asked myself, who would Jesus judge? Who would He hate?
It’s interesting to note who Jesus didn’t judge: first, Jesus did not judge the woman caught in bed with a man who was not her husband (John 8:1-11), but rather chose this opportunity to teach us the association of judgment and hypocrisy.
He announced, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Thus, in an opportunity of condemnation, Jesus chose to love. His expression of love occurs while acknowledging her wrongdoing but choosing forgiveness. Jesus makes a pattern of this. Another example of this is when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, who was divorced and living with a man (John 4:7-28). What is so telling about this verse is that Jesus bestowed love to one who was not a Jew but a Samaritan, someone from a religious community considered apostates. (The Samaritans were formerly enslaved by the Persians, taken from Israel at the end of Hoshea’s rule in 722 BC [2 Kings 17:1-2].) So who is Jesus judging?
According to the Gospels, Jesus did not refrain from judging, but he chose two distinct groups of people to target with his judgment: religious leaders who were hypocrites, and those who profited off the sacred.
Jesus really had it out for the Pharisees, whom he admonished for judging others, giving false teachings, and acting in pride. He reserved such phrases for them as “hypocrites,” and “den of vipers”! Pretty strong language for the Prince of Peace. Jesus also grew furious at the sight of the money changers at the Temple for their attempt to profit off of the religious observance of others.
So who are the Pharisees today, and who are the moneychangers? I would argue that religious leaders who abuse their pulpits for political propaganda, promote violence, or push a hateful agenda fit the Pharisee profile. Also, those who take the cross as a sign of salvation and cash it in as a merchandising opportunity are our contemporary moneychangers. Our concern should be with forked tongues of false teachers like Robertson, and our conflict with Christian consumerism, trading prophets for profits.
Similarly, who are the forgiven sinners? Who are the Samaritans? If Jesus forgave those acting outside of marriage, why can’t we embrace our brothers and sisters from among the LGBT community? Disagreement of lifestyle does not need to transcend into ostracizing loved ones or lobbying against civil rights. Likewise, the antagonistic language towards Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, or even atheism obstructs us from learning from our fellow Americans as modern day Good Samaritans.
This notion turns a lot of the beliefs of the Christian community in America on their head. Perhaps if the Second Coming were today, it is Pat Robertson who’d get the cosmic ass-kicking, not Perez Hilton.
This piece originally appeared here in Huffington Post Religion