This week, there was quite a kerfuffle over comments made at a particular summit in Washington, D.C. about whether or not Mormons are Christians.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Christian, an active Mormon, a Jew and a fine, upstanding liberal (I know it sounds strange, but that has never stopped me before). I have also benefited from the goodness of Catholics, Hindus, agnostics, evangelicals, atheists, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists and even Republicans.
So maybe the King James version of the Bible isn't up-to-date, but from my rather extensive studies of it, this is what I have learned about Jesus.
1. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. Hence, all of the anti-Semitism over millennia seems rather rich and totally insane considering that for centuries, Christians themselves were considered a cult within Judaism.
2. Jesus paid his taxes and really didn't care much about them. Peter, Jesus's right-hand man, got pretty peeved about paying taxes to a government he didn't support. Jesus essentially told Peter and others to take a chill pill and that God doesn't care about money, so give the government what they're owed even if the government didn't do what he wanted them to (Matthew 22:21, Matthew 17:24).
3. Selfishness and hypocrisy were two of Jesus least favorite qualities. Jesus told one rich guy who wanted to follow him that it was great, he was welcome but the rich guy had to give up literally everything he had to the poor. It was too much, so the rich guy took a pass and Jesus later told his groupies that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven (Matthew 19:16-24). Which brings us to another story Jesus told which I'll call The Biblical Bailout because of its similarity to the banking crisis today. It took place when this merchant came to the king to ask for -- you guessed it -- a bail out (Luke 7:36-50). The king gave it to the merchant but later, he found out that the merchant had this other guy thrown in prison for owing a far lesser sum of money. So the king hauled the mechant's butt off to prison to being a selfish SOB. If Jesus had a political agenda, I think that his Sermon on the Mount made it pretty clear that it wasn't about capitalism or corporate profits or killing Obama Care. It was feeding the hungry, housing the poor, tending to the sick, the disabled and the imprisoned, helping the widowed, caring and educating children, women and the disenfranchised and making sure that men behaved themselves (Matthew 25:25-46).
4. There was his gang of twelve, but other than that Jesus didn't spend most of his time with his "flock." Most of Jesus' fans just weren't at his level. He liked spending time with intellectuals, with rabbis, artists, hookers, lawyers, tax collectors, etc. The people who challenged him most -- who elicited many of his greatest teachings were not necessarily people who followed him. Even Nicodemus wasn't a follower. These people respected Jesus. They appreciated him. They thought he was though provoking. And they were important friends to him. But they weren't early Christians. In my preferred brand of Christianity, just because they didn't "get" him in this life doesn't mean they're going to Hell. I doubt Jesus thought they were going there either.
5. As Matthew tells it in chapter 22 of his all time best-seller, a clever lawyer came up to this young, radical, sharp as a tack rabbi and asked him which of the laws or commandments was most important. He said "... Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
He said what we each know in our hearts and souls and minds and guts is true. He didn't say the first great commandment is to make sure everyone believes in your particular brand of religion, even though I think mine is great. He said what Moses knew before, Francis of Assisi figured out and John Lennon sang about later: Love is what matters. Not just loving Christians. Loving everyone. Who ever they are. Whatever they do. Where ever they come from.
If I remember Matthew 7 correctly, there is a story about an adulteress. Everyone wants to stone her and adultery is no doubt, a grave sin. She's brought to Jesus and the people ask, if they should stone her. Jesus says that anyone there who hasn't made a mistake can throw the first rock. Christians and non-Christian voters alike have become far too comfortable slinging rocks at the expense of making any real political or social progress. Perhaps we should worry less about judging people for being Mormon or Baptist or Muslim or gay or straight or black or white or Latino or by their religious or political brands and worry more about electing thoughtful, serious and ethical politicians on both sides of the political isle who are willing to work together for progress. Somehow, I think that's what a real values voter would do.
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