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Jesus Loves Me, But I'm Not Sure He Likes Me So Much

04/30/2014 12:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2014

Christianity is a hard faith for a relatively affluent law professor. While Jesus may love me, a plain reading of the gospels doesn't convince me that he likes me very much.

He had hard words for the teachers of law in his own time, and it all might apply to me: "You tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith... You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." He is right, of course. We teachers are often stingy with what we have, and too often favor doctrine over deeper truths, which are much harder to teach. We teach the rules of professional responsibility, but not so much the principles of a just life, or the difficult value of mercy. I know that I make that mistake too often.

Even away from work, I'm not looking like one of Christ's favorites. He is pretty clear about who is "blessed," after all: those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted and reviled. I suffer none of that. Nor am I among the poor who Christ protects, the ones who will be rich in heaven. I'm a comfortable, straight, white guy from Edina, Minnesota. I am one of those Jesus would tell to sell all that he has and give it to the poor.

This lack of affirmation runs counter to the dominant ethos of the Christian faith in America, where Christ's message is construed to honor rather than condemn those in the pews. We go to church to be comforted, not confronted, and that may the central failing of our faith today. In some quarters, it seems like Christian virtue is defined by what we are not, rather than what we are. Some churches see themselves as virtuous because they are willing to condemn homosexuality. Others congratulate themselves for not being homophobes. But who is clothing the naked? Feeding the hungry? Visiting those in prison?

In truth, Christ condemned us all. It is impossible to honestly read the gospels and see an affirmation of any of us. The Christian message is one of aspiration, not affirmation -- it challenges us to be different and better and unusual. Real Christians are, by modern standards, freaks. They choose to be poor, or to sacrifice themselves for others, or they refuse to resist an evildoer. I don't meet that standard. Neither do most of my Christian friends.

Many years ago, I made one lap around the country -- driving from east to west, and north to south and back again. Every Sunday, I made a point to go to church at least once, in whatever place I found myself. I visited big churches and small, black churches and white, orthodox and unconventional. Some places greeted me warmly, while others didn't notice me at all. I went to churches in storefronts and others in cathedrals. In every church, I heard the same message, though: "God approves of what we are doing and who we are." I began to listen for messages of affirmation, and always heard it.

It doesn't seem that Jesus would deliver that same message -- he certainly didn't to the people of his own time. Perhaps our current debate should not only be about churches affirming gay men and lesbians, but also about the over-abundance of affirming everyone else.