I see a strange kind of Christianity around us.
I am not a Christian. But I know a thing or two about Christianity, having learned it at the feet of figures like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, and Latin American liberation theologians. The Jesus that I have come to see—and love—is the Christ who suffers not just for the poor, but with the poor, with the marginalized, with the immigrants and the strangers and the ostracized.
And this is why I see a strange kind of Christianity around.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Market.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Nation.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Empire.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Unearned Privilege.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the myth of individualism.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the myth of American Exceptionalism.
I am not a Christian, though I wonder where is the Jesus that I have come to know–and love.
I watch in horror Christian preachers talk about how God wants you to be “blessed” with faith, wealth, health, and victory. And I wonder about the poor and the homeless, and where they fit into this false gospel of prosperity. I wonder about the mothers and fathers holding the hands of their cancer-stricken children in the hospital. I wonder about the mothers and fathers whose children cannot afford to be in the hospital, because they have no health insurance. I wonder about the immigrants and strangers who are cut off from their loved ones on the other side of a border.
I wonder if these preachers of the “gospel of prosperity” would describe these folks as being bereft of God’s blessing. I wonder what the Jesus that I know would say to these preachers selling the gospel of wealth and prosperity.
I wonder about the Jesus that I know, who comes out of the Jewish Prophetic tradition, and wonder what he would have to say to those who sell this combination of capitalism, individualism, and a Marketized Christianity? I wonder if he wouldn’t be kicking them out of the temple as he chased the moneychangers out of Temple in the bible.
If God wants you to be rich, are the poor un-“Blessed”?
If these preachers tell us again and again to take the Bible literally, I wonder why they are not taking the Bible literally when the first time we meet Jesus as Christ, he is talking about coming to liberate:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
This is the Christ that I know. I know this Jesus as one who comes to heal the brokenhearted, to liberate those who are imprisoned and under occupation, to bring the evangel to the poor. And the good news he brings is not that they are going to move up in the tax bracket.
The good news is that the kingdom of God is here at hand.
The good news is that Jesus brings both redemption from sin and the restoration of justice into this kingdom here and now.
The Christ that I know would stand with the poor, not just bleeding for them, but here to liberate, to restore dignity and nobility to the poor and the marginalized and the downtrodden, to the immigrants and the strangers.
What does the Christ who dwells among us have to say to a society in which the top 1% owns 42% of the wealth? What does that Jesus who loves the poor have to say to a nation where 400 individuals own more than the bottom 150 million? Would he not say, as he does in the Gospel according to St. Matthew that:
And again I say unto you,
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Why are we told to take the bible literally, except when it comes to these verses that serve as a condemnation of those who possess wealth in an almost obscene concentration?
Every time I see a Joel Osteen selling a product called “The Lord Gives”, I remember that the bible promises not only that the Lord Gives, but also that the same Lord Taketh Away:
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Don’t tell me and don’t sell me that the Lord Gives, without also telling me that the Lord Takes Away.
The God that we know is the God of the sunlit mountaintop and the God of the desolate valleys.
The God that we know is the God of heartaches, and the God of healing.
I am not a Christian, but I know that God is to be found in both the resurrected Christ and the puddle of blood at the bottom of the Cross.
God is to be found in both the triumph and in the suffering.
Give me the real God, a God that acknowledges suffering and redeems, instead of the God of the Market, the false God of higher tax brackets, the God of the good times.
Shatter the idol of false gods, the golden calf of the Market-god, the Nation-god, the wealth-god, the health-god, the drive-through-god, and give me the real God.
I see a strange kind of Christianity.
I see a strange kind of Islam.
I see a strange kind of Judaism.
I see a strange kind of religion.
May we see through the false idols and deluded preachers, and be willing to find God through sacrifice and the need for radical personal and communal transformation.