My name is Jenny, and I'm a Christian. There it is, I've said it, the C word and all it implies these days. Constitutional amendments and someone's bleak idea of morality, and that strange phrase, family values. But before you run screaming from this page, please take a moment to hear me out. For I am one of the many frustrated Christians in this country who are tired of having our faith highjacked by political extremists who seem to care more about their own agenda than about Christ's.
By now we've all seen the What Would Jesus Do? merchandise, the bracelets and coffee mugs and bumperstickers and t-shirts that ask us to answer that one seemingly simple question, the slogan itself American Christianity's answer to the Wal-Mart age, another brand among the many, the four letters, WWJD, catchy as the familiar GAP logo. And the sentiment isn't a bad one. Whoever you believe Jesus was, son of God, prophet, historical figure, no one can deny that the man we Christians call Jesus Christ was a remarkably compassionate person, one whose example we would all do better to follow. And yet among so many American Christians today, there seems to be a clear disconnect between what Jesus did and preached, and our modern interpretation of those actions.
Without a doubt, one of my favorite passages from the New Testament is Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount. Here we find the famous Beatitudes -- blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. Such wonderful and powerful words that most of us know them internally, as we know the words of the Lord's Prayer, which, of course, come from this same sermon. But to me, the most interesting and important part of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus's reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.'" Jesus says of the Old Testament commandment in Matthew 5:38. "But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." This is just one of the commandments Jesus addresses, and his doing so is a pivitol moment in Christianity, for it illustrates what this new religion was really all about, not a rewriting of the Old Testament, but a reinterpretation of it and of the creator in general, the notion of God as the father, God as the compassionate and loving, and of our obligation, a new covenant even, to be compassionate as well.
But here's where things get confusing for me, for in the recent Presidential election, Christians voted overwhelmingly as a block for an agenda which is in complete opposition to that new covenant set forth by Christ on the mountain top. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, Jesus said, and yet, in the name of moral values, hundreds of thousands of Christians voted to deny basic human rights to gays and lesbians. Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said, and yet, those same Christians voted for an administration that led us into war without even the slimmest justification, a war that has killed tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Blessed are the poor, Jesus said, and again, people calling themselves Christians voted for policies that
all but guarantee an ever widening class gap and loss of basic services, such as health care and education, for the poor.
So what is a Christian like myself supposed to do? Well, frankly, I think the time has come to take back our religion, to say, and say loudly, what it is that we, as Christians, believe. So here's a start: I believe that pro-life is about much more than a woman's right to choose what to do with her body. Being pro-life means being pro-human, which means feeding and educating the child, caring for the adult who is unable to care for himself, and taking care of the old and infirm. I believe that state-sanctioned killing is never a Christian value, neither in war, nor in the context of our justice system. I believe that it is not a sin to love another person. I believe that an entire continent should not be left to the ravages of AIDS and hunger, simply because the people who inhabit it have a different skin color from ours. I believe the earth is a beautiful and sacred place, on which we are mere visitors, and that we should treat it with respect and restraint. Above all, I believe we should talk about our faith and what it means to us with other. That Christianity need not be synonymous with extremism, but that it is up to us make that true.