White evangelicals don’t seem to get it.
Jesus has been portrayed as a liberal. He is depicted as siding with underdogs. He championed little people, not the privileged and powerful. “Blessed are the poor” was one of his maxims. He told a noble: “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor.”
Christ’s teachings were virtually a prescription for the compassionate “safety net” upholding people and families in modern democracies: “For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me. … Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
He is also quoted as saying, “When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee.”
His parable of the Good Samaritan spotlighted the nobility of caring for victims of misfortune. Christ’s Golden Rule — “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” — underscored common fairness.
Jesus is not shown to be supporting harsh punishments. When the law demanded stoning of an adultress, he is famously supposed to have said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Jesus advocated separation of church and state: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.”
Jesus wasn’t a militarist. “Blessed are the peacemakers” was another of his maxims.
Clearly, without question, Jesus espoused values aligned with the modern political left. Sometimes, this facet of religion is called the “social gospel.”
So it’s strange that America’s white evangelicals and fundamentalists favor the rich, undercut the safety net, back militarism, and demand harsher justice and the death penalty. Oddly, these conservative believers contradict the values of Jesus.
When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he signed execution warrants for a record-breaking 135 inmates. Yet, Bush was renowned as a born-again believer and declared on national television that his favorite philosopher was Jesus. The contrast between the two sets off clanging bells of cognitive dissonance.
Meanwhile, secular Americans who don’t attend church support the safety net for average folks. How odd that churchless people are closer to the social principles of Jesus than a lot of churchgoers are.
Pope Francis has gained worldwide popularity because he pushes the humane liberal ideas of Jesus, not the sexual taboos and hidebound Puritanism that has historically dominated his church. “Inequality is the root of social evil,” Francis declares. All poor families deserve “land, lodging, labor,” he preaches. He says capitalism rests on the “unfettered pursuit of money” and discards “unproductive people” like the poor, elderly and less-educated.
Conservatives are rattled by the prelate. Right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan has accused him of preaching “socialist sermons.”
But the pope is merely voicing the values of Jesus. He is underscoring what should be obvious to every thinking person: that Jesus was a liberal.