Tom Gilson

Jesus Won’t Let Us Use Him for Our Politics

Clackamas United Church of Christ, a very progressive church in Milwaukie, Oregon, posted this sign on their marquee: “Jesus was a person of color murdered by state sanctioned violence.” A fellow Facebook group member asked what we thought of it. My answer: It’s a sobering illustration of how little progressive “Christianity” knows of Jesus Christ. It’s spiritually dangerous and politically alarming.

It could have been so good. It’s so close to it, I could weep. There’s some real truth in it; a great message they could have sent, if only they’d tried. I know, because I’ve been in a place to learn it.

The Message They  Could Have Sent

My cousin Jeanette was murdered when she was 35 years old. It was brutal. At a time like that you have to, “Where was God?” There’s no easy, quick answer. As I was praying it through, though, it hit me: Jesus Christ was killed, brutally, unjustly. God the Father watched his Son die that way. Whatever questions we may have, we know this much: God is in it with us all the way. He’s involved. He loves. He cares. He hasn’t left us to suffer alone.

That’s almost the message this sign sends. It could have been a word of encouragement to friends and family members of the handful of unarmed black men shot by police officers in the last year or two. It could have been a reminder that God is with them, their families, and anyone else who identifies with their loss and pain.

Jesus was superbly anti-racist, too. The Jews hated the Samaritans and looked down on the Gentiles, partly for racial reasons, but especially for religious ones. Jesus busted that up by ministering in Samaria, Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis. In Luke 4 he reminds his hometown crowd of God’s love for Gentiles, and they get so angry, they try to toss him over a cliff for it. He chose a Samaritan as the good guy in one of his most famous parables.

Twisted Facts, Co-Opting Jesus Instead

Clackamas Church could have sent that message, too. Maybe they have, in other times and places. Not here, though. This one twists that truth to political ends. It distorts the truth in at least two ways, actually.

First, Jesus was not a “person of color” in any relevant sense; that is, he wasn’t a minority race member. He was a member of the local dominant race and religion, whose leaders had him executed. His killing had nothing to do with race, everything to do with authority conflicts (from an earthly perspective) and God’s purposes (from the wider point of view).

Second, police shootings are not “state-sanctioned violence.” Many are justified actions, the police defending themselves or innocent civilians from imminent danger of being killed. In the small number of exceptional cases the state sanctions nothing; the officers are charged and tried for murder.

So it’s a lie. It’s a pompous one; a lie delivered almost with a smirk of condescending superiority. It’s politicizing lie, too. They’re patently out to grab Jesus and make him their movement’s mascot. Jesus doesn’t go for that. He never let anyone set his agenda, never let anyone claim him for their own. In Luke 4 he refused to let Nazareth own him as their hometown boy. Elsewhere some of the Jews tried to make him their king, and he resisted, saying in effect, “Not that way, not at this time. I will be king, yes, but King over all, in due time.”

Jesus refused to let anyone call him their own. It’s dangerous to try. He’s on his mission for his purposes, never for ours.

And by the way — if you really want to follow Jesus as your forerunner in being an unjust victim, you need to consider just how he acted in his trial and execution. Not much like what we’re seeing in the protests, is it?

How Not to Make the Same Mistake

Obviously, though, that raises a question for evangelicals and conservative Catholics. Everyone knows how tightly aligned our politics is to our religion. Could we be making exactly the same mistake as the progressive Clackamas Church? Could we, too, be guilty of co-opting Jesus to our political purposes?

Of course we could. I’m sure some evangelicals are guilty of exactly that mistake. Or we could steer clear of it by avoiding the Clackamas church’s two big mistakes: dishonest manipulation, and trying to recruit Jesus to our cause.

As conservative believers we must commit to honesty. We dare not try to get away with shenanigans like that church’s sign. And we dare not try to align Jesus to our purposes.

We should never let our politics control or even influence our view of Jesus. But we can certainly let our view of Jesus influence our politics. We cannot try to get him on our side, for our purposes; but we can certainly try to set ourselves on his side, for his purposes, as long as we remember he’s completely in charge.

Maybe the Clackamas Church thinks it’s doing that, too; but no, let’s be real. Their “What we believe” page honors contemporary books and movies as much as the teachings of Jesus. (They’ll still co-opt him for a political message, though.)

Maybe conservative Christians aren’t doing it as perfectly as we think we are. Maybe some really do have it upside down, too, fitting their religion to their politics.

Most of us are trying to do it the right way, though. Sure, we’re not perfect. Trying imperfectly to follow Jesus is still trying to follow him, and better than not trying at all. It’s certainly better than Clackamas Church-style pretense at trying.

And that goes for our politics as much as anything else.

25 thoughts on “Jesus Won’t Let Us Use Him for Our Politics

  1. Uh, one other thing. Since the Democrats don’t allow Jews to be considered persons of color, Jesus doesn’t fall into that category, either. He was Jewish, full stop. So the Clackamas Church fails yet again.

  2. I can’t pretend to certainty as to whose side God is on. I can only hope and pray that I am on His.

  3. One of my favorite passages is Joshua 5:13-14. Joshua sees the Commander of the army of the Lord, and asks Him whose side He is on…His reply? Neither, He has His own purposes.

  4. “Second, police shootings are not “state-sanctioned violence.” Many are justified actions, the police defending themselves or innocent civilians from imminent danger of being killed.”

    And when it is justified, isn’t it state-sanctioned violence? I don’t think we disagree that police officers are given authority to fire on other citizens, from the state, so do you think it is no longer violence if it is justified?

    “In the small number of exceptional cases the state sanctions nothing; the officers are charged and tried for murder.”

    Do you think all police officers who have killed someone unjustly, have been charged and tried for murder?

  5. If it’s justified, then it’s justified state-sanctioned violence, which takes it out of the discussion of unjustified violence. Let’s not pretend that makes no difference, please.

    I think that we have a history of police officers getting away with some shootings that they should not have. If you know of any in recent history, though, you’re welcome to list them. I’ll be wondering whether it’s a long enough list to conclude it’s a widespread, endemic problem.

  6. I wasn’t pretending it didn’t make a difference. You said that police shootings are not state sanctioned violence, and it seemed that a shooting is always violent. You then said many are justified, as though that somehow stopped them from being violent. I was just wanting clarification. Because it is the second of your main take aways from this sign.

    I’m not sure why you said “shootings”. George Floyd, arguably the straw that broke the camels back this time around, was not shot. So in this case, the state sanctioned violence was in the way Officer Chauvin detained Mr Floyd. Do you think Officer Chauvins actions were state sanctioned up to a point? Do you think he was sanctioned by the state to put his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for a certain period of time to handcuff him, but that at some point he left his knee there too long, and then he was no longer sanctioned by the state? When might that point have been, and would Officer Chauvin know when he crossed it? Would the other officers at the scene know when he crossed it? Would his superiors?

    To repeat, focusing on police shootings is a very narrow definition of police violence. How many instances of unjustified police violence, that don’t involve the firing of a weapon, would you need to conclude it is a widespread endemic problem?

  7. You have the clarification you asked for, Shane. Your questions in the second paragraph are tendentious and really quite amazingly rude. As for your closing question, I trust it was rhetorical, because I’m not going to be so foolish as to offer a number out of thin air.

  8. “Your questions in the second paragraph are tendentious and really quite amazingly rude.”

    Really? Why do you think that? They are genuine questions stemming from the fact that in a shooting, the firing of the gun is the obvious starting point of violence. In the George Floyd case, it is not necessarily as clear cut. So I wanted your thoughts, on the specifics of the violence, and whether it was state sanctioned.

    “As for your closing question, I trust it was rhetorical, because I’m not going to be so foolish as to offer a number out of thin air.”

    Well you were wondering if the list of police shootings, where officers “got away with it” would be long enough to conclude there was a widespread endemic problem. Did you have a ballpark number in mind for that? And I don’t expect a number out of thin air. I would think you could do some simple maths that counted what ever variables you thought important, and come up with some figure.

  9. If you don’t get how that came across as tendentious, I’m sorry — it did. And no, I’m not biting on your other question. You tell me how many incidents there have been, and then we’ll have something to talk about.

  10. “If you don’t get how that came across as tendentious, I’m sorry — it did.”

    You don’t have to be sorry. But if you can’t explain why it comes across that way, then there’s nothing I can do about changing the way I present questions in the future.

    “You tell me how many incidents there have been, and then we’ll have something to talk about.”

    If I can present 1000 incidents in 2019, would that be enough?

  11. It means, Don’t ask me a question like that starting with “if.”

    Present your data, Shane. With context, so we know just what kinds of alleged violence you’re referring to, and to what degree there may or may not have been room for the officer to consider it justified.

    In order for that to be meaningful, we’d also need to know percentages, that is, 1,000 incidents out of how many similar police/civilian encounters. Is that one-tenth of all such encounters or one-millionth? It makes a difference.

    If you don’t have that, then just quit asking, please. You can’t be so dense, Shane, as to think a raw number like “1,000” could possibly mean anything without that context and background info. You sure won’t get me offering a number that way.

  12. Let me put that another way. You asked, “Is 1000 incidents in a year enough, or not?” In comment 16 I explained what should have needed no explanation — it should have been obvious — which is that, lacking all context, this is a meaningless question.

    But you’ve asked it. Repeatedly. So here is my answer:

    Brillig gyre wimble wabe.

    (I apologize for not giving it sooner. It didn’t occur to me until lately that there actually could be a response that would be appropriate to the meaningless question you asked.)

  13. “In comment 16 I explained what should have needed no explanation — it should have been obvious — which is that, lacking all context, this is a meaningless question.”
    And so, does this mean your comment
    “I’ll be wondering whether it’s a long enough list to conclude it’s a widespread, endemic problem.”
    is a meaningless comment? How can I know if I have collected enough instances, if you can’t tell me how long the list needs to be?
    “In order for that to be meaningful, we’d also need to know percentages, that is, 1,000 incidents out of how many similar police/civilian encounters. Is that one-tenth of all such encounters or one-millionth? It makes a difference.”
    Of course. That’s why I said “I would think you could do some simple maths that counted what ever variables you thought important, and come up with some figure.” 1000 is totally a number I picked out of thin air. Because you gave me nothing to go. So I thought I would offer a number to you as a way of getting the ball rolling. Maybe a better start would be, to ask how many instances of police using violence and suffering no consequences do you think happens in a year? How many instances are acceptable in the scheme of things? How many times larger than your guess would the actual number have to be to make you think there is a bigger problem then you imagined?

  14. Does that mean my wondering is meaningless? Good grief, no. Wondering is wondering. How much background info does it require to wonder? Why on earth would you even ask such a question? And even if it were a halfway sensible kind of question, why would you ask without offering the courtesy (as I have given you, and am doing again now) of explaining your point?

    This isn’t dialogue. It isn’t reasoned. It’s just poking me with a stick, and it’s rude.

    “How can I know if I have collected enough instances, if you can’t tell me how long the list needs to be?” You don’t need to go out collecting instances, Shane. Someone else has surely done it. If not, then I assure you the project is beyond anything you should take the time to undertake, as you’d need to do enough research to classify all your instances so a person would know what preceded the alleged police violence, what kind or degree of violence it was, whether the officer might have had reason to think the violence was justified, and what some appropriately constituted review board or court (if any) might have said about it. You’d need to show those facts with a representative sample of both white and black alleged victims of violence, so we’d have reason to know whether it’s a racially-connected problem.

    That’s what it would take to know whether there’s an epidemic of racially-motivated police violence going on. Any other kind of judgment would be uninformed and premature. It takes responsible social science to diagnose a social problem.

    And I’ve told you that since you’re the one making the claim of widespread violence, it’s up to you to back up the claim. The one making the claim in any debate is typically considered to own the burden of proof to establish it; it’s not up to the other person to disprove just anything the claiming person says. And you can’t back it up with hypothetical “offered” numbers. It requires facts. Actual information. With context, not simplistically with raw numbers that mean nothing. Responsible conclusions require real information.

    And be sure of this: I’m not going to jump through your hoops, guessing for you — and especially not simplistically, as you keep demanding. You can just forget that. Try again, and all it’ll be is more old-fashioned rude behavior. I’ve already answered. Quit pushing on me to repeat my answer.

    You’re not listening. You’re flailing. Give it up, okay?

    I hope that’s clear enough for you this time. Repeated rude behavior is not welcome. Period.

  15. I’m not trying to be rude, or poke you with a stick. I’m honestly asking for clarification. I’ll attempt to rewind.

    You: “If you know of any in recent history, though, you’re welcome to list them. I’ll be wondering whether it’s a long enough list to conclude it’s a widespread, endemic problem.”

    Me: “How long would the list have to be to conclude it’s a widespread endemic problem?”

  16. You’re not trying to be rude? Really?

    If you want to rewind, then begin by reading what I wrote, not by asking me to rewrite it.

    I’ve already answered that question. Repeatedly. You’re honestly not paying attention. I haven’t answered with numbers like you want me to, but I have answered. I’ve answered thoughtfully, thoroughly, reflectively.

    I’ve answered!

    So it’s just plain rude of you to keep repeating the question. Got it?

  17. Tom–

    Jesus was definitely a “person of color.” He was not an Ashkenazic Jew by any stretch of the imagination. Not a drop of European blood in him. He would have looked much like a modern-day Palestinian. He was majority-minority with respect to his fellow second-temple Jews. But not with the occupying force of Rome. In that latter sense, he was part of an oppressed class. So the sign probably has that part right.

    The real mistake is to compare a bloodthirsty and repressive regime like Rome with present-day America, where minorities are treated better than at almost any time in history.

    Now, better does not necessarily mean well. We have a long ways to go. But we have also come a long ways, just in the last 50 years.

    We still need to improve in terms of making bail and sentencing equitable. In terms of ensuring that equality of outcome doesn’t lag so unrealistically behind our supposed equality of opportunity.

    Measuring police for discriminatory practices and misconduct is frightfully involved and almost hopelessly subjective. Still, we have to find a way. How much force is needed to subdue a combatant without needlessly endangering law enforcement? One’s answer will likely change depending on whether one’s brother or uncle or cousin is a law breaker or a police officer. On whether one sympathizes with the plight of one side or the other. We want our own protected to the fullest extent possible. Look at the distinctly opposite reactions there were to the Rayshard Brooks shooting! There are even a few somewhat reasonable theories as to why Chauvin might get off. These confrontations are incredibly convoluted from both ethical and legal standpoints.

    Blacks get shot by police at two and a half times the rate of whites. But then, statistically, black males are 5 to 10 times more violent than whites and live in neighborhoods far more highly frought with crime. There are no easy answers.

    Shane can’t provide you with a list…and if he could, you couldn’t refute it. Way, way too many variables. You’d have to read thousands of trial transcripts. You’d have to be an expert on all kinds of things.

    What’s lost in all this is that the present unrest has almost nothing to do with race and almost everything to do with our other divides: culture, politics, and worldview.

  18. Hi Hans,

    “He was majority-minority with respect to his fellow second-temple Jews. But not with the occupying force of Rome. In that latter sense, he was part of an oppressed class. So the sign probably has that part right.”

    I believe Tom’s point is that it was the Jewish religious leaders that conspired to have Jesus put to death, so He was not a minority, killed by the majority in that sense.

    “But then, statistically, black males are 5 to 10 times more violent than whites”

    What do you mean by that assertion?

    Tom,

    “You’d need to show those facts with a representative sample …”

    And how many would be a representative sample? I don’t think there’s any way of getting around it. The number is the important thing. Which is why I asked how big a number would be big enough.

    “That’s what it would take to know whether there’s an epidemic of racially-motivated police violence going on. ”

    I never mentioned “racially-motivated” in my question about unjustified police violence. I am against police violence against people of all races and creeds.

    I’m sure you saw this on the news when it happened. It’s just as bad, even though it happened to a white man.

  19. How many is a representative sample? Are you serious? You want me to just pull that number out of my hat? You keep pushing and pushing and pushing for easy answers, when I keep telling you this kind of thing requires more serious analysis. You keep pushing the burden of proof onto me when it’s your claim, not mine.

    Shane, stop asking. If you don’t know representative sampling is a matter for sociologists to determine scientifically; if you think that’s an easy seat-of-the-pants number to just come up with, you’re not informed enough to have this kind of conversation. And that’s putting it charitably. ENOUGH of this rude pestering!!!

    One more and you’re off this blog for keeps. You’ve had plenty of notice.

  20. I’m still learning from you, while I’m trying to achieve my
    goals. I definitely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your blog.Keep the stories coming.
    I enjoyed it!

Leave a Reply (Comments guidelines in sidebar)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe

Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

More...

Blog Honors

Recent Comments

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy

%d bloggers like this: