by Steve Butcher
Renewed death and destruction in the Middle East can mean only one thing—Jesus is about to make a footstool of his enemies. We have heard repeatedly from the usual suspects—Falwell, Robertson, Colson—that the last days are upon us.
Once we renounce our sins we can look forward to a heavenly embrace in the loving arms of our savior. Most exciting is the prospect that Americans will occupy the preferred position on the journey. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” asked Rev. Samuel Langdon in 1775, shortly after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington. And how can we not help but be comforted by the news that the 21st century United States military, guided by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, stands ready to obliterate anyone brash enough to impede us?
But is this what Jesus had in mind when he talked about serving others, and giving himself as a ransom for many? Have we succeeded in turning John Winthrop’s vision of a “city on a hill” into an empire overheated by paranoia and suspicion, bristling with weaponry, and feared and loathed around the world?
In Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq, I see not the post-modern equivalent of Elijah calling
down fire upon the servants of Baal but, rather, a demonstration of state-sponsored
terror. And when I listen to President Bush’s mutterings about the axis
of evil, I hear not the voice of Jeremiah but the rants of a fanatic—the
kind Jesus warned about when he said, “Many will come in my name, but
do not be deceived.” And how can a country supposedly founded upon Christian
ideals and principals allow itself to become a specialist in mass extermination?
whole idea of Jesus piloting a B2 bomber may thrill Northrop Grumman. But it
is doctrinally ridiculous, not to mention insulting to those who have spent
much of their lives in resistance to the mass marketing of death. “A Godly
person would never use violence to solve a problem, or protect profits,”
says Sister Brigid
McDonald. A member of the order of St.
Joseph of Carondelet for the last 55 years, as well as a member of Women
Against Military Madness, Sister McDonald rejects the conflation of American
power with inspired authority. “I am leery of people like George Bush
who claim to have a special relationship with God,” she says. “Jesus
is neither left nor right. He was without prejudice, and he followed no rules.
The situation with [the] United States in the Middle East is an example of this
country sticking its nose in a place where it doesn’t belong. It is a
complicated history where neither side has a clean conscience. We wind up selling
weapons to all sides of a conflict. Jesus showed that people are more important
Not only that, but the murderous attacks upon Lebanese and Palestinians—perpetuated
with the tacit approval of the U.S.—demonstrate the stark difference between
Jesus’ relationship with the world, and life in a Deutero-Levitical community
ruled by vengeance. “Israel is like any other nation that maintains a
policy of disproportionate response,” says St. Paul-based House
of Mercy pastor Russell Rathbun. “‘You kill one of us, we will
kill 10 of you.’ Now compare that philosophy with God’s relationship
with us. God sent his son as a symbol of his love for us. When we killed him,
what did God do? He showed mercy. He said ‘I’m going to use that
event as a means to reconcile all people to me.’”
In his book, “Post-Rapture
Radio: Writings from a Failed Revolution,” Rathbun describes how Christianity’s
militant fringe has adopted an eschatological language that allows it to, literally,
plan life around the events described in the Book of Revelation. “Everyone
wants a plan, a sequence, a timeline, rules, categories, a measuring rod,”
he writes. Preparations for Christ’s return have become like an investment
scheme—contribute now in exchange for fat dividends later. But the joke
is on us. “We all live in [a] Babylonian relationship. We cannot free
ourselves from the evil that we love.”
“To isolate any part of the Bible is to argue as the fundamentalists do,”
says Rathbun. “Jesus is a revolutionary figure who wanted to establish
something beyond government, beyond Jewish leadership, beyond Rome. He wanted
to establish the kingdom of God. To cite an apocalyptic passage as the crux
of Jesus’ mission is dangerous. President Bush is part of that segment
of the American religious population that misreads Daniel and Revelation. Revelation
is about idolatry as it applies to the empire that was Babylon. At the end of
Revelation God comes down and establishes a kingdom in the heart of Babylon.
Bush wants to establish an empire, but we are the empire—we are Babylon.”
ministry was based upon the principle of redemption, in contrast to the fundamentalist
idea of retribution. But Jesus did not discriminate; he loosed his rhetorical
and theological salvos on everyone, including his own disciples. He delighted
in wounding the pompous and the know-it-alls, especially the priests, scribes
and teachers who viewed themselves as the ultimate arbiters of God’s will.
Some of the best known examples include his confrontation with a group of synagogue
rabbis, when he declared to them that he was the fulfillment of scripture (“The
spirit of the Lord is upon me....”); his subtle yet ruthless condemnation
of hypocrisy (“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”);
and his scolding of his disciple Peter in response to Peter’s eager determination
to fight anyone who might attack him (“Get behind me, Satan!”).
In all of these cases the teacher tried to instruct, guide and cajole an often
perplexed and frightened community back toward its center, at which is located
God. It is the language of persuasion, the vocabulary of a man who liked to
describe himself as a shepherd. No children or animals are harmed, there is
no hint of force, of punishment or compulsion, and no one is threatened.
“Jesus spoke to people without prejudice,” says Sister McDonald.
“He took on their experiences. He wasn’t even supposed to talk to
women, but all through scripture he is seen in conversation with them. He spoke
to the woman at the well, to Mary Magdalene, to Mary and Martha (the sisters
of Lazarus), to the mothers of his disciples. Rules didn’t guide his life.
He responded to people’s needs.”
the most compelling illustration of Jesus’ earthly mission comes in the
ninth chapter of the book of John (the same John whose visions and dreams comprise
Revelation). The chapter opens with Jesus explaining to his disciples that a
person born with a handicap is often a vehicle for God’s grace. They encounter
a blind man whose sight Jesus restores. The rest of the chapter follows the
man as he is constantly harassed by the authorities who attempt to get him to
tell them that Jesus could not have healed him, since Jesus does not fit the
accepted definition of a priest—a classic example of if-we-don’t-believe-it-then-it-can’t-be-true.
The chapter concludes with Jesus re-encountering the thoroughly flustered man
who, in answer to Jesus’ question about his faith, says, “I believe.”
Jesus then leaves him with, perhaps, the single most poignant and meaningful
statement in the Gospels: “I have come to give sight to the blind, and
to show those who think they see that they are blind.”
“Jesus is about the idea that the creator desires to have a relationship
with us,” says Russell Rathbun. “The blind have no power, so they
need protection. Those who have power and who are in control will have to learn
to live as the blind do—in faith.” ||
1:02 Jesus in his time
and ours • by Ed Felien
1:03 Radical pacifists
face prison and fines for action at missile silos • by John LaForge