“True” Christians

One of the stories wafting around the internet in the past week or so is the allegation that a Dublin, Georgia teacher told some member or members of her classroom that a “true” Christian wouldn’t vote for Obama since on her authority (or some website’s she defended when a parent-teacher conference was called) Obama isn’t a Christian (and by default, shouldn’t be the President of the United States despite the Establishment Clause she obviously didn’t understand when she took high school civics–assuming she passed).

It’s an allegation, yes, but I don’t have a problem believing it. I’ve been hearing such for over 50 years. My sister was told no “true” Christian would vote for Bill Clinton back in 1992, and before that being a “true” Christian was an excuse for not integrating schools. You know, it was God’s will to keep the races separate. No “true” Christian would go against a teaching as obvious as that, despite the fact that there’s nothing obvious about it at all.

“True” Christians, by my estimation, would be those who pay attention to what Christ said first, understanding even the Old Testament through the lens of a man who, if nothing else, stood on the premise that loving others–even if you’ve drunk the Koolaid that convinces you that you know the life history and circumstances of the woman in front of you in the grocery line paying with food stamps–is the only requirement for following him. Absent love, as St. Paul would later say, calling yourself a Christian and suggesting that you and you only are a “true” Christian on the basis of a voter choice is just a lot of loud noise. I think it more–namely, I think the lack of humility demonstrated by anyone who would presume they know what a “true” Christian is and are entitled to disseminate that information has taken the Lord’s name in vain. Which, in case you don’t know, is a much more serious offense.

Today a couple of days past Easter, I was thinking about the fact that the only time we know of that Jesus’s anger got the best of him was when he encountered the people in the outer courts of the temple in Jerusalem who were blocking access to the inner sanctum and profiting by it. You know, the moneychangers — the ones who were selling doves for those who couldn’t afford lambs that were to be sacrificed by some religious leader (and not themselves) and suggesting that the poor couldn’t possibly be “true” Jews because they hadn’t worked hard enough in their opinions, I guess, to merit an audience with God.

I thought about the fact that I’ve never had a problem with the concept of democracy and its parallel with Jesus’s message of the equality of people before God and the importance of people over made-up rules that protect no one except the rule-makers themselves, because they both honor the value of individual human beings irrespective of circumstance. And I thought about voting and healthcare and religious freedom and the gay-marriage controversy and “my right to an AK-47 trumps your child’s safety” and I decided that if Jesus were here and his kingdom were of this world instead of the spiritual one over which he claimed kingship, he’d be pretty pissed off about now.

But it wouldn’t be at the voters who may be denied access to vote–the inalienable right of a citizen in a democracy. Wouldn’t be at the people who couldn’t even afford a healthcare “dove” or the people who commit to each other to love and cherish each other above all others despite having the same private parts. And certainly, the guy who restored an ear Peter cut off just before running and hiding and denying he even knew Jesus wouldn’t look very kindly at someone who suggests his alleged right to own whatever weapon he wants supersedes respect for the logic and reason God gave us all. No, Jesus wouldn’t be mad at those people, and he would remind us that “true” love is demonstrated in laying down not only one’s life, but one’s demands and desires, if the inalienable rights of others are being shortchanged.

They asked Jesus how to tell the difference between false prophets and “true” ones, and his answer was clear. By the fruit of their labor. And if the fruit of the labor diminished and denied rather than encouraging, supporting and honoring the lives of all those around them, irrespective of their differing look or opinion, the Jesus I’ve read about over and over would more likely assign the phrase “false prophet.” That’s certainly who those religious leaders were whose tables got turned over. And they were the same ones who got so indignant, so angry about the possibility that if Jesus were really the king their power over the masses would be less strangling and their daily bread not so lavish, that they made up stories about him and convinced the Romans that he was a danger to them.

Down through the ages, “true” Christians most often ended up dead for the very same reasons Jesus did, and he predicted it. “True” Christians didn’t keep any of their income, such as it was. “True” Christians got eaten by lions, murdered by gladiators in front of adoring crowds. A good old middle-class wannabe Christian told Jesus he was ready to follow him and Jesus responded that he should look closely at him before he said it in earnest, reminding him that “the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head.” I doubt who the guy voted for would’ve even entered the picture.

So, if you’re inclined to announce that anyone other than yourself isn’t a “true” Christian, if I were you, I would take pause, and remember that fruit of the labor thing. And I would contemplate just whose table Jesus would go for the next time.

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