Your American Jesus is Too Small For Me

This year has seen some changes in the United States. Just this summer we saw two screwed up guys with guns walk right up to places with people and gun them down. We are starting to see the candidates for President of the United States line up and campaign for the White House and some, like Donald Trump, are stirring animosity among the religious right. We’ve seen gay marriage made the law of the land. We’ve seen damning videos of people sipping wine and talking about the cost of shipping aborted baby parts with smirks on their faces. All in all, this has been one of the most politically and emotionally charged summers in recent years.

With all that being said, I am more than saddened and appalled at the way I’ve seen people who call themselves Christians conduct themselves on social media. Let’s take a Facebook post by evangelical leader Franklin Graham who said,

“During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree?”

The comments by supposed Christians?:

“Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized — and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad.”

“Not a bad idea. It’s time for the USA to do something positive.”

“Amen brother.”

“I completely agree w/ Pastor Graham.No doubt in my mind.”

Now, to be fair, there are many more comments on the thread which also scold Graham and also this post did go viral, so many of the comments may be from people who aren’t practicing Christians at all. However, my point isn’t so much to witch hunt Christians in Grahams comment sections, but to show that a “man of God” just incited violence, bigotry and hatred in people. Notice I put “man of God” in quotes for a reason, because he sure does not characterize Jesus Christ for me, at least not here.

I love my conservative and traditionalist brothers and sisters, but let me be crystal clear when I say that I do not see Jesus Christ in them when they speak such vitriol. I do not see the “Good News”. I see a twisted Gospel cocktail of Ayn Rand, neoconservatism, utilitarianism and maybe some Jesus thrown in for good measure. I don’t see a Christianity that takes Jesus’ teachings seriously. Rather, I see a cultic faith mixed with jingoism and pride. 

If we look at the scriptures, we see a rather straight interpretation of how we must conduct ourselves (which is corroborated by the actions of early Christians, by the way). For example, let’s look at what Paul actually says about engaging one another and culture (like the Muslims and immigrants), shall we?

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore,

If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

If he is thirsty, give him a drink;

For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-17, NKJV)

And Christ Himself said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48, NKJV)

I can’t conceive of such a small god that would tell us to love our enemies and then when the going gets tough and they’re knocking on our doors rescind His words because they’re “impractical” or a “threat to national security”. I think our American Jesus is too small. Our American Jesus is the Jesus who made a lot of “cool suggestions” but ultimately all that mattered is he paid for our sins. If Jesus is really God, then shouldn’t every one of His words be like liquid gold for our souls? Shouldn’t they be more precious than anything else? We have God, in the flesh, telling us the best way to live and when the going gets tough or impractical on a societal level, we decide he needs to “sit this one out”.

The larger point here is that Christians have become divided more and more in America and some don’t even know it. Christians have adopted a sort of modernist, practical take on their own reading of scripture and have come to believe that their reading of scripture serves exactly their political stance and doesn’t challenge them on it. This mix of politics and Christianity is nothing new, certainly, but it’s starting to take on a life that makes me gravely question the orthodoxy of those who hold to it. If Franklin Graham or Donald Trump is the voice of thousands or even millions of Christians who would rather keep their perceived enemy at arms-length rather than love them and bless them in the name of “national security”, I believe we’ve allowed the “god of utility and nationalism” to supersede the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are worshiping a golden calf made by our prejudice and sin rather than shaped by Christ and the faith that was handed “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

At the end of the gospel, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, many of his followers left in despair. They had hoped the Messiah would rescue them from the Roman empire and would restore Israel to its former glory. That never came. Because God had bigger plans. Jesus was bigger than this nationalistic fight. Jesus came to fulfill a larger purpose and to reconcile the whole world to himself.

In conclusion, a Jesus that is that small doesn’t have a Kingdom of His own, populated by an army of people who claim no crown or country, who pray ceaselessly and trust His power over the nations. A Jesus that is that small wrings his hands over America’s moral failures and his followers have constant anxiety that impending doom will take away their livelihood and economic privilege. A Jesus that small would not give us any ability to spread warmth, comfort and love to the world, even in the midst of Armageddon, because the battle wouldn’t be his in the end.

I’m glad I don’t have a Jesus that small. I’m glad we as His disciples never have.

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3 thoughts on “Your American Jesus is Too Small For Me

  1. Zachary, I’m going to have to read, reread, re-reread and think about what you’ve written here.
    On the one hand I agree with you, there is an Americanized Jesus like the one you describe, he is a false Christ. On the other hand there is a second type of false Americanized Jesus, this one is soft, pacifistic and never condemns, buddy Jesus, this is equally un biblical.

    Islamic terrorists are terrorists because of their religious beliefs and I don’t think saying “you aren’t welcome here if you believe in jihad” is necessarily “un-Christian” (it is of course a complex subject were dealing with)

    • I’d agree. The problem is many Christians will put God into whatever categories they think fit their politics. My criticism of Graham was that he believes that Jesus would firmly be OK with his proposal that we disbar immigrants of Arab dissent. According to the Bible and the Church, he’s wrong. God would not approve of us treating immigrants that are looking to escape death and poverty like they’re ALL terrorists. Furthermore, there are Arabs in this country who would be treated with more ilk and racism than ever before.

      So my point is that many Christians in America see the utility of political practicality as being over Christ’s words to “love your enemies”. Jesus wasn’t “soft” but he wasn’t “tough” either. He was God. We are not.

      • It isn’t a question of Arab decent (race), it is a question of belief system (Islam). (although the greater context of his statement did refer to racially based filtering of immigrants in the past) I don’t think he intended to make a racially biased statement although it comes off that way, I’d be surprised if he was opposed to immigration of Arab Christians. I think what he was saying was that if there is some group of people who contain those are potentially dangerous and enemies of the country they should not be permitted to enter the country. Of course there are many Muslims who do not believe in violent Jihad, the problem is figuring our who is who.

        I think you and I agree though. We aught to do good to those decent folk trying to escape the carnage over there in the Mideast regardless of race/religion (emphasis on ‘decent folk’)

        The true Christ confounds us all and is contrary to our natural inclinations, we must choose to submit to him and it isn’t always easy.

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