What Would Jesus Do?
When I began my ministry career twenty years ago, this was the rallying cry of American Christian youth culture; embossed onto colorful rubber bracelets, adorning t-shirts, and emblazoned across student meeting rooms. It was ubiquitous in the Church and eventually crossed-over into the mainstream zeitgeist.
The premise was admirable: to try and filter everything one said or did through the lens of Jesus’ life and ministry as found in the Gospel stories; to echo his love, to perpetuate his character, to reiterate his goodness in the world. It was to seek to enter into the mind of Christ and allow oneself to be altered. And while certainly far from being a simple endeavor, it is as noble an aspiration as a professed Christian can have to face their ordinary days:
Do I resemble Jesus?
Does my life seem to be made of similar stuff?
When people see me, do they see anything that looks like what they imagine Jesus looked like?
And though it’s popularity has ebbed and flowed in past decade, the seemingly elemental question of What Would Jesus Do?, is one the professed religious folks running this country right now and those applauding them from pulpits and pews, would be wise to resurrect.
Ironically today in America, Republican Christians are putting on a master class in missing the point of our faith. In nearly every small and large decision, and in every piece of legislation, they are providing a remarkably vivid illustration of exactly what Jesus would not do:
He wouldn’t be demonizing other faith traditions.
Jesus wasn’t in the habit of making villains out of other religions. In fact, the times he does condemn the religious, is when calling out his own Jewish brethren for their hypocrisy and immorality.
He wouldn’t’ be selling his soul for political capital.
Jesus movement was not one of power, but of humility, service, frugality and lowness. He deserved to be a king, but he chose to be a servant who lived by example.
He wouldn’t be withholding care from sick people.
Jesus was in the healing business. He spent his days moving toward the hurting and alleviating their suffering—not contributing to it or capitalizing on it.
He wouldn’t be worshiping weapons.
Before he is to be arrested without cause, Jesus tells his disciples to bring a sword, then openly condemns its use defending him, and immediately heals the injury inflicted. A benevolent preacher who shunned violence of any kind, even against one’s own body—would want no part of bearing arms.
He wouldn’t be telling people to go back where they came from.
As an itinerant, homeless preacher born to refugees, Jesus had no use for walls or borders or barriers between people. He made his home with the disparate humanity around him and invited them all in.
He wouldn’t be pissing on the planet.
Jesus spoke God’s provision for the birds and the wildflowers, and spent his time teaching on lakes and in the fields and vineyards. The world was a sacred space to him.
He wouldn’t be sticking it to poor people.
Jesus stated that he came to bring good news to those in poverty—and it wasn’t to tell them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. He was speaking of justice.
He wouldn’t be obsessed with people’s personal plumbing or their inclination to love.
Not once in the four Gospel biographies to Jesus condemn anyone for their gender identity or sexual orientation. He simply never does.
He wouldn’t be complaining about being oppressed.
Jesus’ invitation for those who would follow him was to die to self and to welcome real adversity. He certainly would have little tolerance for those crying persecution from places of opulence and dominance.
He simply wouldn’t be doing any of these things, and so the Republicans in this Administration can invoke the name of Jesus all they want, but the proof is in the pudding—or as Jesus said “people are known by the fruit” of their lives—the tangible, measurable byproducts of their words and actions.
Ultimately we can best seek to answer the question, What Would Jesus Do? by understanding as evidenced in the Scriptures, what he did do:
Right now, Jesus would be bringing healing to the sick.
He would be feeding the multitudes.
He would be making peace with his enemies.
He would be turning his cheek.
He would be visiting the forgotten and imprisoned.
He would be ignoring social status.
He would be taking the lowest place.
He would be abdicating power.
He would be fighting for the marginalized.
He would be speaking clear truth.
In other words, Jesus would be doing the exact opposite of what this GOP is doing, though they claim Christ compels them. The evidence just isn’t there. The Jesus of the Gospels would be sick to his stomach to be associated with such greed and arrogance and violence. He would call it out as the very kind of bloated, hateful hypocrisy he came to rebel against and to invite people to join him in doing so.
Most people outside organized Christianity already know this. Non-Christians understand it. Atheists get this. They all know enough about Jesus and the core of his beautiful, loving, countercultural message, to hold his life up against the lives of these professed Christians—and to notice there is little resemblance. They can see that these aren’t even existing in the same moral universe.
Those of us literally fighting to keep the faith from being misappropriated by those who couldn’t care less about replicating Jesus, are tired of being represented by whatever this thing has metastasized into. It does not speak for us, it is not the legacy we wish to leave the world, and above all—it is not in any way what Jesus would do.