I like sharing funny stuff on Facebook. In a way, that’s what it is for. I also share political stuff when it is meaningful. Last week, I posted a picture that isn’t very good and I was told so.
See what I mean? It’s underlying theology is immature and it strikes the receiver as brazenly political. A little worse even than that video by the Jesus hates religion guy. As a priest whose flock includes many Fox News watchers, this seems like a really poor choice on my part.
There is a reason I post these things on Facebook, however. And this one is a really good example.
For all of its flaws, this picture highlights two concepts that are increasingly important to faith today: politics and the Law.
Even though the text seems to lack even the hint of subtlety, there is one very subtle connotation: that liberal theology matches liberal political theory and that conservative theology matches conservative political theory. This has been our gravest mistake in recent years, because one’s proclivity for a certain type of theology may overlap with one’s politics, they should not be identical unless one’s theology is informing one’s politics, rather than the other way.
In criticizing Fox News, this picture is actually making a subtle critique of that link. The kind that says Jesus would be a free market capitalist, would support interventionist military crusades, would encourage the state to make women suffer, and thinks anti-taxation is the ultimate human rights crusade of the 21st Century. The critique isn’t that Christians can’t have conservative values, but that the values expressed by Fox News, as they are, aren’t consistent with Jesus’s values as described in the gospels.
The better critique, in my mind, is the critique of legalism. The implicit argument is that an honest reading of the gospels, particularly Mark, is that Jesus’s theology didn’t clash with the governing elite, but his preference for the Torah over the legal framework that is based on the Torah did. This formed his ongoing arguments for healing on the Sabbath, eating with the ritually impure, and including those marked as evil and dangerous among his closest followers. Jesus practiced a way of being that was overtly threatening to the religious elites and threatened the “peace” Rome so valued. Jesus was killed by the state for sedition as a terrorist. According to the gospels, at the encouragement of the religious elite.
I can’t help but look at today’s elites (Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Roman Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Williams, etc.) and recognize how they have all already diminished Christ’s coming in our midst because of perceived threats to their livelihood and comforting theology. Perhaps none more brazen than those (including Warren) that have supported The Family, and its encouragement of what would easily become anti-gay violence in Africa. I can’t help but notice an interesting parallel as many American evangelicals whipped African leaders in Uganda and Nigeria into abject fear of what the “gay menace” would bring to their countries as an intruder that must be stopped.
Jesus strongly critiques the establishment over and over again, and reserves nearly all of his judgment for the religious elites whose legalism and compromised theology continued to injure the poor, the weak, the sick, the destitute, the criminalized, the disabled, and women. It is hard for me to not watch the same happen here, particularly as we 1) impose austerity that predominately hurts those same groups and 2) refuse to recognize the generosity and abundance in a GOD who asks primarily for our love and then trust.
Though this may be an imperfect vessel for this criticism, it is an honest one. And with so much evangelical obsession with salvation, Anglo-catholic nitpicking of liturgy, and an insincere political climate, memes that come along that put the emphasis on how we negatively compare with Jesus’s ministry are just too alluring for me to pass up.
I promise next time to post more like these.
Because we all know Jesus would never support an honest critique of a system that promotes injustice to the outsider. GOD forbid.
[pictures from Facebook via The Christian Left, Out4Marriage, Seismologik Intelligence, Upworthy, and Being Liberal]