The other day I received a note about the church’s response to the current injustices. The writer shared how he was organizing his church to publicly question police tactics, to be actively involved in legislating change, and to rally in protest. And then he posed what he thought was a politically charged question, thinking it would support his and his church’s response.
What Would Jesus Do?
He shouldn’t have gone there …
What would Jesus do? Let’s take a look, shall we?
In Jesus’s day the Romans regularly persecuted, tortured, and killed people by scourging and by crucifixion. Those who were not Jewish were crucified naked for all to see in an inhumane and humiliating act. Men (rarely women) were regularly put to death for crimes as petty as theft.
What did Jesus say about this travesty? Not a word.
The Jewish people in that day were quite racist against those who lived on the “other side of the tracks” in Samaria (let alone those who weren’t Jewish!). They regularly sanctioned the Samaritans and boycotted their businesses, belittled their people, and had no problem cheating them in the marketplace.
Again, what did Jesus say about their treatment? He was completely silent.
Jesus’ cousin John was imprisoned without trial because he spoke out against a public figure’s lack of morality. He sat in jail without “bond” and without just cause for weeks or even months. But that wasn’t the end of it. What was even more unjust was his summary execution without trial, judge, or jury – instead, his killing was the worst sort of a party trick displayed for all to see.
Jesus’s response? Although he did have the good sense to leave the district, he didn’t call for protests, he didn’t organize a rally, and he didn’t engage in lobbying, politicking, nor did he offer public rhetoric about the injustice of those imbued with privilege and power.
The list can go on and on and on. Women’s rights. Unfair taxation. Unjust leaders (the emperor and the king were both known for their cruelty). Crippling poverty. A lack of even the most basic rights for the physically challenged or diseased. Although for each of these, Jesus personally modeled grace, mercy, and respect – he said nothing and gave no instructions (other than to pay your tax obligations in full to a government that was seriously oppressive).
So … what “sin” and “injustice” did Jesus choose to directly address over and over again? Hypocrisy of the religious leaders – not about the way they did or didn’t address social issues, but because of their holier-than-thou attitudes toward those in the community.
That’s not to say the church shouldn’t speak out against injustice … the prophets regularly did that and we should too. But the church has a deplorable record on addressing social ills when using society’s tools (lobbying, protesting, politicking, etc.). In the 20s we got our noses bloodied in the war against alcohol (I guess we forgot Jesus made 120 gallons of wine in a single sitting). In the 1940s, we looked pretty bad when the US Church vehemently supported Isolationism and suggested the Jews fend for themselves. In the 1960s, we didn’t do so well trying to defeat abortion. In the 1980s, we lost face in the face of homosexuality. And in the 2000s, the battle against same-gender marriage was seriously lost.
Jesus charged the church with making disciples of Jesus Christ, and I think I can safely argue that a faithful follower of Jesus Christ (not just a “Christian” or a “church member”) has a pretty good handle on the Golden Rule and on Paul’s admonition that in Christ there is no gender, no race, no ethnicity, no social distinctions, etc. The only “cure” for our nation’s ills, or the world’s ills, for that matter, is Jesus Christ, and the only effective tool the church has for making that a reality is evangelism and discipleship.
Which is to say, if the church had been faithful for the last 2000 years with the Great Commission, and if the US Church spent as much time, energy, and resources engaging in effective evangelism as it has trying to right all of society’s ills using society’s tools (something even Einstein suggested was futile), then MLK, Rodney King, Ferguson, and now Minneapolis might not have happened in the first place.
We must all be good citizens. We must vote. Write letters. Even protest. But the CHURCH, the organized Body Of Christ has a single mandate … to make disciples. When we get sidetracked with anything else, we cease being the church and become just another non-profit organization. We’ve been protesting racial injustice since well before Martin Luther King, Jr. Things have changed … but only incrementally. Perhaps it’s time for the church to put Jesus’ plan for global redemption onto the front burner …
And that is why I teach evangelism, church growth, preaching, and pastoral leadership … because if we were faithful and effective at those four, the US might not be rioting in the streets tonight.