Today’s question comes from Yvette. She writes: “Today I read about Kentucky allowing Christian prayer on school, and then on my way home I saw a bumper sticker that said ‘Make Jesus Legal” — and it had stuck with me. Why was Jesus ever illegal? Because politics and religion should NOT mix? And second, I would NEVER categorize myself as a ‘Christian’– I do believe in Jesus and his teachings– but the whole rest of the religious thing has soured me — trying to control and NOT adhering to ‘Christ-like’ ways. I guess my question is– should there be such a ‘struggle’ to be a good person, and follow a path of life that is good for ALL mankind?”
There are a couple things I want to respond to. First, your question about Kentucky and the “Make Jesus Legal” bumper sticker.
There are lots of people who don’t know much about the early history of the Christian movement. For the first three centuries of its existence, most folks who followed Jesus were marginalized outsiders. Then, in the 4th Century, the Roman Emperor converted to Christianity and things changed. Some of those who claimed Jesus’ name became the ultimate insiders – and enjoyed unrivaled power and privilege. This power and privilege has continued in some places for centuries.
There were many consequences of this shift. One had to do with the mindset of some who followed Jesus. No longer did some feel they needed to suffer in order to follow Jesus and inaugurate the reign of God. Some began to feel a sense of entitlement (i.e. the barista at Starbucks should great them with a roaring “Merry Christmas” in the month of December and NOT “Happy Holidays”). Any attempts to share the political and social power they accumulated were met with hostility, anger, and judgment. That is true to this very day.
This hostility, anger, and judgment gets stirred up to this very day – when attempts are made to create room in the public sphere between church and state to allow for the freedoms of people of other faiths (and for people of no faith as well). That’s tragic. As a Christian, I hope and pray we Christians can rise above this lingering sense of entitlement, and claim a way of being in the public sphere that is Christ-like.
Let me move on to the second issue you raised (“should there be such a ‘struggle’ to be a good person, and follow a path of life that is good for ALL [of humanity]?”).
When it comes to following a path of life, as a Christian I follow the two basic principles Jesus identified as being central to the path of life. We know these principles as The Great Commandment.
And what are those principles?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39 – New International Version).
Life is shockingly easy when you embrace those principles. Where it gets hard is when we encounter those who don’t subscribe to those principles – especially the second one (loving your neighbor).
When we encounter those who don’t love their neighbor (i.e. those people who claim a different understanding of God, who have a different residency status, or whose country of origin is deemed unacceptable to some), our tendency is to mirror back the other person’s way of being. If they are angry, WE become angry. If they are judgmental, WE become judgmental. If they are hateful, WE become hateful. The cycle of animosity seems endless today!
That’s why I’m such a STROOOOOOOOOOOOONG believer in the importance of choosing a spiritual path like Christianity. When we follow the purest convictions of our tradition – including loving God and neighbor – we can break the cycle of animosity and extend goodwill to EVERYONE. We will follow a path of life that is not only good for all of humanity – but for the peace and well being of our own souls as well.
So how about you? What do Yvette’s words raise for you?