February 8, 2020

Evangelicals, You’ve Heard it Said…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” the teacher shared with his students, “those who don’t feel the need to claim themselves to be ‘winners’ or call those with less ‘losers…’”

The teacher scanned the rustic classroom. It’s wooden pillars speaking to the historic nature of the campus. His eyes moved upwards to see the class of nearly fifty seated students rising in ever-increasing, stair step heights above him.

“…For theirs is the place of victory and peace.”

The connection between teacher and student was broken by a sudden disturbance. There were voices in the hallway followed by the crash of the entrance door behind the teacher being flung against the wall as several evangelical leaders marched into the classroom.

"We don’t like the president’s tweets anymore than you, but appointing Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe V. Wade is important. Surely you agree?”

“Teacher, we have to talk to you,” said the leader at the front of the intruding group of men dressed in suits and ties and carrying Bibles. The first leader had the biggest Bible of all. “Sorry to barge in this way, but we’ve been trying to get on your calendar and you haven’t returned our calls nor been willing to come by our churches.”

“Why would I come to your church when every day I’m with the people,” Jesus replied. The men looked at each other, confused that a Bible teacher would not find it vital to speak to their congregations. “The people in your church have no need of me,” Jesus responded, as if reading their minds.

“It’s never difficult to find me for those who are truly seeking.”

“We’re concerned you’ve misjudged us,” the Big Bible leader spoke up again, leaning in to emphasize his point while trying not to be overbearing. “You’re speaking things about us that are terribly wrong.”

“You’re referring to the newspaper op-ed where I called you a ‘pit of vipers’ and ‘whitewashed tombs?’” Jesus responded with a coy grin. Big Bible leader’s face darkened.

“Perhaps you don’t know who my father is…”

“I know your father very well,” Jesus interrupted with a raised palm. “And your father knew me.” Big Bible’s father had been a world renowned evangelical preacher and this leader wanted to carry on the family name.

“Well then,” Big Bible stammered, “why would you call us such names when our beliefs very much line up with yours. We all believe in the Bible as God’s word, right?”

“I believe in the one the Bible is about,” Jesus responded, his eyes locked directly into the eyes of Mr. Big Bible. “I worship a person, not your interpretation which has become mistakenly intertwined with partisan beliefs. Neither do I believe in your devotion to corrupt political leaders.”

Big Bible responded with a half step forward towards Jesus. He pointed the Bible at Jesus, then caught himself and placed his Bible under his arm.

“See, right there. You misjudge us,” the Big Bible leader responded, a firm line forming on his forehead. “We don’t like the president’s tweets anymore than you, but appointing Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe V. Wade is important, wouldn’t you agree?”

Jesus sighed and turned away. A look of sadness came upon his face as he looked at the floor. He scuffed an imaginary pebble with his foot. The silence grew uncomfortably long until the students began to murmur and another religious leader cleared his throat.

“Did you hear what the reverend said, Jesus?” That religious leader inquired. Jesus finally looked up at the back wall of the classroom and answered.

“Do you think I’ve come to support your evangelical movement of laws and a desire for the old order that gave you power and made you so comfortable?” Jesus responded, still looking at the floor. “Am I here to legally impose biblical statutes onto people or to set them free from religious bondage?”

“Don’t you think defending helpless babies IS releasing people from bondage?” Big Bible jumped back into the conversation with a grand wave of his Bible and an even grander tone as he asked a sarcastic question. “Surely you’re not a liberal and Pro-Choice?”

“You say, ‘thou shalt not murder babies,’” Jesus answered in a soft-tone, evaporating the power from the evangelical leader’s question, “and whoever makes such a choice should be judged by God and by man…”

Jesus’ steely eyes stared at the leaders as he turned his body to face their group. “…But I say, everyone who has anger against people should be judged. Those who have power and privilege, yet declare themselves victims and prey upon the fears of others will be judged liable of the rules of heaven.” The religious leaders gasped and whispered among themselves.

“Standing for the rights of the unborn is the most important thing we can do,” another leader jumped in, his face red and his eyes wide. “Abortion impacts, more than anyone, these… ‘people’ you claim to love so much.”

“You say having the right stance on banning bad behavior is most important to God?” Jesus snapped. He paused for a moment and lowered his voice again. “I say being wrong on God’s immense love for people makes you worse than those you condemn.”

The man lunged forward but was quickly grabbed by his fellow leaders.

“This man’s a heretic,” the leader exclaimed causing a ruckus in the circle causing Big Bible to raise his hand in order to silence the religious group. Jesus pointed at the man and shouted.

“Yet, you’re the one that doesn’t have a single New Testament verse backing your desire to win political battles to force people to obey your law.”

“Please, Jesus, calm down,” Big Bible implored. “Let me ask if morality and family values matter to you? Aren’t you concerned about scantily clad women dancing at halftime of the Super Bowl?” Jesus scoffed and turned his attention back to the young students in the class.

“Young people, these men tell you that ‘you shall not commit adultery or lust after a woman,’” Jesus stated. “Their words judge themselves.” A gasp went up from the men in the group as Jesus turned back to them.

“I say, if women performing a dance from their cultural heritage causes you to commit adultery in your heart,” he pronounced, his smile fading, “maybe it’s your heart that needs to be checked rather than the attire of those women.”

Another angry huff went up from the group religious leaders. Jesus noted a blush on the face of one of them.

“If your rules cause you and others to sin,” Jesus continued, staring straight at that man, “then perhaps your rules should be thrown in the shredder so you can truly live from freedom with God. This is the higher way to live.”

The blushing man turned and shuffled from the room, gently opening the door and being quite careful to allow just a small click to be heard as the door closed. An hispanic leader in the group spoke up next.

“Our way of life is under attack,” he stated, his lips taut. “There’s religious persecution from the gay agenda, immorality on display on TV, the dissolution of the family…”

“You’ve heard it said, ‘thou shalt not be gay,’” Jesus shot back, interrupting the pastor, “I say the Bible is much more clear that ‘whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’” Jesus took a step towards one of the leaders, causing this leader to avert his gaze to the ground. The men realized this man had been divorced and remarried.

“Some are living in adultery, by the letter of the law, yet make cultural allowance for their lives while yet feeling free to place their yoke over those of different gender choices and feeling no pain or responsibility for the high suicide rate in the LGBTQ+ community.” Again Jesus scanned the eyes of the classroom before returning to the men.

“Half of the Christian children in this room come from households that have suffered divorce,” he spoke, his voice ringing from the walls as not even a breath could be heard from all others in the room. Jesus looked from the corner of his eye at the men. “With your acceptance of divorce, perhaps it’s you who are destroying the family. Maybe it’s time to clean up your own house before damning others in theirs.”

The pastor who had encountered Jesus scathing gaze left the room, this time the door slammed loudly behind him as he made a hasty exit.

“So, it’s an unpardonable sin to divorce?” asked another religious leader.

“If you’ve determined grace is available for your shortfalls, how can you have no grace for the shortfalls you perceive in others?” Jesus walked to the whiteboard at the front of the room. “Perhaps there is grace for all of them? And your lack of grace is a divide between you and God.”

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Jesus grabbed a marker, clicked off the top and began to write: “Church sex scandals,” he wrote. “Pastors sleeping with secretaries…”

Another religious leader nudged his friend and the two left the room.

“Teen LGBTQ+ Suicide Rate,” “School Shootings,” “Sandy Hook Denial,” “Disallowing Gay People full Participation in Church,” “Propagating crazy conspiracy theories,” “lack of accountability for Church Funds…”

Three more pastors looked at each other and made their move for the door. The marker continued to squeak as Jesus finished writing his last line in large dark letters: “Calling some evil while supporting an elected official who bragged about sexual assault…”

“I tell you assuredly,” he said, placing the lid back on the marker and dropping it into the tray in front of the white board, “you can be right on the social issues you deem important and still be very wrong. It would be more desirable that a big rock be tied around your neck as you jump off a high bridge than to keep even one of the marginalized in your culture from the grace of God.”

The rest of the men quietly shuffled out of the room, leaving only the first, Big Bible leader. After a moment of thought, he spoke once again.

“But Jesus, liberals are evil,” he said. “Islam is a threat to the world. Socialism is going to take away our religious freedoms. They’re coming after our guns. We must stand against this work of Satan.” Jesus looked at this leader and displayed love for him in his softening eyes.

“You’ve heard it said ‘we must defend our party and hate the other in order to preserve our rights and comfort,’” Jesus answered, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder, “but I say to you, trust God for your safety. Comfort from God comes in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What does it benefit a person to gain all of their rights and comfort, and yet lose their soul?”

The leader’s eyes glared at Jesus and, after a moment’s thought, he started to turn away. The teacher, however, locked his grip on the man’s shoulder and would not allow him to leave.

“Your friend who left called me a ‘heretic.’ Better a heretic than blind. Better to be disdained for loving people than to have access to all the powerful men in the world.” Jesus turned to face the class again.

“Woe to those who believe their goodness and their ability to condemn others secures God’s favor for them, for they are those of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said they ‘no longer have eyes to see or ears to hear what God is doing in a season.’”

“I tell you, Reverend,” Jesus wheeled and pointed a finger at the religious leader, “the desire of these young people to love and have grace for each other gives them a greater understanding of God’s character than you’ve garnered in all your years of study. On judgment day it will be better for them than for you.”

The man huffed and slid backwards towards the door.

“You haven’t heard the last of this,” he spat through gritted teeth as he exited the room. The evangelical leader knew his group was going to need to do something drastic to this man as many believing his negative comments about them.

Jesus stood in the silence of the classroom for a moment, appearing to ponder what had just occurred and the ramifications he would soon face.

“It’s difficult for evangelical leaders, today, to know anything outside the box of all they’ve been taught and known.”

“So, should we not attend an evangelical church then, Jesus?” A young woman asked from her front row desk chair.

“The church community you attend is not the issue, young ones,” Jesus responded, “for God sends rain on the evangelicals, the catholics and the atheists all the same. Follow those who point you to God and resist those who point you to a man or a political party, who point you to rules that are somehow supposed to make God happy with you, and point you towards individual Bible verses taken out of context to lord over others.”

Jesus looked up at the class and the corners of his lips rose in a smile.

“Thus ends today’s lesson. Class dismissed.”

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