I went into one of those warehouse bookstores today, and headed to the section clearly marked CHRISTIAN. There were covers carrying the chicklet smiling faces of a vast array of white male preachers, except for that one woman who has surgically stretched her face into the likes of “The Joker”. They were all mega-preachers to the mega-churches, and I would contend, all believe in religion’s obvious capacity to make mega-bucks. This is the new Christianity, the American version, and it is built upon a belief in an All-American Jesus.
I gazed at the covers, read back pages, and browsed the tables of contents. The messages were clones of one another. They all speak of the human need to be popular and powerful and right and better than others -- the sleazy drive to show ourselves superior. For all their claims to be biblically based, which remain remarkably selective, they seem to have forgotten the admonition not to make God over in your own image. Their Jesus is strikingly white and American, a devout capitalist, and a fierce Republican – I also suspect, from the South.
The Jesus they are selling, and marketing IS their forte, is a corporate Jesus, a capitalist Jesus, a quietly secretly greedy Jesus, just as long as you throw a few benevolent checks the way of the poor. Good news to the poor is not their mission. More good news for the very comfortable is their well-disciplined strong suit. Their bottom line is that some folks are good and clean (whatever that means) and responsible and hard-working and true patriots, but most of the rest of us are, well, NOT. They are selling the marine brand of Christianity -- fit only for the few, the strong and the supposedly brave. Obviously, liberal weeping weaklings need not apply.
The deeper I scanned this constellation of Christian books, the more aware I became of how the Jesus they advertised bore little resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels. I would have thought it pretty clear that Jesus – of, if you have two cloaks give one of them away fame -- was not and never will be a capitalist. He doesn’t believe in private property. Thinks talk of ownership to be at best foolhardy. He has permanently knocked out all the rungs on the ladder of success. He must be repulsed by the notion of a third world. I cannot even imagine the fury of Jesus witnessing the widening gap between rich and poor – I suspect he would be tipping over tables all over town again.
Upon taking a seat and perusing a few chapters of several books, I was quick to recognize that for these mega-church preachers, the great enemy of Jesus is the bleeding heart liberal. Greed is not the enemy. Destroying the earth and its resources is not the enemy. A wanton disregard of the poor and outcast is not the enemy. Nope…it is those damn fools who care too much, and give away too much, and fail to see how their compassion is no more than self-serving and loser-enabling stupidity. Those evil liberals are excessively loving, forgiveness obsessed, way too open hearted and minded, way too tolerant, and yes, they remain sex-crazed. They continue to refuse to observe the mature approach to human sexuality which has long dominated the history of the church in such a healthy way – oh, the shame of it!
Then there is the matter of heaven, which gets abundant attention in these books, and offers the reader clear instructions on how to get in. Heaven is treated as sort of a country club for Christians. If you have a few good folks to recommend you, your chances for entrance improve. Still, the essential requirement is to confess that you believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior; as do all of the members of the Ku Klux Klan, and did most of the card carrying Lutherans of the Nazi party. From this perspective, the decision as to who goes to Heaven is solely up to us, our words, our claims, and our approval. We make the rules, and Jesus abides. (It says so in Scripture – somewhere.)
For all the times Jesus spoke out against Scriptural literalism, as he even did when discussing the concept of being born-again (John3:3-5), or in railing against the scribes and Pharisees for being clean and shiny on the outside, but inside full of dead bones, all of these books declare the ultimate literal truth of the Bible. It is contended that these good Christians know their Bible, and the bad Christians, progressives and liberals and main-liners, are, well, they are best thought of as dead again, and as biblical illiterates.
I sat there dumbstruck. How on earth has the Christian church in America gone corporate? How can we be selling a Jesus who is just a perfect fit and reflection of our culture? In fact, this Jesus brand believes America to be the new Promised Land, and we Americans the new chosen people. Our destiny is to lead the world, and when Armageddon comes (which these books strangely seem to anticipate with glee) we will be left resting atop the decaying corpses of the rest of the world. By the way, it is hard to pick-up in these mega-church manuals for salvation, that there even is a rest of the world -- America is pretty much the whole story here.
I returned all of the books to their correct shelves. I then looked for almost an hour, to find one prophetic book listed as Christian. A prophetic book would be a manuscript whose pages are devoted to an urgent message calling upon a culture and church to change. Prophets are those who let us know that we must be better than what we are seeing in Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Sandy Hook, or pretty much anywhere in America. Prophets are those impassioned souls who dare to call upon us to want and need less, and to serve others and make genuine sacrifices. Prophets have zero tolerance for the gap between rich and poor, and even less so for the brutal either/or ethic which dominates the values of the All-American Jesus adherents. Prophets celebrate diversity, justice, tolerance, and real peace making.
I did not find a single such book. I found a few by Henri Nouwen, whose spirituality is grounded splendidly in Grace and whose life was a magnificent testimony to the holiness of care-giving, in Nouwen’s case, for the mentally and physically challenged. He is Catholic, and since he was posthumously outed as gay, his works show up less and less frequently. There was one book by Frederick Buechner, THE GOSPEL AS COMEDY, TRAGEDY AND FAIRY TALE; the title alone must have sent shivers up and down the spines of the true All-American Christians. Most of the remaining books were about how Jesus can help you leave this crazy world of mayhem and chaos, and know the sweet bliss and calm of the Holy Spirit. This is the same Holy Spirit which drew John the Baptist to a desert wasteland to call upon folks to receive a boiling baptism of renewal; folks he also referred to as a brood of vipers.
I put all of the books back in their appropriate places, and then on a wild whim, I went home to retrieve a few of my own favorite Christian books. I looked over my collection, and chose Desmond Tutu’s recent title, GOD IS NOT A CHRISTIAN; one of Forrest Church’s first titles, and still one of his best, GOD AND OTHER FAMOUS LIBERALS; and a well-worn oldie but goodie by William Stringfellow, the lawyer for the Berrigan brothers in the infamous 60’s and 70’s, AN ETHIC FOR CHRISTIANS AND OTHER ALIENS IN A STRANGE LAND. In total I gathered up a dozen prophetic manuscripts, and gleefully headed back to the book selling mega-store.
I walked with confidence and purpose back to the CHRISTIAN section, and placed my selections right smack in the center of the All-American Jesus section. I also put out a small framed sign which simply said, “THERE ACTUALLY IS ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW”. My books and sign took up little room, and I am afraid could barely be noticed, but I smiled with pride. Maybe somebody might realize there is a bleeding-hearted liberal Jesus out there somewhere, even if you have to work hard to find a book about him or his ministry. Of course, you could start by simply reading the Gospel of Luke.
As I left the store, strangely smug and self-satisfied, I knew my choices would be removed quickly. But maybe, just maybe, they lasted a couple days, and drew a couple glances, and even created a few smiles along the way – for the few who just might have gotten the point. Jesus was and is a bleeding heart liberal; he was and is a prophet; and he was and is the Lord of the whole world. He will celebrate a universal salvation, bringing home all of His children at the end of their days.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.