What Would Jesus Do?
Well, here we are again. As I write this column, our nation—and in fact, much of the world—reels from the news out of Orlando, Florida. Fifty persons dead. More than fifty wounded. Hundreds, if not thousands of friends and family members suddenly left without relationships they had cherished.
I suppose one might argue that there is no “again” to this, since a slaughter on this scale has not happened here in recent decades; but really, are actual body counts that important? The fact is, mass murder has become so commonplace in our society that, as several commentators have suggested, our response has almost become scripted.
Another mass murder? Just pull out the script, edit the location, the names of the shooter(s) and the victims, and the body count. Apart from these details, little else changes from slaughter to slaughter. We offer prayers for the victims and their families and friends, express public condolences and a seemly portion of outrage, and move on to the next item trending in the news.
A cynical view of life in these United States? Perhaps. But as a Christian—as a follower of the Prince of Peace—I am finding it more and more difficult with each passing massacre to find the peace that he left us. It’s getting harder and harder for me to sustain the hope made possible by our faith. I doubt that I’m alone.
Whether one ascribes this latest installment of serial violence to the perversion of an Abrahamic faith, to pious homophobia, or to the absurd availability of weapons to persons most of us agree shouldn’t have them probably matters little. Death by violence is a decidedly final chapter to relationships we cherish.
The WWJD bracelet marketing craze of a few years ago is but a dim memory. However, I do find its slogan (What Would Jesus Do?) thought-provoking if not instructive. How, I wonder, might Jesus the man respond to mass murder were he with us today?
I’m going out on a limb here (a familiar perch for me) and speculate that the man who was a champion of the poor, the oppressed, and the outcasts of his day would also be a champion of the minorities and outcasts of our day. He found no reason to exclude or dehumanize anyone. Perhaps he knew that to model exclusion and dehumanization would be a denial of his message of unconditional love.
The Jesus who was made real to me through the Cumberland Presbyterian Church would not engage in rhetoric painting an entire religious, racial, or ethnic group as evil based on the monstrous offenses of a minority of its members. The man who cited a member of the generally reviled Samaritan faith as an illustration of the kind of love and compassion that transcends religion, politics, and social class would surely affirm the worth of all persons today—regardless of religion, politics, or social class. Evil, I am sure he would agree, is evil—whoever manifests it.
And I just can’t see the Jesus I know—who in his last moments of freedom instructed a disciple attempting to defend him from arrest to put away his sword—as a patron of easily obtained handguns, much less semi-automatic rifles. Certainly he might understand that there are good persons—Christian persons—who own reasonable weapons for hunting, whether for sport or, in some cases, through need. But it is impossible for me to picture Jesus, were he with us today, packing heat out of concern for his own safety or the safety of his disciples. That did not seem to be his primary concern in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I doubt it would be his concern in Chicago or Memphis or Orlando today.
So how do we Christians react to yet another massacre—to the senseless and preventable loss of innocent lives? Like many of our fellow citizens we have been answering that question out of a sense of numbness—a sense of despair. It’s a natural reaction, I think. But I also believe it is ultimately a betrayal of a cornerstone of our faith—hope.
How should we react? That question must also be faced, and for me the answer emerges from thinking in terms of what Jesus might do. If he were here, witnessing the serial massacres and unrepentant expressions of hatred and intolerance that seem to be our new normal, what would he do?
As I see it, Jesus would still preach about the power of unconditional love to heal our broken world; he would do so boldly and publicly, without flinching in the face of taunts that he was being “naïve” or “unrealistic” about the dangers we face. I imagine the Jews who were looking for their messiah to arrive at the head of a mighty army thought Jesus was being naïve. How wrong they were.
Of course, Jesus isn’t here—at least physically. It’s up to us—are we not the body of Christ?—to try to do what he would do, to react as he would react. It’s up to us, the church, to speak the truth boldly and publicly to power. It’s up to us to raise our voices to say “enough!”
Jesus told us it wouldn’t be easy. He told us there would be scoffers—and many whose fears would be stumbling blocks to believing in God’s ability to change hearts and minds through our voices. He told us we’d be subject to insults and ridicule. He cautioned that some of us may even pay with our lives for standing firm in service to his message.
But he also promised us that in worshiping the God that is love, we’d find not only hope for an end to this madness but also strength to persist and prevail in the struggle against racism, xenophobia, classism, homophobia, fear, and yes, even despair. Let us as Christians be loud and resolute in our rejection of hatred and intolerance, and of the easy path of violence that has become our national nightmare. Let us be the body of Christ. Let us do what Jesus would do.