Monday, September 13, 2010

Is That What Jesus Would Do? Really?

• History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes (Letter to von Humboldt, 1813).
 Thomas Jefferson

Reluctant though I am to wade into the subject of religion, last week’s news from Gainesville, FL cannot be ignored in the context of leadership. I found it remarkable that opinion makers throughout the civilized world are unanimous on the subject of burning the Koran. President Obama, Anne Coulter, General Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michael Bloomberg and Glenn Beck can all agree that Rev. Jones publicity stunt is well over the line. So, the answer to the question “WHO WILL LEAD?” is “nearly everyone”. Everyone, that is, except the Reverend Jones.

I can only imagine that Jones himself never thought he would cause such uproar. And, ultimately he backed off. But, the impact of the now cancelled event is extraordinary nonetheless. Perhaps the most insightful remark came from the Secretary of State who said, in part, “It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and . . . disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention, but that’s the world we live in right now.” (Maybe the Reverend was just trying to get his attendance up to 100.)

She was talking about the global reach of media and communications and, of course, she was right. But in other respects, the current controversy has a familiar ring to it. Americans have attached their worst instincts to their belief in God and their membership in their church throughout our history. Our attackers use the Koran as the justification for their actions; therefore, our tribal instincts cause an unthinking rejection of Islam.

A few years ago, it was popular for Christians to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” It’s a good question for all of us to ask ourselves from time to time whether we are Christian or not. The answers define our values but not necessarily our conduct.

Some fundamentalist Christians rejected the candidacy of Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism. In 1960, those same elements rejected JFK because he was a Catholic?

Is that what Jesus would do? Really?

In the 1840’s, the Bible Riots in Philadelphia resulted from a reaction to a wave of Irish Catholic immigrants. Nativists spread rumors that Catholics were trying to have the Bible removed from the public schools. A local Catholic Church armed itself for its own defense only to provoke the local citizenry and bring both the police and the Army into the fray. Indeed, the priests had acquired 5 muskets. The locals, in turn, seized a military cannon and fired upon the church.

Is that what Jesus would do? Really?

The history of the world is rife with examples of wars fought on behalf of God. The Crusades in the twelfth century, the British vs. the Spanish in the 16th and the French civil wars (Protestants against Catholics) of that same era were all fought in the name of God.

Is that what Jesus would do? Really?

Northern Ireland found itself in turmoil for a generation during the 20th century because Protestants and Catholics still can’t seem to coexist. Sadat and Rabin were both assassinated by fundamentalists among their own citizenry because they dared to make peace. Fundamentalist Christian, Eric Rudolph, planted a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics and murdered a doctor who performed abortions.

Is that what Jesus would do? Really?

The Muslim concept of jihad is echoed in the theory of Just War advanced by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. It was the Popes who granted the Divine Right of Kings to sovereigns of the Middle Ages. Perhaps they figured, “well, they’re gonna fight their wars anyway so I better give them cover”.

Is that what Jesus would do? Really?

So, the Reverend Jones gets to have his 15 minutes of fame and we are left wondering about the significance of it all. I am happy to see that government leaders and media personalities alike rose to stand against his actions. I am hopeful that we will look back on this uproar in 10 or 20 years and recognize it as a turning point.

After all, it has taken about 9 centuries to get to arrive at this juncture in history. Violence in the name of God has evolved from sovereign nations fighting wars in the middle ages to civil wars in the 16th Century to civil disturbance in the 19th and 20th to acts of terrorism in the 21st. Terrorism, after all, is a desperate act by the disenfranchised.

The opinion leaders, elected or otherwise, have echoed Jefferson’s concept of a secular society and freedom of religious thought and worship. This rare display of leadership should be celebrated.

By the way, if you or Reverend Jones ever wants to see Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran, you need to go no further than Washington, DC. It’s in the Smithsonian Museum.



  1. John: This was a very well-reasoned and well-written overview of a situation that's had way too much attention already. At first I thought Reverend Jones was a PR genius. After all, to get everyone from Palin to Pope to Patraeus to POTUS to comment takes some real strategic thinking. But watching events play out I realized he was just another in a long string of crackpots. Thanks for providing me with such a reasonable way to look at the situation.

  2. John, I'm not sure what Jesus would say about the Koran but clearly he was not about inciting violence. He said, "Blessed be the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God." - Matthew 5:9

    So, to your point about religion in human history, it makes be sad to think how religion has been used so much as a rationale for war and violence. Clearly, Jesus offered a different way of responding to conflict. But, even Christians have a difficult time grasping this.

    We sing in Church these words:
    Cure Thy children's warring madness, Bend our pride to Thy control. Shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage lest we miss thy kingdom's goal.

    Truly, what would Jesus do?

  3. John, thanks for the provocative essay on actions taken in the name of God. As the saying goes, God is God and we are not. So perhaps anyone who insights violence in the name of God should be looked at with a jaundice eye. For the ones who actually are acting at God's direction likely would be the ones not to announce it.

  4. John, Very well written. I'm certain that it is not only Jesus , but also Buddha,the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, the gods and goddesses along with the many other spiritual teachers that guide so many lives towards a higher consciousness. Men such as the Rev. Jones will most likely be around as long as humans inhabit this planet. Nature of the beast. Yet through the many teachings the hope is for all men to evolve spiritually. To act and live their lives as true leaders. Breaking free from constricting identification with material reality.
    Communication is the attunement of something that has two sides, two elements, the union of when what is above and what is below are united. The work of both what is inside and outside of ourselves. To begin to have mental clarity of right action. To not live in fear, (for all the Rev. Jones's out there are filled with fear. That is what fuels their ego driven mania, creating more fear)but nurture the spirit with love for oneself resulting in love for all of life. The path of the true spiritual leaders.