"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, Part 2 – The Politics of Jesus

"Jesus and politics just don't mix!" How many times have I heard something along that line (in church). I have been challenged on occasion (by indignant fellow Christians) for introducing ideas that (for some people) seem to challenge the status quo. And when the status quo has reigned for roughly 1700 years, that can be a tough sell. It keeps coming back to that charity vs. justice thing.

This second commentary on A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George W. Baldwin looks at Chapter 1, The Politics of Jesus in which Baldwin lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Baldwin draws a stark contrast between The Political Model of Jesus vs. The Political Model of the Powers. I'll let George lay it out for you. Here are excerpts on both models:

The Politics of Liberation and Freedom

Jesus was undeniably engaged in the political arena as he introduced the Politics of Liberation and Freedom… The Politics of Liberation and Freedom is about the pursuit of justice and not simply victory over the enemy. Beyond the need to avoid a violent insurrection that would inevitably lead to a major catastrophe for his homeland, Jesus was promoting the cause of universal human freedom… Jesus could see that to achieve freedom for his homeland he must confront the systemic evil which was deeply rooted in the religious systems and governance structures of his own nation as well as those imposed by the Roman Empire… Jesus understood that active political resistance to systemic injustice would result in disrupting the status quo of the Jewish establishment and ultimately lead to an encounter with Pontius Pilate. (pp. 4-5)

The Politics of Power and Domination

Jesus was challenging political and religious authorities who operated from the Politics of Power and Domination. Over the course of history this model has changed very little… Nation States, corporations, military organizations, educational institutions, legal systems, labor unions, self interest groups and even family structures may be identified as systems that utilize power over others as their mode of operation. The institutional church in its various forms and structures is no exception… The Powers promote the illusion that we are at peace when the systems of domination are not being challenged. Those who seek freedom from injustice inevitably disturb the status-quo and are accused of being the cause of any violence that comes from the conflict. Jesus understood the deception hidden in the promise that peace can be achieved through violence. (pp. 8-9)

There is, indeed, a stark contrast between Jesus’ politics engaged in creating the Kingdom of God (here on Earth) that involved the creation of new social structures based on the love of neighbor, and the politics of the political and religious authorities that was (and continues to be) based upon systems of power and domination. One has to wonder what would be the most likely outcome if Jesus came out today challenging those very systems? Here is Baldwin’s take on that question:

Tragically, in the political climate in which we now live Jesus would be labeled a terrorist for challenging the Powers. And even more tragic is that the authorities of the Church would be calling for Jesus to be crucified again. (p. 12)

It seems that little has changed since the bad old days of Pontius Pilate. The politics of power and domination are much the same; they have just taken on a new look (and vocabulary). And so we might ask ourselves (to paraphrase Baldwin) – Does our declaration that we are Christian represent any threat at all to the domination systems? If not, then what's the point???



P.S. - Watch for the third commentary (coming soon) about The Missing Chapter.
Note: The image used in this post is from the following Webpage: http://www.flickr.com/photos/american_in_paris/2851195218/


Ernie said...

"Love your God with all your heart...AND love your neighbor as (love) your self." Thus was Jesus' definition of what constitutes Christianity. Perhaps it could be said all denominations are fraudulent in direct proportion to the square of the ratio of the distance they deviate from this definition?


tomshea said...

For readers uncomfortable with "Politics" and
"Jesus" in the same title and essay check Webster:
"Politic " root = relating to a citizen; and "citizen" root = an inhabitant. Wasn't this in part the focus of the life of Jesus?