Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Who do you say that I am?"

In the midst of this tempest in a teapot about what some low level party bureaucrat thinks Barack Obama's religion is, there is something of far greater importance that serves as a barometer of what Americans think about Jesus which is found here in this statement of Mr. Obama himself (which, in fairness, may or may not be accurate - in many cases, presidents and other politicians have so many poll-driven mouthpieces that the veracity of just about any statement is suspect).

Nevertheless, the statement attributed to Mr. Obama is illustrative in and of itself:

“I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn’t ‘fall out in church’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn’t want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.” Emphasis added.

Notice what is confessed as important here: "most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful."

Of course, Jesus is our example. Jesus is our teacher. Jesus does speak to how we should act and behave. But the big elephant in the parlor is the fact that Jesus is primarily not a moral teacher or saint to be emulated: He is God incarnate, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world who came to restore man's broken communion with God through the cross. Mr. Obama indeed mentions redemption and the forgiveness of sins (and even eternal life) as something he believes in, but it plays second fiddle ("but most importantly...") to Jesus's work that could be seen by some as "community organizer."

I'm afraid this is yet another example of man creating God in his own image, a political image at that.

But Jesus Himself said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus is not a community organizer nor a politician. And even when Jesus is carrying out His ministry as a rabbi, He isn't primarily teaching us to be nice to each other or to feed the hungry. Moses has already taught us that. Jesus is primarily teaching us about God's kingdom, about forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And to be sure, there is an ethic that follows as a result, a response of love that impels the regenerate man to act for the good of His neighbor. But without the passion and death of Jesus front and center, without the cross and resurrection as the dominant theme, Christianity is worthless, just another psychobabble-ridden self-help scheme. The world is filled with moral philosophies. But Christianity is, in the words of an Episcopal priest named Chad Walsh (1914-1991), “a vast process initiated by God Himself to undo what Adam and Eve accomplished for us.”

The conversion of Jesus into a politician or activist is a gross misunderstanding of Christianity. And based on the fact that the president of the United States would issue a statement to that effect points to the fact that a lot of Americans don't know what Christianity really is.

And the fact that most Americans are so out of touch about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of infinitely more importance than whether or not Barack Obama is a real Christian or a closet Muslim.

The real question and answer is here.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Fr. Beane,
I am so thankful for the clarity of the Gospel and its vitality to life.

I am also so saddened by the truth that we as a people know so little about Jesus and want him to be what we want him to be as opposed to the Wonderful Savior and Mighty God he actually is.