Christianity needs a brand manager.
I was raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod), which is a variety of Christian. It has some very definitive values assigned to the personage of Jesus Christ, for whom Christianity is apparently named. These values are partially shared by other Christian faiths, meaning that they are partially not shared, as well. Personally, I find this problematic. The core of a Christian faith, after all, really ought to be its Christology, or its study of the nature of Christ.
A lot of things are claimed about Christ, after all. Even if we just confine our musings to those things that are said by those who purport to believe in his divinity, the wide variation of information is confusing, at best, and misleading at worst. Now, I’m not going to claim to be telepathic or anything, so I’m not going to say what people’s motivations for using these highly varied sets of qualities for Christ are. I will, however, say what it seems like they are. It would seem, to one who has a reasonable grasp on psychology and the systems that people use for persuasion, that the invocation of the name of Christ is being used quite often to attempt to use the authority of Christ to back one’s personal claims.
If this was confined to religious ceremonies and church bodies, that would be one thing. It would still be a damnable offense (by the sets of theological laws that these same church bodies purport to follow), but it wouldn’t be the worst possible thing. The real problem, as I see it from a limited perspective, is that these claims seem to establish that Christ’s qualities are in alignment with Earthly individuals or organizations, and not the other way around.
Yes, I’m beating around the bush, because according to Luther, I’m not following the eighth commandment unless I put the best construction on everything, which means that I need to give people the benefit of the doubt. Still, here’s where my metaphysical butt gets burned.
In recent times, I have heard people say some things about Jesus Christ that are patently false. Conservatives claim that Jesus was conservative. Liberals claim that Jesus was liberal. Hate mongers claim that Jesus hates whatever group it is that the hate mongers themselves hate. Many of these statements are contradictory to one another. It isn’t possible that Jesus is all of these things; even if Lutheran Christology teaches that he is omniscient and omnipresent, he most certainly has a definitive alignment.
“But Scott,” some might say. “Where does one go to for information on the nature of Christ if not from a church group that claims to have the definitive source of this information?”
I’m going to rip some theology up, now. I’m no longer the member of any church, much less the church body that trained me in biblical theology. Time away from the church may have lent some perspective. I need to make something perfectly clear.
I am NOT going to purport to have the definitive answers to what is, and isn’t, pure theological truth. There is no “this is what I believe, you should follow this” here. I’m not saying that anyone needs to believe in Christ or his divinity. I’m saying that there are people who DO believe in it, and a good number of these people are misusing Christ’s name. It’s none of my business what or who you do or don’t believe in, theologically speaking. It isn’t necessary to believe in Christ in order to believe in Christians.
We have a number of books, in a handy collected form, that have the primary qualities of Christ given to us by literary demonstration. These qualities aren’t, exactly, listed, but in the actions of Christ within these works, we can get a pretty good grip on his qualities. I am speaking of the Bible… but not the entire Bible.
Here, I depart vastly from the church body that trained me in biblical theology. I’m suggesting that we search through three books of the New Testament for the qualities of Christ, those being the gospel books of Matthew, Mark, and John. Why am I removing the gospel of Luke from consideration?
I’m removing the gospel of Luke from consideration for the same reason that I’m removing the Pauline epistles from consideration – mostly, I’m not buying the “road to Damascus” conversion of the “apostle” Paul. Luke was written by “Paul’s physician,” and the epistles of the other apostles were written after Paul met with them and convinced him that he was truly trained by Christ. Yeah… no, not buying that.
I’m not even buying the entire book of Mark. Last chapter – gone. It appeared in only about half of the original manuscripts that have been found, and at that, only the later manuscripts. The post Pauline manuscripts. This is important not because the last chapter of Mark contains one of the resurrection accounts, but because it also contains the “great commission,” which gave the early Christian church leave to convert without let or hindrance. No, doesn’t fit. Doesn’t get included.
Don’t even get me started on the Revelation of St. John. Suffice it to say that I don’t think that a political rant disguised behind mythical allegory should really be canon.
Anyway, back to the nature of Christ, based on the three non-Pauline gospels.
The Christ depicted in these gospels didn’t particularly care about politics. “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” after all. He wasn’t on earth to affect political change, but metaphysical change. Offered the opportunity to get involved in politics by taking over the world, he refused because he had spiritual things to do. Biblical Christ had other, better things to do than become involved in politics, or care that much about them. Governments come and go, rise and fall. Christ’s kingdom is eternal.
Christ constantly espoused charity, and taught that the wealthy should eschew their wealth. Want to go to heaven? Follow all of God’s laws perfectly, AND give away everything that you have to the poor.
Christ never turned his back on anyone who society thought should be cast out. He spent his time with prostitutes and tax collectors (who were thought of even less well than we tend to think of them now. Think about that). He had conversations with lepers, and people with other horrible and infectious diseases. He gave his time and his attention to people regardless of their social standing, political orientation, nationality, or even their faith. The only people that he had NO time for were those who believed that they were better than other people because of their position in religious organizations.
Do Not Take My Word For This. There’s a Bible within a few hundred feet of you, if you’re in the United States, and there are plenty online for you to look at no matter where you are. Read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. Compare what Jesus says and does with what is being said about him, now.
All of which is to say that Christianity needs a brand manager. There are a lot of people out there claiming that they are right about one thing or another because Jesus agrees with them; these people can not all be right. There needs to be some authority for Christianity, that monitors communications and looks for the claims of people who claim to be Christian.
“Hello, this is Christianity’s brand manager. You mentioned that Jesus hates people of a sexual orientation different from yours? Well, that’s contrary to the brand guidelines. You can continue to claim that YOU hate these people, but if you claim that Jesus shares your hate, or if you even continue to claim to be Christian, we’re going to have no choice but to serve you with a cease and desist letter. Have a nice day!”
“Hi there; were you claiming that Jesus doesn’t want you to share your wealth with the poor? This is the Christianity brand manager, we’re going to have to ask you to stop making these fraudulent claims, or our next step is to have our lawyers contact you. Have a nice day!”
I’m not saying I want the job… I just want to have access to the inter-0ffice memos. I have a strong suspicion that if anyone actually started to enforce Christian values and behaviors on those who claim to be Christian, there would be a vast amount of unhappy unleashed on the “faithful.” I don’t think I’m a bad Christian because I want to see people using the name of Christ held up to a strict legal standard for doing so… I think I’m a bad Christian because of the warm, happy feeling that I get when I imagine the suffering involved.