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Was Jesus a Liberal?
by Selwyn Duke
9 December 2003Jesus Christ

Most who believe in God – and even many of those who see Him as being just a symbol –  like to think that they are marching hand in hand with Him when promoting that for which they have passion.

Abraham Lincoln once said, ”I know that God is always on the side of right; my concern is not whether God is on our side but whether or not we are on God’s side.” Most who believe in God – and even many of those who see Him as being just a symbol –  like to think that they are marching hand in hand with Him when promoting that for which they have passion. But Lincoln’s point is well taken, for I have noticed that this group of people can be divided into two sub-groups: those who want to be on God’s side, and those who want God on theirs.

This is brought to mind when I hear the not too uncommon and very contemporary claim that Jesus was a “liberal,” a claim that has been made quite recently in a book written by a very mediocre social commentator of questionable faith. Of course, most of the people who embrace this idea don’t really believe that Jesus is divine. But since others do, they know that convincing Jesus to register as a Democrat or join the ACLU could possibly bring them a whole new constituency.

C.S. Lewis, the great fantasy writer, philosopher and Christian apologist, once wrote a very interesting book titled The Screwtape Letters. This work is quite unique in that it is written from the point of view of a demon (which, incidentally, gives it something in common with the book I mentioned above – wink) named Screwtape, who counsels an underling named Wormwood on how to best undermine human civilization. Among his many Machiavellian prescriptions is the following (I’m paraphrasing): man must be convinced to attach worldly labels to Jesus. People can call him the “first communist” or the “first liberal” or the first this or that – anything at all, as long as they don’t think about Him first and foremost as being God.

It’s great advice if you aim to destroy people’s faith and tear down the walls of Christendom. After all, when you define Jesus as anything other than God you have diminished Him. Simply put, a person who thinks of Him as something other than God isn’t thinking of Him as God. Jesus said “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (the first and the last); this tells us that He transcends time and that He is eternal, and then it certainly follows that he transcends an ideology or philosophy. He also said “I am the Way, the TRUTH and the Life,” and as the Truth He gives us the template that we should use to shape our ideology; we should not use our ideology as the template and endeavor to fit the Lord into it. God puts us in boxes based on what He allows us to do and what roles He ordains for us. It is not our place to put Him in a box.

Interestingly, I have never heard conservatives proclaim Jesus to be a “conservative.” Of course, liberals would counter that this is because Jesus didn’t seem to advocate principles that we now regard as conservative. But I beg to differ. The real reason is twofold: firstly and sadly, the media and popular culture usually present us with what could be called “Jesus light,” but in reality is not Jesus at all. Rather, he is an imposter who is the embodiment of a secular/liberal agenda and filtered Gospels. Secondly and most significantly, conservatives are much more likely to actually believe that Christ is God. Consequently, they quite naturally don’t think of Him as anything else.

What this brings to light is the fact that people who seek to box and package Jesus betray their own lack of faith. And this group of people can also be divided into two sub-groups: political operators and social activists of various stripes who seek to use Jesus for propaganda purposes, and those who quite innocently think of Jesus as something other than God because their faith in Him is non-existent or lacking. Of course, the latter group comprises a very large number of people, most of whom are just good everyday folks. However, since many of them would make no bones about the fact that they don’t believe in Jesus’ divinity and therefore do regard Him to be merely a worldly figure, they are very susceptible to specious arguments designed to box Him in a way that accords with the spirit of the age. So, let’s investigate the issue.

I want to preface my remarks by saying that I, as should be obvious, would not attempt to name Jesus after an ideology or philosophy that I might consider to be my baby. I would be far more likely to name the baby after Him. I often rally under the banner of conservatism, but only because I believe that what we now call conservatism is the mainstream ideology that most closely reflects Christian values. Moreover, I would only embrace an ideology insofar as it was congruent with God’s will as it relates to governance, and that ideology makes an opponent of me when it opposes His will. I want to be on God’s side –  I know I can’t, nor would I seek to get Him on mine.

Liberals will sometimes buttress their argument that Jesus is one of them by labeling conservatives as being the modern day version of those who conspired against Jesus: the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of Jewish religious leaders who believed in strict adherence to Judaic law. Jesus chastised them for being hypocrites and for acting only on the letter of the law while completely ignoring its spirit. For, these leaders would faithfully perform their rituals, make a great show of their religiosity and admonish others to exhibit a formulaic devotion to the faith, while at the same time deviating from it when it was convenient for them to do so.  

Liberals’ contention that conservatives are the inheritors of this group’s modus operandi seems to be based on the notion that conservatives share their lack of compassion, their hypocrisy and “do as I say but not as I do” approach. However, I think this begs the question: what group in our time seems to be enamored of the practice of rule-making and rule-breaking? In reality, it is the liberals who propose a rule in the form of a law as a solution to every perceived problem. And like the Pharisees they will violate their own rules when it pleases them. Why, these are the people who tell us that there are no absolutes, ergo all standards are negotiable. This belief is what enables them to tell us with a straight face that judges can interpret our Constitution to suit the times because it is a “living document.”

Liberals’ contempt for standards is a corollary of the moral-relativism that is so often espoused by them, and the latter is completely antithetical to what Christ propounded. After all, Jesus did emphasize the spirit of the law, but He never said that this spirit was negotiable. If it were, Jesus wouldn’t have ridiculed the Pharisees, but rather would have said, “This is the spirit that I live by, but hey, whatever works for you.” No, Jesus was speaking of something real and specific, something immutable and eternal when He spoke of the spirit. It’s the unchanging spirit of the real thing called the LAW, not the mercurial spirit of a different real thing called an individual’s emotional realm. Also, as I pointed out before, Christ said “I am the Way, [and] THE Truth  . . . ”; He didn’t say A Truth. Contrast this with the oft-uttered liberal sentiments, “That is your truth, someone else’s might be different,” “Truth is relative” and “What is Truth?” By the way, do you know who else posed this question? Pontius Pilate did – right before he condemned Jesus to death.

And what of the nature of Jesus’ teachings? Well, liberals like to point out that Jesus preached love, charity, compassion and forgiveness, implying that their ideology has a monopoly on those qualities. It’s as if they believe that conservatives are opposed to these virtues. But, correct me if I’m wrong, I never heard a conservative say that love is a bad thing. “Yeah, we really need less love in this world.” In reality, conservatives only differ on what they believe love dictates – on what they believe constitutes genuine love. For instance, they tend to recognize that true love means giving your fellow man what he needs, not necessarily what he wants. Conservatives also believe in charity, only, we know that it doesn’t mean giving a person the shirt off someone else’s back. We know that anyone with a good heart has compassion, but we don’t believe that telling someone who’s hurtling down a road toward Purdition that he should stay the course if he enjoys the scenery qualifies as such. And we cherish forgiveness as much as anyone, but we know that it doesn’t obviate worldly punishment. If it did, we’d have to empty out the prisons. In fact, I suspect that forgiveness must be characteristic of conservatives – how else could they tolerate liberals?

Now, from the general to the specific: let’s investigate this further by examining a few elements of Scripture. Two Bible quotations that have found favor with liberals are, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Both of these statements are often used to by liberals to discourage people from rendering value judgments they find unpalatable. Now, Jesus said the former when he happened upon an angry mob that was about to administer to a woman the prescribed punishment for adultery: stoning. But what is seldom mentioned is that after deterring the would be executioners from visiting that horrible fate on the victim, Jesus said, “Go in peace, woman, and sin no more.” This tells us very clearly that judgment comes into play, because labeling something as a sin is a judgment. The latter quotation is a prohibition against judging hypocritically and unjustly. This is why elsewhere in the New Testament we are counseled to “Judge righteously.” Another favorite of liberals is “Turn the other cheek,” which is often used to discredit the idea of just war and is misunderstood to be an endorsement of pacifism. What this dictate actually refers to is that we shouldn’t act out of a spirit of vindictiveness. In other words, use proportionate force to thwart evil if and when necessary, but proceed out of a sense of justice and a desire to protect the innocent and preserve the good – don’t do it to simply get even.

Another mistake that liberals make is that they read these stories and quotations, notice that Jesus prescribed leniency and then assume He is one of them because they do the same. What eludes them is context; they lack perspective because they only view things through the prism of our age. In the times in which Jesus walked this Earth draconian punishments were the order of the day. He prescribed leniency because man was too harsh, but in an age characterized by permissiveness He would do just the opposite. This is because since Jesus is Truth. He is the true center, so when society veers too far off the mark in any direction He beckons us to come back into the light. To use today’s political terminology (which didn’t exist in Biblical times), when we gravitate too far toward the right He is to the left of us and asks us to move left; when society veers too far left He is to the right of us and asks us to move right. Of course, since most liberals don’t believe that Absolute Truth exists, they don’t believe that there could be such a true center. They might say that Jesus is just a “wise man.” But even then, since different ages are characterized by different moral failings – different characteristic spiritual diseases, if you will –  would a sage prescribe the same cures in every age? Lastly, I don’t know of any conservative who has proposed a “Stoning for Adultery Act.” The fact of the matter is that we all agree that the kinds of punishments that were administered in the days of yore were disproportionate, to say the least. The difference is that conservatives understand that Jesus probably wouldn’t support a system that bestows upon convicts the right to sue the government because they got creamy peanut butter instead of crunchy, or to have a sex-change operation at taxpayers’ expense.

Then there’s the issue that dovetails with this, which is that liberals sometimes consider Jesus to be one of their kindred spirits because they labor under the illusion that He always sought to move people’s hearts in what we now call the liberal direction. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. For example, consider the issue of human sexuality. More than most anything else, liberals are characterized by their very libertine sexual mores, and they constantly endeavor to widen the parameters that govern sexuality. This lies in stark contrast to what Jesus said, for every solitary word that He uttered about sexuality served to narrow the parameters governing it. It is a fact: Jesus did absolutely nothing to inure people to sexual behaviors that were considered to be untoward. And this lies in stark contrast to the behavior of liberals, who now have even gone so far as to advocate the governmental sanction of homosexual unions. Of course, they are often quick to point out that while homosexual behavior is condemned in the Old Testament, Jesus had nary a word to say about it. However, Jesus never meant for the default standard to be that Old Testament moral law would be considered to be null and void unless He said otherwise. Rather, He meant for us to assume that such law was completely valid and that we were enjoined to abide by it unless He said otherwise. This is why Jesus said, “I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” And as I just said, not only did Jesus not rescind such prohibitions, He actually expanded them. For one thing, He said that a man could only have one wife and that you could not get a divorce, unless your spouse had committed adultery. He said, “A man who divorces his wife makes an adulterer out of her.” And then there is what should be the stake through the heart of the liberals’ argument – the thing that Jesus said that could not be outdone even by a Puritan straight from 1650's Massachusetts. To whit: not only did Jesus tell us that we had to be chaste in deed and word, but also in thought – He told us that even entertaining lustful ideas was wrong. He said, “You have heard the Commandment, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ But what I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts.” Any questions?

The desire to justify one’s behavior and passions is human nature, and there are many groups that try to press God into service for their cause. Some of these people are convinced that God wants them to destroy the western world, while others simply believe that God wants them to destroy the values that created that western world. Many of these people reduce God to just a vehicle through which they can promote their agenda, and religion to just a game that “enlightened” folks like themselves can compete in for control of the masses. As for the sincere among us, we would do well to ask ourselves a question: would I want to be on God’s side, or, would I want Him on mine? T’is a point to ponder.

Selwyn Duke's homepage is The Truth Page

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