Religion is in the news again.
An article by Daniel Burke, CNN’s religion writer, describes the chaotic clashing of religions and religious beliefs in the U.S.
Burke cites several examples, including:
- President Trump declaring that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move quickly scraping the veneer off competing religions in that region.
- The wedding cake controversy from 2012, which is moving through the courts.
- The Roy Moore spectacle in which religion is being used as a club by many.
Even more, Burke cites research about the intensity behind religious motivation when it comes to grasping for power or position. Not surprisingly, we humans tend to use our religion to help us get what we want in life.
There is a clear stream of self-interest even flowing through our use of faith systems.
Our brokenness as human beings shows up even here – in our faith traditions that are designed to help us rise above that very brokenness. Thus, we are living the human dilemma.
I wonder what God thinks, and I find myself reflecting on what Jesus would do when it’s protest time.
Would Jesus just stay away, being too busy healing and serving elsewhere? Would Jesus march on one side or another, waving signs and staring across the divide at others? Would Jesus appear as desperate as any one of us, scratching for our place in society?
This moves us to the heart of our faith and to the primary symbol of our tradition: the cross.
In and on the cross, Jesus most clearly demonstrated what it looks like to love a world gone wrong. His teachings consistently reinforced this crucifixion symbol.
Remember his arrest in the garden, telling the disciple to put away his sword (a kingdom not of this world)?
Remember all the talk about loving one’s enemies, laying down one’s life for others and turning the other cheek?
Remember Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, including taking up the cross to follow him?
Does this look like someone who is protesting to get his rights acknowledged?
I’m not suggesting Jesus would avoid the protest. In fact, that’s one of the places Jesus would most likely be, where our humanity is on full display.
And I’m certainly not suggesting those protests from the past, which embodied Jesus’ principles (like the nonviolent marches Martin Luther King Jr. organized), were misguided.
What I am wondering is what Jesus, were he incarnated in the flesh here and now, might do. Perhaps he would:
- Hire a catering company to set up tables between opposing protest groups, inviting all sides to a good meal together, knowing that eating together always breaks down barriers.
- Set up a listening booth (like Lucy from Peanuts, but without the advice), inviting protesters to tell their stories, listening with curiosity and empathy.
- Invite everyone into every house of worship if the protest was a march, inviting each faith represented to lead us in focusing ourselves on something beyond ourselves.
- Ignore his own desire to push for his rights, instead looking for the most powerless and least represented in the crowd and lifting those persons up.
- Direct his anger toward the religious people who were condemning others because they are not following their rules.
- Offering to take pictures of protesters from opposing sides so they can remember their day together.
It’s strange how powerful our symbols are when it comes to driving our behavior. Certainly, this list leaves many questions unanswered.
And just as certainly, following Jesus, whose driving image was the cross, makes for a messy existence.
Yet, it is equally strange how the ugliness of the cross can become so attractive in our broken and divisive world.
Few of us are drawn to militant religions, driven more by the desire for power than anything else. That image of religion drives so many of us away from the entire organized religion endeavor.
But Jesus on a cross, taking the suffering of our kind into himself and transforming it through self-sacrificial love? One could follow a God like that.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on his personal blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on Pinnacle’s blog.