It’s almost 7am on a Saturday morning, and eight year old me can’t wait to jump out of bed, turn on the TV and start the cartoon extravaganza that marked the beginning of every kid’s weekend. Growing up in Toronto, Canada we had some Canadian channels with quality programs that may have been really interesting for grownups but were incredibly boring for the elementary school crowd. Luckily, we also got a few American stations that showed the good stuff which in my world meant a steady stream of fun, half hour animated shows. I also remember shopping trips to Buffalo, New York with my mom. It’s a trek we made several times a year because, as she used to say, “All of the really great stores are on the American side of the border”.
Canada and I have changed a lot since then. I’m now a proud Canadian and I’ve learned that there are many really cool things about my country, but I still have a fascination with all things American. Everything there just seems to be bigger and better, or maybe it’s just that the presentation is a little flashier than what we have at home. Either way, I think many people in other countries share my perception of the United States – not only in entertainment and retailing but also religion. Every nation has their own Christian leaders, but the larger voices are almost all as American as mom and apple pie, and they often influence how the rest of the world views Jesus.
Here are a couple of quotes by well known American Christian authors that I find pretty thought provoking, and challenge us to live more Christ-focused lives…
“As an American, and especially as a Christian, I am convinced that a love for our own people is not a bad thing, but love doesn’t stop at borders. Love is infinitely boundless and all about holy trespassing and offensive friendships.” – Shane Claiborne
“It scares me that we have a generation of Christians that know what Jesus would do, and yet will do the opposite and call themselves followers of Jesus.” – Tony Campolo
And then we have these…
“God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny he has laid out for us.” – Joel Osteen
“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” – Mark Driscoll
The big question is, why are there such widely divergent opinions in America about what it means to be a follower of Jesus?
The Jesus of Scripture clearly taught a way of peace that was modeled in the Christian church for the first 300 years that our faith existed. We know that he asked us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us and bless those who curse us, but today most of us don’t even try to do that stuff. We’re okay with accepting Jesus as our Savior, but we’re not so sure we want to follow him as our Lord because that might make things a little uncomfortable for us. Perhaps like many things in life it may not be what we want, but it’s exactly what we need. What I find heartbreaking is when pastors, priests and ministers don’t want to talk to their congregations about what Jesus actually taught because it might offend people who have relatives in the military. They’re often afraid to say anything that will result in a decrease in attendance or offering (and maybe even cost them their jobs) but is worrying about numbers, and what people think, really what Jesus had in mind for his church?
American television personality and agnostic Bill Maher summed up the phenomenon of Christians avoiding Jesus’ peace teachings pretty well when he said “For almost 2, 000 years Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how ‘Love thy neighbor’ can mean ‘Hate thy neighbor’ and how ‘Turn the other cheek’ can mean ‘Screw you, I’m buying space lasers!’” He goes on to say “Nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark, kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales.”
Harsh words, but probably words we need to hear. I pray that we can get back to a Christianity that’s less about the politics of America and more about the spirit of America – the land of the free and the home of the brave. Free from an oppressive Christian religion that views questioning the righteousness of the military as subversive, anti-Christian behavior. Brave enough to trust in Jesus and his way of peace rather than defaulting to military action as a quick-fix solution to every problem.
Greg Boyd, the pastor of a large church in Minnesota, tells this chilling story about a video presentation at a church he visited on the Fourth of July. It changed his life.
“There’s patriotic music playing and a flag waving…it’s sort of a silhouette of three crosses, and four fighter jets came down over the crosses and split with the flag waving in the background. And there were some people who stood up…they were ecstatic, and I started crying because I wondered how is it possible that we went from being a movement of people who follow the Messiah, who taught us to love our enemies, to being a movement that celebrates fighter jets…that fuses Jesus’ death on the cross with killing machines.”
But there is hope. There’s a whole new generation of Christians that want a Jesus of America that looks more like Jesus of Nazareth. A Jesus who represents the power of love and not the love of power. A Jesus of the people, who’s followed by the people because he died on the cross for the people, and he shall not perish from the Earth.
God bless America.