taking the words of Jesus seriously

From a plan to take away healthcare from millions of Americans to a budget that proposes reorganizing government to serve corporate interests over the common good, President Trump and Speaker Ryan have made clear this week what their goal of “deconstructing the administrative state” looks like. It looks like seniors losing nursing care so that the wealthiest Americans can save hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes. It looks like cutting Sesame Street, AmeriCorp and low income heating assistance so the military can pay defense contractors an additional $30 billion.


This is the America that Trump, Bannon and Ryan long for. Make America Great Again, as it turns out, is not about going back to the 1950s, when millions of white Americans benefited from federal programs like Social Security, Medicaid, public schools and the GI Bill; it’s about going back to the 1880s, when America’s Reconstruction was countered with a deconstruction campaign that elevated corporate interests while failing to acknowledge the government’s responsibility to address inequalities it had helped to create.


Looking back on it all a generation later, historians called this period in American history “Redemption.” Good Bible-believing people had led the charge, insisting that they were redeeming the nation from serious corruption. But Trump’s gold-plated aesthetic, Mark Twain’s label for the same period rings true. MAGA is about returning America to the Gilded Age.


Jerusalem also had a Gilded Age, just about the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem and started a poor people’s movement in the Galilee. People were attracted then, as we are now, to bold promises and tall towers. Jesus’ disciples were impressed by the site of Jerusalem’s temple, just as many Christians in the 2016 election were captivated by Trump’s promise that great deals could get the economy going again. But Jesus rebuked his disciples: “Not one stone will be left on another” (Matt.24:2).


Why did Jesus despise a temple that was part of Jerusalem’s Gilded Age? Because he saw the injustice it meant for the poor.


Jesus did not only say that, at the final judgement, nations will be judged by the way we care for him in the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned and the refugee.


Jesus also interrupted business as usual in the public square of the Gilded Age. He stepped into the center of Jerusalem’s political economy and turned over tables, shutting down a system that was hurting poor people through direct action. On his first day in Jerusalem, Jesus launched a civil disobedience campaign.


Millions of Americans are concerned about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. From the House Ways and Means Committee to the Opinion Page of the New York Times, politicians and commentators are raising a moral objection to the deconstruction of American government toward a new Gilded Age.


But Jesus didn’t simply raise a moral objection to injustice that crushed the lives of poor people. Jesus got in the way of Jerusalem’s violence–he “took up his cross” by breaking the law that he knew would come down against him, thus exposing both its brutality and the power of God’s love through resurrection.


My fellow Red Letter Christian Rev. Dr. William J. Barber says that the time has come for America’s Moral Resistance to move beyond protest to direct action in the way of Jesus. Next Wednesday, he and dozens of other faith leaders will lead a Moral March into Paul Ryan’s office to disrupt the decorum of an official process that will take health care away from millions of Americans. If you’re close to DC or are able to get there, I encourage you to join him.


But you don’t have to get to DC to step into our Gilded Age’s “temple courts.” In 19 states, like North Carolina where I live, state legislatures and governors crippled the expansion of healthcare to America’s poor by refusing to cooperate with the ACA’s expansion of access to Medicaid. What’s more, Republican, Democrat and Independent Congressional representatives from every state in America have failed to restore the Voting Rights Act, opening the door to a subversion of the democratic process that has made it possible to imagine a new Gilded Age in the 21st-century.


Next Monday, March 20th, I’m joining hundreds of clergy from across North Carolina to march on our state house and expose the “den of robbers” by all nonviolent means possible. We are going into our state house with folks we pastor and minister to who have been or will be directly affected by cuts to health care, public education, essential public services and the arts.


I invite you to use the comments section to let others know how you’re following Jesus in this Gilded Age where you are.

About The Author


Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a celebrated spiritual writer and speaker. Together with his wife, Leah, he co-founded the Rutba House in Durham, NC, where he also directs the School for Conversion (www.schoolforconversion.org). Jonathan works closely with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II to spearhead The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Jonathan's newest book is "Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion" (InterVarsity Press).

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