taking the words of Jesus seriously

It was only supposed to be a catchy sermon series to attract attention for our fall kickoff season. At first our senior pastor was worried about being misinterpreted in the heat of an extremely divisive election season. We have a beautifully “purple” church where progressive liberals and Tea Party activists worship together. It’s one of United Methodism’s greatest strengths and sources of agony. We’re one of the few big tent Christian denominations left. So many have split on female ordination, homosexuality, and other political issues. And so a sermon series called “Jesus is My Candidate” seemed entirely appropriate for a congregation in which people of all political persuasions worship and serve together. But now it’s gotten bigger than a sermon series; it’s become a meme — that strange 21st century cyber-object that you attach to a hashtag on twitter or hand over to Willy Wonka on Facebook hoping that it “trends.” The vision God seems to be sharing feels about as ridiculous as Kevin Costner mowing an Iowa cornfield to build a ballpark for ghosts, and I need a James Earl Jones with a much bigger platform to swoop in, put this meme on your back, and explode it. It’s really simple. We get as many people as possible on twitter every evening at 9 pm until election day to share as many personal testimonies and prophetic statements about Jesus as they feel like with the hashtag #JesusIsMyCandidate. And if we come up with songs, videos, flash mobs, etc, using the same meme, we go where they take us. It’s not slacktivism. It’s a 21st century act of prayer and resistance against the designs of Satan to use this presidential election to pummel American Christianity (and I’m not being a melodramatic wing-nut to name it that way).

Every Christian who cares more about Jesus than winning arguments or staying perpetually offended needs to spend half an hour each evening remembering who we are. Maybe you don’t like the slogan #JesusIsMyCandidate. It’s not perfect. You don’t need to remind me that Jesus refused to let the people crown Him king or that He said, “Render unto Caesar” (which I might interpret differently than you). This is not about refusing to vote for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Neither is this about finding all the Bible verses that support Republican talking points and all the verses that support Democratic ones and stacking them against each other to see whose stack is taller. This is about forcing ourselves to see the evidence of what a strange, beautifully big tent the body of Christ is.

I’m not going to tweet about anything that could possibly be construed as partisan because I kiss Tea Party ladies every Sunday at my church and I pound it with Christians who proudly call themselves socialists (and I love and agree with a lot of what each of them have to say). Last night when we kicked off this twitter campaign, there was one person who tweeted “#JesusIsMyCandidate which is why I’m voting for Romney” and another person who tweeted “#JesusIsMyCandidate because He loves the LGBT and is proud of their courage.” And there was not a thing any of us could do to censor anybody else. There were Martin Luther King, Jr sounding tweets; there were Billy Graham sounding tweets. Some people talked about their personal salvation; some people talked about Jesus’ love for the tax collectors and Samaritans. Some people made clever turns of phrase like “#JesusIsMyCandidate because His blood was my amnesty when I was illegal in His kingdom” (Okay, I wrote that one because I believe my worthlessness as a sinner and merit-less salvation disqualifies me from saying who deserves to live in this country). The one thing that everyone on that twitter thread had in common was that all they loved Jesus.

Somebody will say, “Well, what if they love the wrong Jesus?” You know what? We all love the wrong Jesus. We make Jesus white (usually), black (rarely), Italian (almost always), Jewish (almost never). We make Jesus into our shrink, our boyfriend, our homy, our captain, our masseuse. There’s a new movement to make Jesus into a cage fighter. I’m not sure you can pull that off with just one scene where he did something physical. But he definitely had some harsh things to say, especially to people who “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” and “travel over land and sea to win a single convert… [to] make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:13-15). Jesus knows that none of us get Him! But just because we don’t understand Him and have irrational assumptions about what He’s communicating to us like middle-school girls have about their cute geometry teachers doesn’t mean that we have gotten to know a completely different person than Jesus. He is constantly trying to be our candidate. If Hebrews 7:25 is right in claiming that “He lives to intercede for us, ” then why would we think that He would let “those other people” who is searching for Him not find Him just because they like what He says in Matthew 25 better than John 3:16 or vice-versa?

So here’s the thing. Because none of us get Jesus, it’s actually helpful to be confronted by the fact that other people who don’t get Him either have discovered some things in His teaching that are blind spots for us. I totally realize that 140 characters doesn’t leave much room to maneuver but that might actually be a good thing. Just don’t put a #JesusIsMyCandidate on anything that is sarcastic or hateful! Only glorify His name with what you write. Some people (most of us actually) will probably say things that are heretical. Don’t attack them. Instead prophesy what God has revealed to you in a way that’s beautiful enough to make them curious. Let them receive correction if they need it from a community of faith in which they can be discipled. Exhortation does not work in environments of anonymity.

Think on what Paul writes in Romans 15:1-3: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’” Every time we mock another Christian, we have slapped Jesus in this face like the soldiers who mocked Him. It doesn’t matter whether they’re being a sanctimonious fundamentalist or a liberal elitist. (Yes, there’s a place for satire, but it’s so easy to drown in it!) Let me just tell you this: the Christian brothers and sisters who have changed my mind have done so by showing me beauty and presenting their views with respectful caution and humility. And I’m a pretty arrogant, unteachable guy.

So I’ll tell you what. You can completely ignore me as most people have for most of my life. And I would actually thank you for it, because it crucifies my ego which is spiritually sanctifying to me. I’m going to talk about Jesus every night at 9 pm EST on twitter for about half an hour from now until November 6th. I believe what Gamaliel said in Acts 5. If this is just a product of my ridiculous delusions of grandeur, then I’ll ask my shrink to up the meds the next time I see him. But if God wants us to do this, then He will make the rocks cry out (Luke 19:40). He will put His own cyber-angel bots on twitter to say #JesusIsMyCandidate if you don’t want to. You do what you’re going to do. I’m going to tell the world who my Savior is.

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Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at http://morganguyton.wordpress.com. Follow Morgan on twitter at https://www.twitter.com/maguyton.

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About The Author

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Morgan Guyton is a United Methodist elder and campus minister who leads the NOLA Wesley Foundation at Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans, Louisiana with his wife Cheryl. He released his first book in April, 2016: How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes To Toxic Christianity. He blogs at www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice and has contributed articles to the Huffington Post, Red Letter Christians, Think Christian, Ministry Matters, the United Methodist Reporter, and other publications.

Morgan grew up in a moderate Baptist family in the aftermath of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. His mother’s people are watermelon farmers from south Texas while his father’s people are doctors from Mississippi, which left Morgan with a mix of redneck and scientific sensibilities.

Morgan’s greatest influence as a pastor was his grandpa, a Southern Baptist deacon who sometimes told dirty jokes to evangelize his grandson. From his grandpa, Morgan learned the value of irreverence as a pastoral tactic and the way that true holiness is authenticity.

Morgan used to have a rock band called the Junior Varsity Superheroes, but after becoming a father, he turned to electronic dance music, which he performs every summer at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes to throw basement dance parties with his sons Matthew and Isaiah.

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