I had not thought much about the wave of Tea Party members that swept into Congress until the recent debate over the deficit and the debt ceiling. The one thing that became crystal clear is that they share no concern for or feel any obligation to the most vulnerable in our country—the poor and marginalized.
Jesus, of course, defined his mission and ministry with particular focus on the most vulnerable. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to bring good news to the poor . . . to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18–19).
So my question is: How can one support the Tea Party agenda and be a Christian? I have no way of knowing, but I suspect a great many Christians voted to elect them to office. How is that possible?
My feeling is that many Christians have no real idea what Jesus’ mission and ministry was actually about. Jesus’ focus was on the
(God’s new world of peace, equality, and reconciliation) coming into this world (“May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”). The agenda of many Christians is focused on the afterlife, correct doctrinal beliefs, and personal success. kingdom of God
For Christians whose faith is oriented around a heaven-and-hell framework, Christian faith is all about believing the right things or doing the right things in order to go to heaven. This is often (though not always) connected to a very rigid set of doctrinal propositions that one has to believe, such as biblical inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, or the deity of Christ.
And then there are other Christians who equate the values of American democracy or American capitalism (it all gets thrown into the mix) with being a Christian, so that allegiance to God means allegiance to country (and vice-versa).
Similar to the above approach are those who endorse an American gospel of success, personal fulfillment, and prosperity. In this system the poor are not only neglected, they are pronounced as cursed for their lack of faith or capacity to make money. Jesus’ way of the cross is either ignored or convoluted somehow into the way of personal advancement and riches.
In a recent meeting, messengers (delegates) from the largest Christian denomination in the country (the Southern Baptist Convention), made it a point to affirm their belief in an eternal hell where unbelievers will dwell in conscious torment forever. They see their mission as one of rescuing people from hell by getting them to believe their version of Christian faith.
It seems to me that a far more beneficial and transformational mission would be to get Christians to actually take seriously Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and vindication by becoming his disciples.
I, myself, am a struggling disciple of Jesus. I fall short of embodying his life and living out his teachings in many ways. I know that I am complicit in the huge disparity between the rich and the poor that Jesus firmly judges. I often fail to love unconditionally, to give sacrificially, to serve compassionately, and to minister to others without any thought of personal reward.
But this I do know: The Gospels that proclaim the life, teachings, and mission of Jesus make clear what the life of discipleship to Jesus entails. I know the kind of person Jesus calls me to be, even though I often fail to be that kind of person.
The major problem with American Christianity today is that many Christians do not know what kind of persons and communities the living Christ expects them to be.