Robert Hart on Cutting Christ Down to One Size Fits Whatever We Want
On July 7, 2015, former President Jimmy Carter said the following in an interview with the Huffington Post: "I believe Jesus would. I don't have any verse in Scripture. . . . I believe Jesus would approve gay marriage, but that's just my own personal belief. I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don't see that gay marriage damages anyone else."
Often described as "a religious man," Carter was known as an Evangelical when he ran for the White House in 1976. That year, when, in what has always been seen as an error in judgment, he agreed to be interviewed by Playboy, he displayed at least a personal moral scruple and a working knowledge of what Jesus actually said as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Matthew: "But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (5:28).
Since those days in 1976, a new phrase has caught the public's attention: "WWJD"—"What would Jesus do?" Like Jimmy Carter when speaking last July to the Huffington Post, an individual facing a moral decision is advised to consider what Jesus would do, or what he would say. As a result, what purports to be moral guidance might be nothing more than subjective thought, opinion, or sheer imagination, taken as divine wisdom. This seems to me to be a waste of mental energy and time, inasmuch as what Jesus did, and what he said, can be accurately known easily enough by reading
When the younger candidate Carter gave his famous answer to Playboy, he at least thought along the lines of what Jesus said. As an elderly former President, he gave his answer to the Huffington Post based on speculation, admitting, "I don't have any verse in Scripture." That is very interesting, because I can think of several verses of Scripture that actually answer the question addressed to Mr. Carter, and that answer it in exact opposition to his affirmative. We know what Jesus said, and have known it since the first generation of Christians were taught and given the New Testament.
Another Jesus, Another Spirit
Lest I appear to be picking on Jimmy Carter exclusively, I hasten to point out that a fictitious Jesus ("another Jesus," to use the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:4), subject to human imagination, is very popular nowadays. We see this malleable Jesus everywhere.
For instance, we can note what was said and done at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church last June in Salt Lake City, Utah. The convention took place around the time that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26, 2015), declaring a never-before-known Constitutional right to so-called same-sex marriage. Among the events at the convention was something meant to be a Eucharist of sorts, celebrating the victory of homosexual church members who had long sought to have same-sex "marriage" formally approved for their whole national church. It was now approved by the General Convention and its new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
Another Episcopal bishop and openly practicing lesbian, Mary Glasspool, declared in a sermon at that service, "We got to this place of redefining marriage by redefining two other words: home and family." Glasspool interpreted the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus, as a grown man, discerns that he must begin his mission and ministry to all the people of Israel, to mean that Jesus was moving away from his natural family: "The concept of family is transformed. The reign of God transcends the closest of family trees," she said.
An Episcopal priest named Kimberly Jackson, of the Diocese of Atlanta, read a prayer to begin their version of communion: "Spirit of Life, we thank you for disordering our boundaries and releasing our desires as we prepare this feast of delight: draw us out of hidden places and centers of conformity to feel your laughter and live in your pleasure."
That contrasts quite sharply with the Book of Common Prayer tradition, in which everything is intended to conform wholly to Scripture, and the standard for prayer is the one that Jesus taught, which includes the Church's petition to the Father, "Thy will be done." The new liturgical phrase, "disordering our boundaries and releasing our desires," sounds much more like the slogan of an early twentieth-century pagan cult, The Law of Thelema, created by a magician named Aleister Crowley. To each member of the cult it is taught, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."
In stark contrast to Christianity, The Law of Thelema makes of highest priority the will of each individual, rather than the will of God. And just as Jimmy Carter's little Jesus "who would" replaced the big Jesus who did and said what is recorded in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit has been replaced by a malleable spirit guide (again, in St. Paul's words, "another spirit"), invoked as the "Spirit of Life" in the Episcopal LGBT service. This spirit is a "she," and guides her followers, apparently, only where they want to go anyway. She was thanked in their prayer for just that.
But Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:17–18). That is what we can read for ourselves. It takes only a minute or two to find his actual words, a minute worth more than many hours of speculation on what Jesus would have said.
Getting the Words Right
In recent years it has become popular to say, "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality." Again, it is not the Jesus whose words and acts have been recorded for our learning, but the Jesus who would, of whom they speak.
If they are to be given any excuse, it may be that English translations of Scripture can be unclear in places. For instance, the word "fornication" is used frequently in many English-language Bibles. Every time this word is used, it is with the strongest condemnation of sexual sin. This includes cases where Jesus utters the word himself (e.g., in Mark 7:20–23).
In modern English, we think of "fornication" as meaning only heterosexual intercourse before or outside of marriage. But the Greek word used throughout the New Testament that is translated as "fornication" is porneia. (This is the root not only of the English word "fornication" but also "pornography.") It means any and every kind of sexual sin and also perversion, and thus refers not only to sexual relations outside of marriage, but also to adultery, homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, and so forth.
We know that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), not to affirm their sins. He ate and drank with sinners, to be sure, but not to join in their riotous living, but to call them to repentance (Luke 5:30–32). He came to save his people from—not in but from—their sins (Matt. 1:21).
The word most often associated with the malleable Jesus, and the unholy spirit, is "love." Right after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was announced, President Obama tweeted, "Love wins." This is a new gospel (again, in the words of St. Paul, "another gospel") of inclusion and affirmation. In this new gospel, of a malleable Jesus who would, the good news is that nothing is sin: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Except for Christians, of course: anyone who believes in or preaches traditional Christian morality is guilty of the sin of hate.
But we know that "charity . . . rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:4,6). Indeed, the word "charity," as used here in the King James translation, may be the best English translation of the Greek word agape in this context. In some places, agape is translated as "love" in the King James Version, while at other times, as here, it is translated as "charity." Making the distinction helps clarify things. For one may love a big juicy steak, but one cannot have charity for a big juicy steak. In any case, agape, the word used for divine love or charity, is very distinct from eros, the word used to indicate carnal love.
Love & the Cross
In Christian theology, the love of God is associated most closely with the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:8). The sight of Christ crucified was very terrible—indeed, it was so ugly that, in the words of the prophet, "We hid as it were our faces from him" (Is. 53:3). It was a violent, bloody sight, where the Man of sorrows was poured out like water, and all his bones were out of joint (Ps. 22:14). At once it was God's judgment on sin and the manifestation of his love, where he paid our debt in full ("Teleo," John 19:30).
Jesus came to save the world, to seek and to save the lost, to pour out his soul unto death as the "propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:2). He came for that, not to usher in an era in which lust and carnality, and "the releasing of our desires," take the place of repentance and of taking up one's cross to follow the Son of Man. Give me the real Lord Jesus, who paid my debt, who commanded me to repent, and who forgave my sin.
Give me the Jesus who did and who said, not the other Jesus, the one who would.
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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