There is much religiosity in the U.S., with the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority even approving Christian prayers at the start of government business. But there is little appreciation of the radical political and economic message at the center of Jesus’s teachings, writes Rev. Howard Bess.
When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail to focus national attention on the injustice of segregation, he was stung by criticism from Christian clergy who feared upsetting the status quo and urged “moderation,” prompting his historic rejoinder from the Birmingham jail, as Rev. Howard Bess recalls.
From the gospel accounts, Jesus was a fierce critic of the economic injustices of his day, demanding – within his Jewish tradition – a radical redistribution of wealth and a recommitment to Israelite teachings about caring for one another. That was his point about God’s kingdom “on earth,” writes Rev. Howard Bess.
Though based on the pacifist teachings of Jesus, Christianity has been an accomplice to more wars and genocides than any other religion, a paradox reflected in the contradictory views of 16th Century protestant reformer Martin Luther and 20th Century civil rights martyr Martin Luther King Jr., as Gary G. Kohls explains.
Since ancient times, mankind has struggled against chaos, often seeking to control differences and manage conflicts though violence and war. The Bible has played an insidious role in this history, though an alternate interpretation of its opening chapter would recognize an appeal to do good, not to harshly impose order, says Rev. Howard Bess.
Jesus’s social teachings and America’s founding ideals had common threads, particularly rejection of tyrannical rulers and promotion of the general welfare. But the Israelite society of Jesus’s day, like America today, had lost connection to its ethical roots, writes Rev. Howard Bess.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration decried “liberation theology” as Marxist and quietly approved when right-wing regimes murdered priests and nuns. But new scholarship reveals that “liberation theology” was carrying forward the real-life demands of Jesus for social justice, as Rev. Howard Bess explains.