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Age of Obama
Barack Obama's presidency

Bush End Game
George W. Bush's presidency since 2007

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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George W. Bush's presidency, 2000-04

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The secret world of Defense Secretary Gates

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Behind President Clinton's impeachment.

Nazi Echo
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The Dark Side of Rev. Moon
Rev. Sun Myung Moon and American politics.

Contra Crack
Contra drug stories uncovered

Lost History
America's tainted historical record

The October Surprise "X-Files"
The 1980 election scandal exposed.

From free trade to the Kosovo crisis.

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What Would Jesus Really Do?

By The Rev. Howard Bess
August 29, 2009

Editor’s Note: Some on the Christian Right have latched onto a bumper-sticker saying “What Would Jesus Do?” But the question ignores the contradictions between the recorded views of the peaceful religious leader from Nazareth and modern right-wing policies, including imperial wars and tax cuts for the super-rich.

In this guest essay, Baptist minister Howard Bess remarks on what the New Testament might really suggest regarding what Jesus would do in this modern age:

The Bible is a collection of ancient writings. The Old Testament was first written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

Naively I studied Greek and Hebrew thinking that they would be the keys that would unlock the truest meanings of Christianity’s sacred book. Greek was my undergraduate minor and the study of Hebrew awaited me in my first year of graduate school.

Along the way I ran into some surprises.

For starters, I was introduced to textual criticism. I learned that there were hundreds of variant texts, and even the oldest of those manuscripts did not even come close to the time of original writings.

Then I faced the reality that Jesus’ everyday language was neither Hebrew nor Greek. It was Aramaic. If he spoke a second language, it was a pigeon Greek that had minimal resemblance to either classical Greek or koine (common) Greek.

Trying to trace the words of Jesus with some level of accuracy all the way to modern English translations is a detective story not fully understood by the finest of Bible scholars.

My next big surprise came when I realized that an even more challenging translation task lay ahead of me as a pastor. It is called cultural translation.

Every Sunday I had the responsibility to speak to my congregation about what the Bible messages mean to people of the late 20th century and the early 21st century. Flawed as the texts of our modern English Bibles might be, clear messages emerge and demand to be translated into modern life.

Here at the beginning of the 21st Century, a vigorous movement is afoot to translate Jesus into modern life. Jesus from Nazareth is being understood as a community activist, who took on the critical issues of economics, race, politics and religion. He was a vigorous social reformer.

How are we to translate his messages and concerns into the 21st Century?

In 2007, the National Council of Churches of Christ published A Social Creed for the 21st Century. The document is a thoughtful attempt to translate the messages of Jesus into our own culture.

While I have revised, added and subtracted, I acknowledge the instruction of the NCC document. Even more I acknowledge the stories, sayings and actions that Jesus left for our guidance and instruction.
Jesus has left us at least five mandates.

First, all men and women without regard to race, age, cultural roots, or sexual orientation, are to have full human rights….civil, political, economic, religious.

Jesus’ acceptance and relationships with women and children were outside of the bounds of social norms. His relationship with women was considered nothing short of scandalous. He was charged with eating with thieves and those who drank too much. He befriended Samaritans.

Sexual orientation was not an issue in the day of Jesus, but he made it plain that everyone was welcome at the dinner table of God.

Second, priority attention is to be given to the people who are most vulnerable.  The poor, the hungry, the sick, the naked, the widow, the orphan.

In a modern world universal health care, expansion of the food stamp program, social security for older persons, tax and budget policies that diminish the gap between the rich and the poor, quality education for everyone, and affordable housing, cannot be set aside.

Just as sexual orientation was an unknown issue in Jesus’ day, so also was concern about the unborn. Awareness has confronted us with reality. A Jesus ethic in a modern world cannot ignore the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, the unborn child.

Third, we all must adopt simpler lifestyles that support and sustain the world in which we live. We now know that we live in a world of limited resources. Land, water, and air are all limited resources that are necessary for the survival of the human race.

The world cannot renew itself as fast as we are using its resources. We must curb our appetites.

In addition, we are polluting the world’s resources. Burning fossil fuels has possibly fouled the world’s land, water and air beyond recovery. We must find different sources of energy.

The rule is simple. If it’s not clean, we ought not to be using it. Polluting the world is a sin against the whole human family. We cannot say we love our neighbor and leave that neighbor with a polluted and inadequate environment.

Fourth, war is an unacceptable way of resolving conflicts between human beings. Peacemaking is the highest calling of a devout follower of Jesus our Christ from Nazareth. I cannot even imagine Jesus in an act of violence. The Christian warrior becomes a tragic oxymoron. 

Fifth, we must become people of trust. We need to be trustworthy, but along with that we must be willing to trust those who appear to be untrustworthy. Trust produces trust.
I am happy to leave the translating of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English to those who have mastered the languages.  I cannot escape translating the Jesus message into my every day life.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is           

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