I have this friend, a gay man struggling to come to terms with the fundamentalist Baptist religion he was raised in. He insists that he is a Red-Letter Christian. His point is, he doesn’t buy any of harsh passages of the Bible—things like God commanding the Israelites to kill every Canaanite man, woman, child and animal. Just give me the pure words of Christ, he says, which in many Bibles are printed in red letters to make them stand out from the rest of the words. Hence Red-Letter Christian.
The logic is that Jesus was all about sweetness and light—tolerance. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Truth is, Jesus was often a hard ass. Almost all of the references to hell in the Bible come from the mouth of Jesus. He was all about sending people to hell—separating the sheep from the goats.
And so extreme! He said that if you hate your brother it’s as good as killing him. He said that if you think lustful thoughts about a woman it’s as good as sleeping with her, doing all sorts of untoward things. Right after saying that, he said that if you masturbate, you’re better off chopping off your hand. (Don’t take my word for it. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew chapters 5-7.) Yes, it was hyperbole on Jesus’ part, exaggeration to make a point. But the point he was making was puritanical. Face it: Jesus was a prude. He was just like all the other conservative first-century Jews. He was a product of his environment.
Intolerant at his core, too. Wait! says my gay friend and other liberal believers. Jesus always reached out to society’s castaways! True, Jesus consorted with all sorts of undesirables—but he always made sure they understood they needed to stop their wayward habits. “Go and sin no more,” he told the woman caught in adultery after saving her from a mob. His message: the End is nigh—really nigh—so start living according to the Torah. (“Be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”—Luke 12:40.)
Truth was, Jesus was exclusive. He was focused solely on the welfare of the Jewish people, getting them out from under the thumb of the hated Romans. He ministered to gentiles—whom he considered to be “dogs”—only by virtue of happenstance or hesitantly.
Don’t take my word for it. Open your New Testament and read all the red letters. Come to the exercise with no preconceived notions of who Jesus is, to the extent that you can. See what you learn about Meek and Mild Jesus.
Try it right now.
Photo: Christ Cleansing the Temple, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1875
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