This summer wedding season and 78-day marathon federal election campaign, I’ve come across references to Christ’s Gospel, or “good news”, by religious and political leaders to emphasize their viewpoints (for example, search #CPCJesus on Twitter).
Our religious leaders, in particular, are making an impression on young people who, in their late-teens and twenties, are searching for meaning, purpose, and community. They’re filling amphitheatres at conservative Christian mega-churches with their brand of Christianity. But what does it really mean to be Christian?
I’m young(-ish), educated, ethnic-Chinese, and Christian. I struggled with what it means to me.
If you’re someone who is beginning to explore what it means to be Christian, here are a few warnings for you based on my own, often frustrating and painful, experience of exploring Christianity.
There are only two hard historical facts about Jesus: (1) He was a Jew from Nazareth who led a popular Jewish movement in Palestine at the beginning of the first century, and (2) Rome crucified him for doing so. (Aslan, “Zealot”, 2013)
So Jesus of Nazareth was a revolutionary who confronted the Judean religious establishment. He was not a peaceful spiritual leader, marriage counsellor, or diplomat. As my brother said, “Jesus was no Care Bear”.
Jesus was a radical social activist who died fighting for justice and the common good.
Everything else people attribute to him—like the common narrative that Christ, the Son of God (which is actually a traditional title for Israel’s kings, like David), sacrificed his life to forgive the sins of humanity for eternity—is all up for interpretation. And if someone tells you that the Bible says homosexuality or abortion is a sin, the truth is you won’t find Jesus quoted as saying it anywhere in the Bible.
Find out for yourself.
Grab a copy of any Bible (I read NRSV; free online). Skip the Old Testament. Read the first three books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Take note of anything that quotes Jesus; it’s what matters most. (The next book, John, also quotes Jesus but is the least consistent of these four books.)
If you want to geek out, then read the rest of the Bible. Good luck! It has a lot of beauty, poetry, and wisdom, but it’s also sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and extremely violent. Take it all with a grain of salt and a critical mind. The church that I’m a member of affirms that “the Bible is taken seriously, but not literally”.
Just a heads up, many books in the New Testament are attributed to letters written by Paul of Tarsus (13 of 27 books). In the Bible he wasn’t actually an apostle of the living Jesus. He was also harsh, prejudiced, and very imaginative. I’m not a fan of Paul.
Despite all these warnings, I’m still an active Christian.
I have a deep faith in God, a love of Jesus, and progressive values, but I struggled for many years to find a Christian church that is democratic, inclusive, and justice-oriented. I learned a lot along the way.
I find Jesus’s story and teachings incredibly inspiring, even though it’s around 2,000 years old! When dealing with my father’s early death or working with social and environmental movements, I draw from parallels between the injustices of Jesus’s age and the modern one.
When I look around and see rising poverty and inequality, sexism, racism, religious persecution, and environmental destruction, I pray for the courage that I lack to be a radical social activist like Jesus.
Maybe you’ll be inspired too.