What our leaders aren’t telling you: Jesus was a radical social activist

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      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.



      ursa minor

      Aug 21, 2015 at 2:57pm

      That's nice...but other Christians have told me that Jesus holds deeply conservative values: he despises homosexuals, insists that life begins at conception, condemns anyone who doesn't believe in him, and assures us that all we have to do to get him to come back is destroy the only planet we have to live on.

      Further, what exactly makes Yu a "Radical Social Activist"? Murdering a doctor who performs therapeutic abortions or flying jetliners into Manhattan skyscrapers are also consider the work of "Radical Social Activists".

      When I look around and see rising poverty and inequality, sexism, racism, and environmental destruction, I don't start mumbling to my imaginary friend The Invisible Sky Wizard, I put the blame on where the problems usually originated in the first place: religion.


      Aug 21, 2015 at 3:50pm

      I don't consider any Religious or Political person in power or "leading" any group as my Leader.

      I know that humans are fallible I don't bow to the monarchy or respect any Political or so called Religious leader.

      They are all a-holes.

      Jesus and Christianity is but one religion, I am a Christian but not overtly religious.

      I believe in a God not the fire and brimstone fairy tale of a guy with a long white beard.

      I know a lot of Christians I find a lot ignorant, hypocrite and most don't understand that basic teachings of Jesus.

      Nothing wrong with Jesus himself he stood up for the poor lived his life as he preached.

      Very few other people thru recorded history can or have done that.

      Guilin Fish

      Aug 21, 2015 at 10:32pm

      Good article! Thanks for writing it.


      Aug 22, 2015 at 1:53am

      Don't skip the OT, whenever you see GOD speaking, that is Jesus! Christ created the heavens and the earth in six days. Christ created gravity!


      Aug 22, 2015 at 10:55am

      “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.”

      Maybe the author should try reading his Bible. These aren’t “hard facts” he would have us believe, but more like fallacies.

      1. Jesus was not a Jew. He was a Nazarene, an Israelite, a Judahite and a Galilean, but he was no Jew.

      During His earthly ministry Yahshua Christ continually distinguished Himself from the Jews, and there are clear examples of this in the words of Christ recorded at John 8:31-47 and John 10. More such distinctions are made by the gospel writers, especially by John, such as at 7:1 and 9:22. Jesus also made it very clear what he thought of them when he addresses the (Edomite Jew) Pharisees in John 8:44, calling them out as sons of the devil.

      2. In the first century, the Jews used the organized religious sects, the Pharisees and Sadducees, to oppose Christianity, and through these their power to persuade the Roman authorities against it.

      It is often claimed by some today that the Romans killed Christ, being responsible for the crucifixion, and both the Romish and many Protestant “churches” often parrot this nonsense. However, at Luke 19:27, at the end of the “parable of the ten pounds”, as it is often called, we find Christ saying “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Elsewhere we see the Jews exclaim “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) and “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). After the crucifixion, the apostles clearly fix the murder of Christ on the people of Judea, and never on the Romans, as can be clearly seen at Acts 2:23; 4:8-10; 7:52-53 and 1 Thess. 2:14-15.

      The Gospels make it very clear who was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. The Romans were only the weapon/instrument which carried out the execution. Blaming them for it is like being stabbed by a knife wielding assailant—and blaming the knife.

      400 ppm

      Aug 22, 2015 at 11:47am

      Nice photos... cameras are fun. The hatchback is good for long drives. Jesus was big on fuel economy with all of his possessions, I hear.

      "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men."

      Matthew 7:1-5 RSV


      Aug 22, 2015 at 10:30pm

      You realize "Jesus " (and ALL religions) are mythical...exactly like the Easter Bunny...or Santa. Zero scientific proof the Bible, Koran or any so called "Holy texts" are anything but ancient fantasy novels. To believe anything else just points to your gullibility.

      Leo Yu (author)

      Aug 24, 2015 at 11:36am

      Thank you all for your shares and comments! I wrote this piece from the heart, but I am by no means an expert on Christianity. My point is that what matters most is how we can radically alleviate poverty and discrimination, and ensure dignity for all. That's what counts!


      Sep 3, 2015 at 5:37pm

      I used to feel that way about Paul. Ask yourself, did it really happen-the Damascus story. I believe it did and -I cogitated on it. The Lord wanted Paul awfully bad to do something that dramatic. I mean knocked of his horse blinded by light blind for several days tended to for quite awhile before getting out of bed and feeling normal. God preserved him from a deadly snake bite, got him out of jail, ship-wrecked 3X and so on. Sounds like God had something important for Paul to do and act as a messenger by all he wrote. A Truly astounding servant of God. The ancient Jews didn't like a lot of God's commands either. You do not sound like much of a Christian to me. Sacrifice and obedience is required of us.

      Yuan Gong

      Sep 5, 2015 at 8:43pm

      Weird that you would only read part of something and assume that only the part that matches your preferences would also match God.

      Also weird that you assume humans are anything more than something to be judged.