Last night at church, my pastor talked about the phrase “Jesus is Lord,” and what that phrase means. After church, a fellow church goer was wanting to start a conversation about what “Jesus is Lord” means to different people and asked if I would write a blog post on the subject.
My relationship with the idea that “Jesus is Lord” is complicated in a couple of ways. First of all, as someone who identifies as both a Unitarian Universalist and a Christian, I am wary of the exclusive mindset such a phrase often encourages. Since I believe all religions are important and meaningful for understanding a Divine Mystery that is too big and too complex for any one group to fully grasp, to me, “Jesus is Lord” does not mean “Jesus is the only way to heaven” or “Jesus alone is God” or “Jesus reflects all aspect of who/what God is.” Since I come from a Christian background, I can say that Jesus is my path to God, and that Jesus is the lens through which I view and understand God. But I’m not entirely convinced that the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is meant to be used to divide people who hold to other religious teachings.
I’m not convinced that someone who believes in love and justice and mercy is less of a child of the God of love, justice, and mercy simply because they think Jesus was just a man.
So, there’s that.
Secondly, although my pastor pointed out last night that the phrase “Jesus is Lord” was not originally meant to be a sexist phrase, we can’t ignore the ways that the idea of “Jesus as Lord” has been used in more recent years as a symbol of patriarchal power. In many churches (especially the fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches I grew up in), “Jesus is Lord” is used to do more than evoke the idea that Jesus’ teachings reflect the heart of The God Who Is. It is used to evoke image of God as patriarch–benevolent to those who submit to his almighty power, and hostile toward those who do not believe in him for any reason.
I don’t reject the phrase altogether, though. I think that this image of God can be used in a way that is subversive and liberating.
We just need to rethink how we are using it.
In Surprised by Hope, Wright talks about the “early belief that Jesus is Lord, and therefore Caesar is not.” That phrase right there is essential for reworking the idea of “Jesus is Lord” as a tool for liberation.
“Jesus is Lord, and therefore, Caesar is not.”
I see “Caesar” as a symbol of oppressive power. Caesar was the head of a violent, forceful empire, an empire that favored the wealthy and powerful, while the renewed world that Jesus spoke of was a world where peace, love–a world where the mighty were brought down, and the poor lifted up to meet in the middle on the plain of equality. Quite the contrast there.
In the fundamentalist churches I grew up in, “Jesus is Lord” meant that Jesus looks like Caesar, and Jesus appointed Caesar, and Jesus wants you to shut up and do whatever Caesar say.
But the Jesus of the gospels did not look like Caesar. If Jesus was just another Caesar, what would be the point? We have Caesars everywhere.
They are in our governments, chipping away at or downright denying the rights of marginalized groups. They are in our nuclear family units, using abuse and coercion to enforce a patriarchal hierarchy. They are in our sports teams, covering up rape in the name of football. They are in our media, refusing to call marginalized people by their preferred names and pronouns, and in our schools’ curriculums, rewriting or completely ignoring the histories of people of color. They are in our courtrooms, letting those who murder innocent black young men and women walk free in the name of self-defense.
And they are in our churches, telling us how to treat others, who to vote for, where to put our money. Telling us that because Jesus is Lord, we must act as Caesars in Jesus’ name. We must create laws that force others to abide by our beliefs. We must threaten others with hell and the wrath of God to get them to stop thinking for themselves, stop questioning. We must invoke the name of our God to support wars that help build the American empire–whether it’s wars overseas, or “wars” right here. Wars on women, on LGBTQ people, on people of color, on the poor.
The world doesn’t need anymore Caesars. We have more than enough.
If Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not, and if that’s supposed to actually mean something, the way we follow Jesus can’t look like Caesar. Jesus’ way must stand in opposition to Caesar’s.
Jesus is Lord.
Caesar is not.
My abusive ex-boyfriend is not.
Mark Driscoll and other hateful, misogynist, homophobic pastors like him are not.
Fathers (or mothers) who seek to secure their position as “head of the household” using force and coercion are not.
Supreme Court members who take away peoples’ voting protections and Governors who sign bills that take away peoples’ right to the health care they need are not.
Police officers who harass and use cruelty toward marginalized people are not.
Jesus is Lord. When I say this, what I mean is that I believe our world is being renewed, and someday love and justice and freedom and the respect for others’ made-in-God’s-image humanity will be the principals we all live by. Someday the chains will be broken and those who have been held captive for so long, whether literally or by the chains of oppression, will be set free. Someday those who have been crying out in pain will be able to splash and sing in rivers of justice, and streams of fairness.
And we can start living that “someday” out now. We can oppose forces that seek to oppress us and our neighbors. We don’t have to submit to their so-called authority. We can jump and dance in puddles of justice where ever we find them, while we wait for the waters to roll down. We don’t have to care if we splash our oppressors in the process and muddy up their fancy shoes.
Because Jesus is Lord and they are not and we can live in that hope, right here. Right now.