What Would Jesus Do?
The WWJD acronym became popular in the nineties as a way to imagine Jesus approaching a moral problem. Would Jesus smoke that joint? Would he skip his homework? Would he stop to help that person? Many young Christians wore a WWJD bracelet to keep the question in mind.
The problem is that this question delivers contradictory answers. Ask Fred Phelps what Jesus would do, and he would’ve said with confidence that Jesus would be preaching, “God hates fags.” Ask Harold Camping, and he would’ve said that Jesus would be warning people about the coming end. Pro-lifers think that Jesus would be picketing abortion clinics. Televangelists say that Jesus would want you to give them lots of money.
Many conservative Christians think that Jesus would reduce taxes, demand Creationism in public schools and prayers in city council meetings, make same-sex marriage illegal, and deny climate change. Many liberal Christians think that he’d welcome gays to church, celebrate the scientific consensus, encourage sex education to minimize unwanted pregnancies, and help the neediest people.
Pick any contentious social issue—abortion, same-sex marriage, gun rights, euthanasia, our obligations to the needy, and so on—and you’ll have millions of thoughtful Christians taking each of the many contradictory positions.
What good is it?WWJD is a useless slogan because it’s ambiguous. It’s a synonym for “In your most moral frame of mind, what would you do?” The Jesus of the Bible is a sock puppet who says whatever you want him to say.
BOB: Say Jesus, I was thinking of putting a little extra in the offering plate on Sunday for the food bank collection.
JESUS sock puppet (in squeaky voice): Good for you, Bob! After all, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
BOB: And speaking of church, I thought that Frank from across the street was a decent guy until I found out that he’s gay. I think I should give him the silent treatment from now on.
JESUS: You’re right there, Bob! Remember that “I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother.”
The problem is pretending that Jesus really is feeding you lines. Dropping this pretense may feel like tightrope walking without a net, but “Jesus” in this case is just a synonym for “conscience.” Yes, you should pause to ask if your action is something you can be proud of, but don’t delude yourself that the source of your morals was ever anyone but you.
Two hands working
can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/2/14.)