Throughout my ministry, I have heard awful stories of pain, abuse and suffering. Though the stories are many and varied, there is one that sticks out above all others. During a time of group counseling around spiritual abuse, an older gentleman revealed that his youth group pinned him down and probed his ass with a crucifix to show him how painful being gay was. When I ponder this story and the countless horror stories from the church, I am left with but one conclusion…the prevailing Jesus in our churches is dead.
For those who would quibble with such a message, I would like to offer a few examples. Progressive United Methodist ministers will stand before congregations and declare their love for queer people, but the overwhelming majority won’t love them enough to sacrifice their pensions to perform their weddings. When your money matters more than people…you are a minister of a dead Jesus that offers dead theology to a dead world. Catholic, conservative and evangelical churches will talk about the blood of Jesus being the substitutionary atonement for our sins that satisfies the wrath of God. Unfortunately, substitutionary ideas of the atonement continue to lead to countless atrocities throughout the world. When your theology can be used as an excuse for the death penalty…you are a purveyor of a dead Jesus and not one that brings life into the world. Throughout the United Church of Christ and other liberal denominations, people will want to talk about liberating identities and communities. Throughout all the grouping, the soul of the individual will be slaughtered in a wave of goodwill and talk of justice. All of these churches will be shouting “He is Risen!,” but the truth is that the church remains the greatest protector and promulgator of homophobia, racism, hate, inaction, violence and a whole host of other truly evil things. The truth of the matter is that Jesus is still dead and suffocating on our shit.
In the midst of our frightening theologies of resurrection, we have raised a Jesus that loves the same people that we love and hates the same people that we hate. This Jesus is just as abusive and dishonest as we are. What are we to do?
We do not have to be given over to death. There is hope. The process begins with the regeneration of Jesus. We must speak life into our ideas of Jesus. We must believe that Jesus is more important than any institutional or denominational pressures that would hold us back. We must believe that theologies of death are just that and replace them with a theology of life. We must believe that individuals matter more than our grouping of them. We must trade hate for love…for love is the only substance that can regenerate Jesus. In the midst of all of the dead Jesuses walking around like zombies, we must start the process of sanctification and take the time to clear our churches of ideas and theologies that represent death. People must matter more than money. God must matter more than institutions. Individuals must matter more than our dishonest groupings. Jesus must be cleansed and raised to newness of life. After the regeneration and sanctification of Jesus, we must take the difficult step of killing our safe Jesuses and claim the deification of the real risen Jesus. While I have great hope in the ability of this process to bring about a theological resurrection of Jesus, I know that most people and churches would prefer to worship safe dead Jesuses and leave the real thing in the grave.