I had no idea this quote that I posted on Facebook would be shared by others over 300 times. 321 to be exact. I’ve never had a post re-shared that often. But there is something about this quote that really resonated with people.
The quote is from Rev. Robin Meyers who is currently the Teaching Pastor of First Congregational Church in Norman, Oklahoma. It is from his book, Saving God from Religion: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age. Meyers represents a whole segment of the Christian faith called “progressive.” He is also a Distinguished Professor of Social Justice in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University where he has taught since 1991.
What is it about this quote and thought that resonates with people when they read it? I suspect it is the same impulse or reason why I liked it and posted it in the first place. Christianity as a religion has a bad case of “beliefism.”
Over the centuries, starting about 300 years after the time of Jesus, leaders of the church reduced “the faith” to one of beliefs, characterized by the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed. If you grew up in many churches today, you would know one or both creeds by heart. You can say them in your sleep.
If you didn’t go to a church that recited a creed, you probably went to a church that had a denominational statement of beliefs. You know, the ones by which they judge who can be part of their church and to force conformity to their dogmatic preferences and pet doctrines.
Building a religion around a set of beliefs allows that religion to stake a claim on truth, certainty, and being right all the time. It allows that religion to force its beliefs onto others, using violence if necessary. And it allows the leaders of that religion to require proper belief as opposed to proper humanity in the fulfillment of religious duty.
But Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? What’s that? Most Christians will only have a cursory or vague idea of what it is and what those teachings are. As Meyers points out, the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is about how to live, what kind of humans we should be, and how to practice mercy and love. There is nothing within those words of Jesus about the sweet by-and-by and what we are supposed to believe. It is all about how we are supposed to be.
It is no wonder that most Christians, and especially the MAGA-Christians, don’t like to spend too much time reflecting on this sermon of Jesus. After all look at the contrast between what Jesus is calling followers to do and become from Matthew 5: 1-9 and how MAGA-Christians behave:
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God….
Poor in spirit? Mourn? Meek? Hunger for righteousness? Merciful? Peacemakers? I have a feeling Jesus would not be welcomed in many patriotic, Christian Nationalist churches where the emphasis seems to be more on denigrating and “owning” the libs and seeking political power to declare their religion as the official “American” one. Besides, Jesus never recited the Apostle’s Creed, how good a Christian can he be?
If it isn’t one of the creeds that Christians want to promote, then just about every good Nationalist Christian loves to quote and wants to publicly post the Ten Commandments. Now there is something we can get behind. A list of ten laws that make our religion exclusive and emphasizes a jealous and vengeful God.
Now you’re talking. Give us the list of “thou shall nots” and we’ll be able to shove that down everyone’s throat. Never mind following them, just use them to promote the superiority of our religion.
I’ve never heard one of these Christian Nationalists ever push to have the Beatitudes posted in a public spot. “Sorry Jesus, your teachings just don’t help us own the libs. Talk about the Sermon on the Mount? Naw, we’ll take a pass on that one. Way too progressive and frankly, it is too much work.”
To follow the Sermon on the Mount means I must change myself, work toward becoming more human and humane and extend love and mercy to others. “Not a chance…I’d rather recite the creeds, post the Ten Commandments, not worry about my behavior, and attack the Capitol to try and keep Donald Trump in office. That is a Christianity I can get behind.”
I am fully aware that not everything within the Sermon on the Mount is palatable for modern readers. Jesus’ teachings on divorce for instance aren’t very progressive.
“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (verse 32)
Considering Christians get divorced as often or more than the average in our society tells me this isn’t as widely practiced as Jesus taught.
But the overall spirit and tenor of the Sermon is about being human and how we treat each other. Here is another example:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (verses 43, 44).
“Love my enemies? I’m sorry Jesus we just don’t do that sort of thing in this church…but we do recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed. And, we carry guns and go to school board meetings and harass board members and teachers because they are teaching our children seditious lies such as critical race theory, whatever that is.”
“Sermon on the Mount? We don’t do that sort of thing here…sorry Jesus.”