Newsweek recently published an article reporting that “52 Percent of Americans Say Jesus Isn’t God but Was a Great Teacher.” The article was based upon an article in The Christian Post which had the title “A Majority Of Americans Think Jesus Is A Great Teacher Yet Reject His Claims To Be God.”
I have several responses. First of all, Jesus never claimed to be God. No where in the scriptures does Jesus claim to be God – nor did he even claim to be the Son of God. The closest we come to this is what certain other persons (or demons) said about him, and Jesus doesn’t contradict them apparently allowing them to say what they think about him without challenging or correcting them. At most a tacit consent, but it is false for Christians to tell anyone that “Jesus claimed that he was God.” Indeed, in numerous places in the Gospels, makes a point to distance himself from God telling disciples that “only God is good“, etc. We also need to remember that beginning with Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperors had been referring to themselves as God, Son of God, Lord, Lord of Lords, Savior, and Prince of Peace. Those were political terms and that a group of peasants from the eastern sticks of the empire started claiming that their executed teacher was those things, “Son of God, etc. – was subversive and it was the reason so many of the early Christians were crucified themselves. Jesus primarily referred to himself as the anthropos – which is generally translated as “Son of Man,” and means “Humankind/The Human One.” Many progressive Christians believe that Jesus is our portal to learning and experiencing who and Whose we really are. Jesus is the model and example who shows us how to be fully human, fully incarnating and manifesting our full, whole, abundant real selves.
As a progressive Christian, I pray to the God that Jesus prayed to, and I seek to model my life, as best I can with God’s help, in sync with the way, teachings, and example of Jesus. I embrace the moral example theory of the at-one-ment and, again with God’s help, I seek to follow the apostle Paul’s teaching to “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling” – knowing that ultimately, it’s a gift of grace. Along with our Quaker friends, as well as the Christian mystics, progressive Christians honor “that of God” within ourselves and each other. With this in mind Jesus was as divine as each of us are.
Many Christians are very loyal to the doctrine of the Trinity – yet that doctrine didn’t exist during Jesus’ life or in the first few hundred years after his death and resurrection. None of the first generation of Christians had heard of that doctrine nor any of the creeds. Some Christians are unitarians, and many progressive Christians who do embrace the trinity understand the Trinity as a beautiful Christian poem written by fallible humans that attempts to explain the loving relationality within the divine Mystery pointing to that which is beyond it and ineffable. Insisting that anyone understand it or subscribe to it in any particular way is not helpful to the cause of Christ – as no one can claim they understand a mystery the proper way.
Okay, all that said, someone I know responded to the Newsweek article saying, “The U.S. is no longer a Christian nation.”
My response to them is as follows: “The United States has never been a Christian nation. What makes us not a Christian nation isn’t a lack of a majority of peoples intellectual assent to certain religious truth claims. It’s because we were largely founded on people’s unchecked lust and greed for making money off the sweat and backs of others. It’s because we effectively committed genocide against the native peoples. It’s because we artificially accelerated our nation’s economic growth and rank among the nations through the immoral practice of enslaving fellow human beings.
What makes us not a Christian nation is that our military budget is obscenely that of the next nine nations in the world – combined. It’s that we are an empire with nearly 800 military bases around the world preserving “the American way of life” – which is less than 5% of the world’s population consuming over 25% of the world’s natural resources and putting out a third of the world’s global warming gasses. What makes us not a Christian nation is that we wage unjust, immoral wars and have been a nation at war most every year of our existence. We are not a Christian nation because we are a nation that has committed numerous war crimes including attacking civilian populations with nuclear bombs and still maintains huge stockpiles of WMD.
Rev. Roger Wolsey is a certified Spiritual Director, United Methodist pastor, and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity Click here for the Kissing Fish Facebook page Roger’s other blogs on Patheos