With the inauguration of Donald Trump, the Religious Right hopes for a “new Jesus movement.”
Yesterday, the day before the inauguration of the most unusual president-to-be in recent American history, a group of 200 or so evangelical Christian leaders (and a few others) exulted in the new day they see coming: A day when the progressive policies of Obama will be rolled back like the waters of the sea.
They see the results of the recent election as the working of God’s providence, for which no mere mortal should take credit (no word yet on whether God had anything to do with Obama’s election and re-election).
Given Trump’s foreignness to evangelical Christianity and to religion in general, their exuberance is so very odd. But they have their King, now — whatever his personal flaws (hey, David had flaws too). A King who has promised to give them what they want. And what reason have they to doubt their King’s promises?
The Times article summarizes the lusty anticipation of a “new Jesus movement” with the ascendance of Trump:
So many evangelical leaders spoke it is difficult to list them all. Event organizer Jim Garlow, who leads Skyline Church in San Diego, told the group he hoped Trump’s win might usher in a new Jesus movement unseen since the 1970s. “If anyone would stand up and take credit for what happened, God would have reason to take them out—this was done by God,” he said, adding that evangelicals’ purpose was “to inaugurate Jesus as king.”
To inaugurate Jesus as king?
But which Jesus? Whose Jesus?
This phrase reminded me of an article by theologian C.S. Song, who reflects on a play called the Gold Crowned Jesus by Korean poet Kim Chi Ha. In the play, a Leper sits underneath a large, white statue (pieta) of Jesus, wearing a gold crown on his head. The Leper cries out in desperation to the Gold-Crowned Jesus:
When your house gets torn down, “Stay silent, don’t fight, turn the other cheek, obey the masters, the gentlemen, the police,” they tell you. “Obey them, for these are the true believers.” This is what the people who wear luxurious clothes, eat rich food, and prove their high station by displaying their wealth like to say to us. They manipulate and sweet-talk us, deny us our souls, tame us into dumb unquestioning dull-heads, well-trained pups, while they enjoy their glory, their power. Isn’t it true, Jesus? Tell me if I lie. Tell me I say this because I am stupid, because I know no better.
Song goes on to say that the Leper cries out to Jesus for empathy, for pity, for acknowledgment of his dire situation and for Jesus’ blessing to stand up against injustice and fight against the powers that oppressed.
But the white, gold-crowned Jesus just stands there, looking down on him pitilessly: Obey your authorities, accept your state of life, it is God’s will.
In Song’s words, the statue is
encased in cement with a gold crown on its head. That Jesus looks rigid and static; he cannot move. He is not a bit like Mary’s son who walked the length and breadth of Palestine. He is silent. He cannot talk. He has lost the power of speech. He bears no resemblance to that workman who used to talk a lot to the crowds that came to him. And the eyes of that Jesus! These eyes do not shine with light, wisdom and love. They are cold, without emulation and passion. They are not the eyes of that man from Nazareth who relentlessly exposed the thoughts of religious leaders and looked at lepers, beggars, prostitutes, with compassion. The only thing in that Jesus pieta that shines, moves, talks, and impresses is that gold crown on its head. It shines with golden splendor in the cold wintry night. It moves with arrogance among the people who worship gold. It talks with authority in the world where everything that glitters counts. It impresses vain bishops, autocratic rulers, greedy company presidents. And it defeats lepers, beggars, prostitutes. The motionless and emotionless Jesus wearing a dazzlingly brilliant gold crown-what a grotesque spectacle! What a cruel invention of religious piety gone astray.
“Isn’t it true, Jesus?” Leper asks the Jesus statue in a beseeching voice. If only Jesus would say yes, or just nod his head in sympathy and agreement! But from that gold crown Leper perceives something different. don’t fight, tum the other cheek, obey the masters, give your land rights away, forget your human rights, obey your military authorities.” Is this what Jesus really means? Is this what he wants us to do? Leper cannot believe that this is true. He does not want to believe this is what Jesus wants. For he remembers that Jesus began his work with a powerful proclamation in the synagogue of Nazareth, his native town:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me:
He has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Lk. 4:17-19)
Song goes on to say,
This is a strong advocacy for social change. This is a loud protest against corrupt political systems and authoritarian rule This is a powerful call to repentance, to change of heart as a sign of God’s rule in the world.
When Christians proclaim that Jesus is Lord, when they presume to be “inaugurating” the reign of Jesus, which Jesus, whose Jesus, are they talking about?
The Religious Right is not dead. It has ascended, with the ascendancy of their King, Donald Trump.
It proclaims that Jesus is Lord and it wants a “new Jesus movement.” But the new Jesus movement is not a movement inspired by the Jesus of the gospels. Rather, it is a movement inspired by the white, Gold-crowned, statue of Jesus, the one that looks over the poor, the destitute, the vulnerable, the outsider, the “unworthy,” with a stone-cold, unfeeling glare.
We need a Jesus movement again, but one inspired by the Jesus of the New Testament gospels, not by the gold-crowned triumphalist Jesus of nationalism, ethnocentrism, materialism, sexism, homophobia, and exclusion of the marginalized, oppressed, and most vulnerable among us.
*Quote is from C.S. Song’s “Oh, Jesus, Here With Us!” in The Ecumenical Review, 1983, vol. 35, issue 1, pp. 59-74.