Clearly, there is strong interest among many Americanized Christians to redefine their faith in ways that avoid having to deal too much with Jesus.
This is done with the hope that few will notice what has taken place. And, if they do, will have the decency not to point out that the J-person is missing.
For those seeking such a step-by-step approach, it can be found by following a popular pattern among a large swath of uniquely American evangelicalism. Here is how it’s done in just seven simple steps:
Start by keeping Jesus in his place. Swoon over him in the manger and check back in for the crucifixion and resurrection.
But limit Jesus’ role to justifying our gift giving and overeating in December — and then getting the select few into heaven who’ve amassed and affirmed the only proper doctrinal-political framework.
There’s no need to fool with the hard stuff he said about self-denial, sacrifice, and whom and how to love.
Stay focused on Jesus dying so we all (well, not all) can get to heaven — and sing and shout the victory. (You did the refrain in your head, didn’t you?)
All those accounts of Jesus between the manger and cross are just filler. Who wants to live like that when power over others is readily available?
Second, shift the emphasis of being Christian from following Jesus to “believing the Bible.”
Of course, that’s not what Jesus said marks his disciples. But it is easier and comes with great flexibility.
And anytime someone brings up the uncomfortable subject of Jesus’s life and teachings, just claim to “believe the Bible” more than they do.
Third, define so-called “believing the Bible” in a way that fully aligns with your preferred political ideology.
Ignore the broad biblical messages of love, mercy, humility and selfless service. Instead, dig out isolated and even obscure verses that, when purposefully rendered, can serve as proof texts in defense of an idolatrous ideology.
Be strident in person and on social media so no one blows down your straw house.
This Jesus-diminished approach has long been taken, and the examples throughout history are plentiful.
To name a few: forcing Indigenous people from their lands and putting them on a death march; supporting slavery and the often-violent acts of discrimination that followed; and claiming divine justification for denying equal rights to persons who are anything other than white, evangelical, heterosexual males.
Fourth, pay no attention when this carefully constructed façade of Christianity doesn’t reflect Jesus. Just stick with your “biblical beliefs.”
While Jesus may not approve, your favorite politicians, radio/TV personalities and power-hungry preachers will find such loyalty to be quite helpful to them and their ways.
Ignore any reminder that Jesus is our fullest revelation of God — and worthy of being savior and lord.
Give no attention to those like United Methodist pastor Jason Micheli, who blogs at Tamed Cynic, asserting: “If you can’t say it about Jesus, don’t say it about God.”
Fifth, with all of these pieces securely in place, it is important to coerce others to embrace this handy-dandy, self-serving political ideology that has been baptized in religious jargon and the dirty water of expediency and fear.
There is power in numbers; it creates more political force and a large enough silo where shared prejudices are reinforced and outside voices are silenced.
Sixth, when you face opposition by those who see through and note what you’re doing — and even dare to bring Jesus into the conversation — simply dismiss them by painting them as “woke,” liberal heretics.
Seven, pay no attention to the ensuing lies, damaged relationships, harm to the vulnerable, and even violence that often result from holding a religiously justified position that demeans so many others.
The greater goal is to protect the preferential status of good, white Americanized Christians who made this land so godly and great.
If this hostile, falsified approach causes the Christian witness to be further sacrificed on the altar of fear and self-preservation as well, so what?
That’s how it is done so often in just seven easy steps.
Though often less appealing, however, there is always Jesus’ original calling to disciples that remains open for us as well. It is embedded in two words: “Follow me.”
Jesus’ example and guidance for seeking such a path are revealed in the more complete Gospel verses that include his red-lettered words.
He even offers a clear and concise summation: that all religious laws and prophetic teachings hang on the dual and greatest command — to love God with all of our being and to love our inclusively defined neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
So, we have options. It just depends on the direction in which we choose to step.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.