When reading the Lenten lesson from John’s Gospel about Jesus disrupting business-as-usual in the Jerusalem temple – overturning the tables of the money changers, pouring their coins on the floor, shooing away their sheep and cattle (see John 2:13-22) – it’s hard to resist imagining how the text might have some application to contemporary American politics, especially in this election year.
I suppose we ought to be grateful that the passage seems less explicitly relevant to U.S. churches these days, although that might be forthcoming insofar as so many congregations are so financially strapped that they are ready to lease out parts of the buildings as a means of generating income (a different kind of “cash cow” than the biblical text refers to).
But clearly the “temple of democracy,” as represented by structures of elections and legislating, is being corrupted by the money changers who were given a bright green light for enhanced business-as-usual by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.
If ever the pillar of equality for democracy’s temple was compromised, it surely is now, as persons and persons-as-corporations of extraordinary wealth can “invest” large amounts of money in candidates who are poised to do the bidding of their wealthy “investors,” while the non-wealthy are left with far less influence and power.
And if that equality pillar is structurally weakened now, so also are the democratic pillars of freedom and solidarity – freedom because only the wealthy have enhanced liberty to act in their interests; solidarity because inequality in wealth demonstrably separates rather than unites citizens.
Assuming that the corruption of democracy is as serious as many of us think, then the obvious question is: Who is the one (or who are the ones) who will re-enact what Jesus did in the Jerusalem temple in the temple of U.S. democracy today?
That well might be people other than contemporary disciples of Jesus – those who have a dedication and a passion for democracy itself.
My guess, however, is that another qualification will be needed to disrupt the democratic temple: those who have suspicions about wealth inequality and its impact on democracy.
If that’s the case, then it would seem that a Christian or two (or even more) would be excellent candidates for disrupting the corrupted conditions of U.S. democracy – not just because Christianity at its very best supports freedom, equality and solidarity, but also because genuine disciples of Jesus want to heed his teachings about the dangers of wealth.
In fact, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that those who are wealthy, as well as those who are preoccupied with seeking wealth, will always have a difficult time finding their way to the salvation that God is offering as a gift.
It seems that there’s something about wealth and seeking it in the teachings of Jesus that impedes, and even blocks, the pathway to a redeemed life.
Talk about radically reducing the number of Christian candidates who would be ready and willing to disrupt the temple of democracy!
That’s because so many U.S. Christians see no difficulty in finding compatibility between a commitment to and participation in an economic system based on accumulation and consumption and their practice of the Christian faith.
So maybe the best hope for finding those candidates who will disrupt the temple of U.S. democracy is to look somewhere other than the churches.
Or we can hope and pray that there might be some renewed disruption of the temple of Christian faith.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.