There’s a photo of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) accompanied by a quote from a statement he made last week in the Senate budget hearings that is presently starting to go a bit viral around Facebook. Here it is.
Senator Sanders basically gives a statement about balancing the federal budget, but insists that it not be balanced on the backs of the poor and the most vulnerable in our society.
Sen. Sanders’ statement is pure Gospel. It’s a world transforming message, if only others in Congress would hear it and heed it. It is, in fact, as best as we can tell, what Jesus would do.
That’s an interesting little saying, What Would Jesus Do? It’s usually thrown around by overly pious and overly moralistic folk who want people to stop and think about matters of personal piety, especially matters related to sexuality. Like many people, I associated the phrase with the rise of the fundamentalist religious right. It conjures up for me those rubber wrist bracelets or string bracelets with beads stenciled with WWJD? Mostly used to remind students and young adults to practice abstinence or not cheat on their homework assignments. The phrase has a much more progressive and world transforming history.
This week’s episode of On Being with Krista Tippet has some fascinating insight into this phrase. Her interview is with Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the religion editor of the Huffington Post and the grandson of Social Gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch.
“What Would Jesus Do?” dates back to an 1893 novel by Kansas preacher Charles Monroe Sheldon. The phrase became associated with the Social Gospel movement, a movement in American Christianity that emphasized the social welfare implications of the teachings of Jesus.
Walter Rauschenbusch, considered the most important theologian of the Social Gospel, in the early twentieth century insisted that, of course, there is no such thing as the Social Gospel, there is just the Gospel. The Gospel as it is promotes care for the powerless, the forgotten, the left-out and the despised. It doesn’t need a modifier. That the Gospel should need a special name only means people have forgotten the world transforming message that is grace and inclusion, equity and justice.
Yet, it appears too many people have forgotten about grace, inclusion, equity and justice, especially Christians. Many politicians pander to the religious right who have an overly pietistic view of both Jesus and Christianity. When someone like Newt Gingrich says the left is trying to drive traditional religion out of existence and that Christianity is an oppressed religion he is both wrong and ignorant. Traditional religion valued the Gospel, the world transforming message that lifted up the lowly, included everyone in the human family, and asked “What Would Jesus Do” to make sure people had enough to eat, a place to live, and someone to care for them when they were sick. Yesterday, in a presidential primary forum, Gingrinch quipped that Occupy protesters should “get a job” but should “take a bath first”. Had Gringrich been around in Palestine in the first century, make no mistake, he would have had the same opinion of wandering Jewish preacher and his followers and would have encouraged the Roman authorities to do away with him. Now, he hides behind the religion that has grown up in this preacher’s name to oppress the people that preacher defended.
The religion that has become Christianity has little to do with this world transforming message. Rather what calls itself Christianity today is about supporting the rich and the powerful, hating those who are different, sowing fear and division and dismissing the cries of the poor as the whining of the lazy. None of this is part of the world transforming message of Jesus. It’s not what Jesus would do. If you want that, listen to Bernie Sanders, not Newt.