Jesus is being mocked and flogged in the public square this summer. His attackers, as they were 2000 years ago, are an angry mob that has been whipped into a frenzy by the leaders of the day with the full support of the nation’s leading evangelicals.
Here are just a few of the instances when Christians have acted in distinctly un-Christlike ways in recent months:
- Immigration officials, acting at the behest of leaders who rationalize cruel policies by citing the Bible, ripped families apart while the evangelical leaders who advised them remained conspicuously silent.
- A Walgreen’s pharmacist, citing his Christian beliefs, refusedto provide a drug for a woman who had been prescribed the drug to expel a fetus that had died inside her womb.
- The leaders of a church in Sterling, Virginia advocated abuse of children and used church members’ tithes to start a “racecar ministry” and purchase a collection of expensive motorcycles and cars. They have also been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in the congregation.
- Evangelical leader Paige Patterson defended his decision to advise women to endure their husbands’ abuse and to pray for them to come to God.
- Religious leaders who have spent their careers decrying the state of the family and the moral decline of our nation continue to defend Roy Moore, a candidate for Congress who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including incidents involving underage girls.
The Christian leaders who have condoned these and other acts or who have remained silent in the face of such abuse, including many abuses of people of color, are no better than those who cried out for Christ to be crucified.
I had this realization when I read today’s Gospel Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary from Matthew 20: 17-28. Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to be “mocked and flogged and crucified.” Even among his followers—who have watched him serve the poor, the lame, the disenfranchised for three years—the possibility of losing him as a leader causes a scramble for power.
In the scene that follows this news, the writer of Matthew tells us that two of the disciples bring their mother to Jesus and that she kneels before him and asks that they be able to sit on either side of him in his kingdom. It is not an unreasonable request for a mother to make. If her sons risk dying for him, don’t they deserve something in return?
The other ten disciples are understandably angry when they hear what the brothers have asked. After all, all of them have sacrificed everything to follow this man. All are equally deserving of any power that comes to them as a result of his movement.
As he’s done so often in his ministry, Jesus uses this as yet another teachable moment. He points out that they are not like other leaders who have become tyrants over them. No. He reminds them, as he’s told them before, “It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”
Our nation’s founders set up a government that they thought would ensure against tyrants. But, increasingly, our leaders are acting like tyrants—lying to the people, abusing the disenfranchised, and adding riches to their own coffers.
Where is the Leader who will sacrifice and save us? One would think that Christian leaders who have a public presence would be crying out in the face of injustice. But no. They, like the chief priests and scribes in this story, have condemned what’s left of Jesus in American Christianity to be mocked and flogged in the public square.