Amy Jill Levine – Gospel Politics
“A Startling Challenge in Using the Gospel in Politics ”
A great teacher takes something we have always known and helps us to understand it in a whole new way. She turns the light on and we are startled to see what’s been there right in front of us all along.
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine completely enthralled and thoroughly challenged those who attended Gospel Politics just prior to the November Elections. Forget feeling smug or comfortable. She set some useful guidelines early on: …”how the Bible might be discussed is to think of the Bible less as a book of answers and more as a book that helps us raise the right questions. It forces us to think about issues that were important in the First Century – the same issues: government, health care, family values, the military, capital punishment, taxes – they were of concern then and they are of concern today…The Bible opens up those questions.
She then added an important caution: Too often The Bible is being used as a weapon to do damage … So when we use the Bible, let’s use it carefully.
The perspective that opened up the Gospels was to look at them in the light of the question: “What would Jesus’ First Century listeners have heard and understood, in what Jesus told them, that would have led them to risk their lives and (their) comfort to follow him?” We quickly came to appreciate that there is much more to these texts than we, Twenty-First Century people, have heard.
Beginning with Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of Mark, (the first gospel written), she plunged in, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the Good News.” Pointing out that Jesus’ listeners would not have heard the later Christian communities’ interpretation of the “Good News” as equaling Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to save us from our sins because they would not known or expected him to soon die. They would have heard not about how you get saved through life after death [but rather] his primary message, the Good News, is: “how do we love God with all of our heart and all of our soul and with all of our strength and how do we love our neighbor as ourselves?”
The whole perspective about Gospel Politics is not about whether one side or another is right or wrong but rather about truly seeking: “how we love God with all of our heart and all of our soul and with all of our strength and how do we love our neighbor as ourselves.”
With a delightful, and sometimes provocative, and always faithful twist, “AJ” then focused on opening up the following seven areas for deeper conversation.
- How would Jesus Vote?
- Could Jesus get elected in the United States today?
- Questions of taxation and fiscal responsibility
- What Jesus had to say about the government and what the government then had to say about Capital Punishment
- Jesus and Health Care
- Jesus’ view of Veterans and the Military
- Jesus’ own view of the Family
Here are a few of the highlights: (You may want to watch the video so you don’t miss anything.)
It seems to me that once we have Jesus agreeing to everything that we think – we’ve probably got it wrong!
The Gospel should be a CHALLENGE.
As a First Century Galilean, Jesus didn’t get to vote and the “elected” whom he cared about were his fellow Jews who were “elected” to love God and to love neighbor.
Could Jesus get elected in the United States of America today? Not a chance! While the audience howled at the twenty crisp reasons why, they also saw Jesus’ life in a new way.
Looking at Jesus’ comments on money and taxes led to a completely unexpected and profound grasp of the call to truly and whole-heartedly grapple with the issues of how to care for those of our neighbors who comprise the poor. That’s what loving our neighbor means.
Again and again we looked at political issues, issues of how we treat one another, with fresh eyes. Amid plentiful laughter, came the flashes of insight and the challenging stark confrontation of what Jesus asked of those who would follow him.
Her stories of working with death-row prisoners brought a human dimension to the discussion of capital punishment – as did her point that Jesus died in a government-sanctioned execution.
Jesus insisted on health care. We all know that because he spends most of the Gospel healing people: men and women, adults and children, slaves and free, Jews and pagans, locals and foreigners. He heals people regardless of income, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, or class. He doesn’t ask them how they came to be sick. He doesn’t blame them for their conditions. He appears to believe that everyone deserves health care because that’s part of loving one’s neighbor.
AJ gave a transformative glimpse of what “The Parable of The Good Samaritan” would have meant to those who heard it at the time –with its gut-wrenching twist of the hero being an abhorred, avowed terrorist. The jarring upending of our perspective allows us suddenly to experience this parable as a story intended to jolt us awake instead of comfort us in our sleep. This ripple of awakenings throughout her presentation makes this video well worth your viewing.
She concluded with the following caution.
We remember that the ultimate goal of all of this is Love of God and love of neighbors and when we do this we remember as well that people of very good will and strong religious faith may have completely different views than us and we cannot demonize the people on the other side of the table.
We may not vote by the same party line, we might not have the same solutions, but we cannot afford to demonize because that means that we have denied the Image of God in the face of our neighbor.
If you haven’t already done so, enjoy the video for yourself and then share it. It will open your eyes and your heart as well.