Flipping the “He Gets Us” Script

Column by Rev. Jim Burklo on 23 February 2023 0 Comments

The people behind HeGetsUs don’t get him.  But that doesn’t prevent us from using their campaign to help folks get who Jesus really was – and making his compassionate personality the welcoming face of our progressive faith communities. 

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Why do so many churches continue judging people? Their sermons so often speak of how progressive they are and profess that certain people are of the wrong - or heaven-forbid -   or non-existent belief, the wrong sexual orientation, or political alliance. Jesus didn't judge; why do many modern churches still preach this way? 


Dear Reader,

Thank you for this question, one often on the minds of liberal and progressive Christians baffled by the harsh judgments meted out by those more conservative.

The rules or laws meted out by parents, courts, religions, workplaces, and institutions, and superior court justices are all human creations. And most of them, I would be wont to argue, are created either for the protection of those affected by them or for the control of those same people. Stoplights keep me from being killed several times a day as I walk or drive in my community and beyond. Local alcohol laws keep me from drinking alcohol in public places – not that I drink. The former is for my safety; the latter is to control me. One feels good the other maybe a little arbitrary.

The interesting thing about the law preventing me from drinking in a public place is that it can be framed in a way that suggests it is about my safety. The streets, free of those who have consumed to the point of drunkenness – those who might become a problem – are safe because of the law. The law puts “a fence around” that possibility – makes it harder to consume to the point of drunkenness – by not allowing drinking at all. And that is what many of our laws do: they put a fence around the real law to keep people from accidently, or intentionally, becoming the real problem. Biblical prohibitions are often fences around other breaches that, at the time, would have been considered catastrophic.

Churches are often organized around what is good and what is bad. It’s in our genes to do so, of course. Religion was about differentiating people from one another when the other was considered dangerous. Now that there are only the rare occasions – related to cults or fundamentalist iterations of religions (think Iran, just now) – that religious adherence would mean the other was a danger to us, differentiation becomes difficult because there is no need for it. But religious institutions don’t want to melt into the melting pot; they only thrive on being different and that often means having an “evil other” to point at. Ergo, long lists of prohibitions, some based in interpretations of holy scriptures, other based only in prejudice, all maintaining privilege in a complex society.

Jesus judged plenty, by the way. We don’t hear much about that judgment in contemporary liberal churches because it is distasteful to us. But a good study would reveal that we play our own games with what we choose to say Jesus  did and was and for our own purposes, as well. In the religious world, do’s and don’ts will always be a part of the ongoing story as they have always been part of religious history.

~ Rev. Gretta Vosper




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