Why Does Jesus Have to Be Such a Lousy Role Model?

By Derek Penwell

WWJD? If you read the Gospels, apparently not much that would please the Family Research Council.

Given the pressing social concerns about the “war on Christmas” and the first amendment travesty visited upon America's evangelical wedding cake industry, Jesus’ regard for the poor and oppressed seems laughably myopic.

I mean, if you believe that you’ve been put on this earth to skulk about pointing out everyone else’s sins, Jesus doesn’t set a very good example. Oh sure, he cracks on the self-righteous and the hypocrites, but usually because he feels a moral responsibility to shine a light on the self-satisfied, those who seem way too pleased that they’re “not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like [the] tax-collector” (Luke 18:11).

Interesting that Jesus not only doesn’t feel the need to scour the countryside in search of people to condemn—for fear that surely someone’s ruining the fabric of “traditional society”—but, ironically, he seems to find those who are most publicly religious (that is, the folks who do scour the countryside in search of people to condemn) the folks most in need of a good verbal smack down.[1]

So, if you believe your Christian mission centers on identifying sinners to steer clear of, Jesus is a really crappy role model. If you think that the demands of Christian purity require you to shine a bright light on the those people the church ought to be busy hanging scarlet letters on, then Jesus is bound to be a disappointment to you.

At this point, someone will surely object, “But we’re just calling attention to sinful behavior. We don’t hate the sinners, just the sin. What we’re doing is actually the loving thing to do. We love them; but we have a responsibility to make sure that they change.”

But let’s just be honest—when some group utters “love the sinner/hate the sin,” everybody knows they’re only talking about LGBTQ people. (Frankly, I don’t think being LGBTQ is a sin, and I don’t like the phrase. But if you’re going to wield it against someone you don’t approve of, at least try to be consistent.)

Franklin Graham wouldn’t advocate keeping rich people, for example, from full participation in the life and ministry of the church—in anticipation that they’ll, you know, renounce that which prevents their tricked-out camels from fitting through the eye of the needle.

I’m pretty sure Tony Perkins isn’t launching any campaigns meant to publicize the socially corrosive sin of anger evinced by road-ragers who terrorize rush hour traffic, proudly displaying their “Jesus” fish and their “God is my co-pilot” bumper stickers.

Jerry Falwell Jr. isn't leading the charge against hypocrisy, calling out the white-washed sepulcher lobby who claim to follow Jesus, but who still embrace violence, selfishness, and deceit in their political leaders.

The truth of it is, we’re extremely parochial about the “Biblical” sins by which we’re determined to be aggrieved.

My suspicion is that “love the sinner/hate the sin” language operates practically as a convenient mechanism by which one can appear morally superior to those whose sins most offend one’s particular sensibilities—all for the purposes of public consumption.

But the specificity with which we apply “love the sinner/hate the sin” bothers me. I guess my question would be: Have you actually talked to someone who’s been “loved” to death by all this concern for the particular sin of being LGBTQ? Young people are killing themselves from this kind of “love.”

Yeah, Jesus is a lousy example if what you care about are the sins that vex much of popular Christianity. In fact, not only didn’t Jesus make it his mission to fish about for people to be offended by, he sought out the people that most of the rest of polite society saw as offensive, and then proceeded to go to the bar with them.[2]

So, Jesus is exactly the wrong guy to appeal to as the inspiration for a 21st century version of the personal morality police.

And it’s kind of sad, really. For a large segment of Christianity, Jesus’ lack of moralistic rigor cannot but appear embarrassing.

On the other hand, if you want to pattern your life after a person who befriended the folks who always seem to get picked last in the game of life, Jesus works perfectly as a role model.

  1. See, for example, Matthew 23—a chapter dedicated to calling out religious pretension.  ↩
  2. See Matthew 11:19.  ↩

Giving Thanks for Public Education

By J.C. Mitchell


So at the table sits my wife, my son’s teacher, principal, school psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, the 2nd grade general education teacher, a district representative, the physical education teacher (with a passion for adaptive sport) and his private ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapist.  We all sit on the small seats the children use so that we can keep our child in more familiar surroundings while we discuss his education.  There is a lot of data and writing; however, it is the stories that seem to say the most and help us to create solutions.  The team atmosphere is a must and we are lucky to have such a good team for our child.  I am all too aware that is not always the case, but I share this gathering around a school table as one of the things I am most thankful for, education for ALL.

Some may see professionals and complain about the salaries of these educated and overworked people who are essential to much of our economy.  I am sure that many professional, like us clergy, are in debt from our education, debt that will be sold by banks to make money..  Nonetheless, I am happy that there are still people who uphold education, and specifically education for all children.

In the state I live in we had people who wrote this as part of the constitution:

"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."  Article IX, Section 1   Washington State Constitution

Is that not wonderful?  Read it again, and notice these words: paramount, ample, education, all.

It was brought to the attention of the State Supreme Court of Washington via a lawsuit by McCleary.  And the McCleary ruling made it quite clear the state was not fulfilling the state’s own constitution.  That has led to significant problems, because while everyone in both caucuses like children, they can’t find enough revenue to amply fund education for all. 

So I look at where my taxes have gone and I realize not enough went to education, I am even more thankful for all those passionate educators gathered around that table, the para-educators that fulfill the plans throughout the school day, the bus drivers and aids, all of whom care for my son.

I could be bitter about the struggle for the right resources for my son, for children of color, for the poor, for those with other disabilities.  I could be bitter the answer is too often in the future and never funded, or I can get involved in my local, state, and federal politics and include Thanksgiving in our economy over the mindset named for the day after.


I encourage clergy and other church leaders to get involved in education, especially access for all, because this is a justice issue. For more information about the McCleary decision in Washington, click here. Whatever state you live in, as you give thanks this week, give thanks for public education, and get involved or we may soon see turkeys running this country because we forgot Thanksgiving.  


An Open Letter to Jesus, Apologizing for This RFRA Mess

By Derek Penwell

Dear Jesus,

I feel like I should apologize. I mean, for all the bad press you’ve been getting lately because of us. It must drive you nuts.

We’re a fallible lot, your followers. We make mistakes. We misunderstand. We hurt one another. That’s true across the board. All of us.

But apart from the garden variety meanness in which all your followers engage, now you have to deal with a bunch of us enacting legislation that will allow us not just to behave like our ordinary screwed up selves when we hurt other people, but to commit that spitefulness in your name.

No. I’m not kidding. Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) are springing up all over the place. These religious refusal ordinances allow people to ignore laws that they say are in conflict with their personal religious beliefs. The sponsors of these acts wink as they argue that this groundswell of religious legislation isn’t specifically targeting LGBTQ people. That same gender marriage is experiencing its own groundswell of support (both culturally and legislatively) is apparently only a coincidence. But everybody knows it’s about the gays. (It seems that the thought of baking LGBTQ people cakes and renting them tuxedos is more than any pious person ought to have to endure.)

“I shouldn’t have to serve anyone I don’t approve of,” is pretty much what it boils down to—which is bad enough. But then they baptize this bigotry, anoint it with oil, and send it out into the world as a herald announcing to everyone that this is what you’re all about, Jesus. So, it’s not just “I don’t approve of you,” but more importantly, “Jesus doesn’t approve of you. And if you don’t like it, too bad. You can just go buy your cake of abomination and lies from some other reprobate who doesn’t love Jesus as much as I do.”

So, I’m apologizing that some of my brothers and sisters have seen fit to act like toddlers who pout when they don’t get their way, sharing their marbles only with pre-approved playmates. Again, that kind of reaction is irritating enough. But what’s even more exasperating is the fairly common assumption that all your followers are simply waiting around trying to figure out against whom it is now permissible to discriminate.

Remember that church where the young teenage girl got pregnant? Then when she decided to keep the baby, some of us suggested that the church should throw her a baby shower, let her know that we loved her and were excited to welcome her child into our community? But there were a couple of people who grumbled, “If this church throws a party for her, it will be like I’m personally endorsing her pregnancy?” Remember that?

And then another young woman stood up and said, “Look, this isn’t about you and your endorsement. This is about a young woman who’s getting ready to face the most difficult time in her life. And we just want her to know that she doesn’t have to face it alone. She’s a follower of Jesus too. In fact, if I recall, Jesus always seemed to go out of his way to support those questionable folks all the religious people were busy not approving of.” You remember that, right?

We’re bad at this stuff sometimes, Jesus. Too often we privilege purity over faithfulness—which seems odd, since we claim to follow the guy who told the story about the Good Samaritan. Unfortunately, it seems that too many of us make a habit of passing by on the other side of the road in the name of not dirtying our consciences.

Unfortunately, we claim to invite everyone to your table, but we hang a big sign with asterisks on the front of that table, listing the kinds of people we reserve the right not to serve.

Unfortunately, too many of us are more concerned with being right than in getting it right.

And, Jesus, we’re hurting people in the process. Humiliating people. Telling folks that they’re somehow defective, somehow unloveable.

So, I apologize for those who call themselves by your name, but who commit acts of cruelty while brandishing that name like a weapon. Forgive us (myself included) when we act less lovingly than you expect. Grant us the courage to stand with those who, too often, find themselves standing alone.

Challenge us to be better than we are, to love more than we can imagine, and to seek a justice more expansive and inclusive than our wounded hearts can dream.



(A special shout out to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who have vowed not to hold its General Assembly in Indiana in 2017, because it's a state that just passed a version of RFRA!)

Letting go of the soapbox

It all started last week when I was coming out of the supermarket parking lot, onto a street with road construction.  The light turned yellow and another oncoming car was approaching. My first instinct was to gun it and make my left turn.  My second instinct was to slow down and allow the other car through, well, because it’s Christmas.

Actually, it’s Advent. But that’s not the point I’m getting at right now.

We often feel a little more charitable this time of year.  We will give out our spare change, hold the door for others, etc. all in the spirit of the season.  For those of us in clergy/leadership positions, we will speak about hope, peace, joy and love. We will ask our congregants to model this in their daily lives.

But we also will use these seasons to preach out.  We will speak out about commercialization, consumerism, the “real” meaning of Christmas, and the inclusion of other holidays.  We will speak out for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the marginalized, the homeless.

All of these are good things, but they can quickly turn into soapboxes, and often soapboxes=negative campaigning.

After coming through the election season we just faced, I realized I have had it up to here with negativity.  I feel it not only in the emotions of anger, bitterness and frustration, but I feel it in my very bones and muscles. Negativity has worn me out.

I’m tired of standing on the soapbox preaching against things.  Instead, as I approach the halfway point in Advent, I’d like to turn to encouragement, trust, hope, love, peace and joy—all those things that are traditionally part of the Advent season, all those things we often preach but don’t even practice in our preaching.  Perhaps we get a little too John the Baptist from the pulpit at this time of year instead of being more like Mary and Elizabeth.  Not to create a masculine/feminine dichotomy, but rather, singing and praising the wonders of God rather than calling those who aren’t like me “You brood of vipers” is a little more appealing, and a little more enjoyable (although I do love me some good John the Baptist moments) after this last election cycle.

So as we continue to prepare for Christmas, maybe this year, let’s rant less about consumerism and say more about how to celebrate the coming of Christ into our lives in a new way that doesn’t require consumption.  Let’s find ways of encouraging and building up one another rather than ranting soapbox-style about everything we perceive as Not From Christ.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place to get angry. Our Savior didn’t turn the tables over for nothing. John the Baptist had a good reason to get angry.  But we’ve had four years of anger and bitterness in this last election cycle, and the anger and bitterness is still spilling over into the political discourse right now over the fiscal cliff.  Maybe it’s just time to try a different approach, at least for a while, to take a breather.  For we remember the same Jesus who before the cross said “Woe unto thee,” and after the cross said, “Peace be with you.”  There is a time and season for righteous anger.  There is also a time and season for encouragement and joy in what God has done and is doing.  Maybe it’s time to let go of our soapboxes, at least for a while, and give in to hope, peace, joy and love.


By Rev. Mindi

It’s over. It’s over.

Of course it’s not totally over, but it’s over enough for now.

I was sick of the commercials, sick of the rhetoric, sick of the Facebook status updates.  But yet I stayed up and watched the returns, the projections, the predictions and the announcements. Because this election was incredibly pivotal.

Equal marriage has prevailed, though civil rights should never have been on the ballot to begin with.  But the people have affirmed that marriage should be for all committed couples.  (note: I'm writing this before Minnesota and Washington's returns are in, but hearing that Maine and Maryland have spoken, I'm feeling good about the prospects). Surprisingly, marijuana use was approved of even more than equal marriage in some states—which leads me to believe that this is a lot less about decriminalization for law enforcement’s sake and more that marijuana use has gained greater acceptance.  I still haven’t wrapped my mind around the margins in the votes on marijuana use compared to equal marriage in my mind.  

And yes, our president was re-elected. And the discussion of the electoral college may come up all over again, as it did twelve years ago, but somehow I imagine the fact that Gore won the popular vote will be lost in the discussion.

So where do we go from here, post-electionacalypse?

Where do we go from here on the struggle for equal marriage?  How do we overturn constitutional amendments in other states and get legislation passed at the national level to guarantee the rights of all couples to legal marriage?  How do we take up the call for justice and move on the momentum?

Where do we go from here in the separation of church and state?  We know the violent rhetoric from the right that has become infused with religious jargon will intensify.  How do we continue to speak out for religious freedom?  And how do we claim our space and voice as Christians when others have held such a tight grasp on Jesus and the Bible?  

And finally, where do we go in giving voice to the voiceless?  I think of all the issues that were never addressed in this election: yesterday as people went to the polls, another mass shooting took place.  We have not addressed gun violence and the accessibility of weapons.  We have not spoken up enough about this nor have we demanded that our candidates address it.  While healthcare, mainly “Obamacare” was addressed, there are still so many people who will be without healthcare even after the reforms are put in place.  How do we continue to push for healthcare as a right, and not a privilege for a few?  How do we continue to raise the issue of women’s rights and health as people of faith?  And immigration: how do we continue to work towards equality and justice for all of God's children?

I could go on and on.  I’m glad it’s over, and yet, the work has just begun, Christians. The work has just begun.  

Election Lament

By Douglas C. Sloan

If only the United States of America was a Christian nation.

If only the USA would be a nation that rejects the ethos of the Roman Empire: war, conquest, piety, peace.

If only the USA would be a nation that rejects, scripturally and theologically, a capricious and wrathful patriarchal God who metes out eternal binary judgments based on an infinitesimal mortal existence.

If only the USA would be a nation that rejects a God who requires human sacrifice instead of righteous living. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not a story of faithfulness and not to be admired or respected. Instead, it is a lesson of how God does not want to be worshipped – that a human sacrifice to God for any reason by anyone is an eternally repulsive abomination.

If only the USA would be a nation that worships a God of no nationality and not of any religion. Worship a universally accessible, personal and persistent God of unrestrained love and unconditional grace – a God whose will, desire, and passion is that we have long healthy lives.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who do not see each other as sinners and who do search for new ways to see each other as sinners.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who hear the Good News as a divine calling to be part of a global community of justice and compassion.

If only the USA would be a nation where justice is not punishment, vengeance, and death – instead, justice would be about repair, rehabilitation, restoration, and – where possible – reconciliation.

If only the USA would be a nation whose sense of communal compassion would embrace the call of the Torah (best translated as “instruction”) where forgiveness is requested or offered 20 times. The Torah has 9 divine calls for justice to be offered to all people and for justice to be applied fairly – even to immigrants and aliens. In the Torah, 19 times we are told that the poor, the widows and orphans, and even strangers are to be treated justly and compassionately and they are not to be allowed to go hungry or naked. In the Torah, every time, for reasons of health or purity, that someone is removed from the community, there is always a way for them to return to the community and be restored to their place in the community.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who, without conditions or exceptions, would provide compassion that feeds, quenches, clothes, heals, visits, welcomes, opposes war and oppression, and opposes systemic injustice and poverty.

If only the USA would be a nation who sees and holds that the power and authority of the Torah is not in legalistic behavioral restrictions and ritual requirements, not in definitions of sin and cleanliness, and not in prescribed punishments and exclusions. The meaningful weight and central purpose and overarching goal of the Torah and all scripture is in how it points away from tribal justice and through and beyond nationalism and legalism and through and beyond ordinary human conventions and relationships. The Torah and all scripture are a path of resurrection and transformation that leads to all people living as the family of God in the Kingdom of God, living here and now as a godly community of justice and compassion. One of the universal lessons and binding threads that can be gleaned from the Torah and scripture is that we are to constantly strive and look for ways to grow in our understanding and practice and sharing and evoking of the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God. God does not want our understanding to be static or stuck in one place. The Torah and scripture are constantly calling us and urging us to journey forward to a better and enlarging and enriching and more inclusive and more mature understanding of what God wants for us and for this planet. God is always calling us from Exodus to the Promised Land. God is always calling us from Exile to return home. The will and desire of God is that Life, at its best, is to be a journey of moral and spiritual and intellectual growth – and marked with moments of joy, both great and sublime.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who value scientific inquiry and scholarly study and increasing knowledge. If only the USA would be a nation of people who value education as a process that enhances the uniqueness of each student and develops the unique strengths, talents, creativity, and problem-solving skills of each student. If only the USA would be a nation of people who realize that education is not a rigid industrial process that treats each student as an identical widget. If only the USA would be a nation of people who understand that the purpose of education, unlike training, is not to have uniform results or constantly increasing aggregated test scores. If only the USA would be a nation of people who understand that the focus and purpose of education is only the individual student and not any future corporate work force.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who value the political supremacy of individual liberty and individual rights. If only the USA would be a nation who is not swayed by or even pays attention to the shrill voices of fundamentalist extremists who covet the power to define and control how we live our lives.

If only the USA would be a nation of people who hear and embrace and provoke the Good News as a message and a calling for here and now, for how we live together as one family – where, as individuals, we fearlessly live non-violent, non-vengeful lives of inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service to others.

If only the United States of America was a Christian nation.

This election – Tuesday, November 6, 2012 – I will vote.

I know that, like all of us, no candidate is perfect. So, this is how I will choose to cast my vote: I will not vote for any candidate whose values align more with the ethos of the Roman Empire, thus favoring the monetary greed of a few wealthy elite or the power greed of a few fundamentalist extremists. I will vote for candidates whose values align more with my political values of individual liberty and individual rights and my Christian values of justice and compassion.

(Here's a pdf of this article.)

Pondering a Prayer for Politicians

I'm like a lot of people in America right now: I don't think much of politicians. It seems to me that the new batch is even worse than the old ones. And the old ones where bad enough. I don't get the impression that many of them have the sorts of qualities most extolled in scripture. The "fruit of the Spirit" has been far from conspicuous (Gal. 5:22-23).

Sure, there are politicians who are quite public about their faith. They use God-words and speak of their personal devotion to Jesus. They may participate in prayer meetings. Some are big promoters of displays of official ceremonial religion: God in the pledge, God in the national motto, posting the Ten Commandments, orchestrated prayer in school and so forth.  But while they push the appearance of religion in public life, they seem to use this as a substitute for the practical reality of biblical faith, something sorely lacking in the policies they pursue.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think Jesus ever provided a political platform he wanted his disciples to adopt to run the nations of the world. I don't think there can be such a thing as a genuinely Christian nation. The only Christian nation is that Christ-centered nation without geographical borders: the church (1 Peter 2:9). Still I wish those politicians who draw attention to their Christian faith would allow something that looks a bit like Jesus to seep into their stated vision of how things ought to be. It seems to be missing. The very politicians who use the most God-talk seem to be the ones least influenced by the priorities of Jesus or the highest values of the Hebrew scriptures.

I was reflecting on Psalm 72 earlier today and it struck me that this is a prayer politicians ought to ponder and that we ought to ponder as we evaluate politicians. While the prayer is for an ancient king, and Senators, Representatives and the President are not kings, still they have the responsibility to govern. This Psalm points to the qualities that make a leader praise-worthy. We should note both what is included and what is excluded in the text. The prayer asks God to lead the king in ways that will result in "prosperity for the people" (vs. 3) and abundance in food so the people may be satisfied (vs.16). Further, the prayer asks, "In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound" (vs.7).

But what is this leader who is responsible for governing the nation supposed to actually do? The Psalm is very clear in its emphasis. He is to "judge your people with righteousness" but note that a particular class of people are given special attention: "and your poor with justice" (vs. 2). These words are directly linked to the prayer for prosperity. In this same vein, the prayer continues, "May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor" (vs. 4).There is no suggestion that the righteous leader should give similar attention to the interests of the strong or wealthy. This strikes me as a significant omission, not one found in contemporary American political leaders.

The Psalmist can't seem to emphasize enough the importance of the leader's attention to those who are less advantaged: "For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight" (vs.12-14). There is no way to govern "righteously" that neglects this focus. Of the leader who does the sorts of things he names, the Psalmist prays,"May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun" (vs.17). Where do we find leaders of this quality who govern with the emphasis this scripture commends? Do we have any in either major party? They seem to be missing in action. I think we should pray for our nation and pray in particular that leaders with the qualities the Psalmist applauds will step forward.

Craig is minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Coral Springs, Florida, Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship and a brand new Granddad who is willing to show pictures of his amazing Grandson if you want to see a few.

By Craig M. Watts