|Since people who believe they’re self-made usually worship their creator, or themselves, some theologians think President Donald Trump’s commencement speech before Liberty University’s soon-to-be graduates did little to advance the historical message and life of Jesus of Nazareth. Speaking in a packed stadium resembling the Roman Empire’s Coliseum, they also questioned if Americanized Christianity even resembles the “Jesus” before Christianity, let alone the Jesus Movement before it was Romanized.
To be sure, the president’s message barely resembled a politically, economically, and socially conscious Jewish revolutionary who walked across the Galilean countryside to gather followers for a messianic movement with the goal of establishing a nationally transcendent, egalitarian, and just society. What’s more, the Trump Administration’s recent actions appears more like the merciless, militant empire that arrested and tried and then crucified the Jewish peasant for crimes of sedition than the Jewish peasant himself.
One Nation Under or Above God
Telling graduates that “In America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,” and citing the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance,” the president also said “the country was founded based on faith in God.” But the God Jesus had in mind seems far removed from the central figure in America’s national drama. Surely, its hard to reconcile his God with genocide against Native Americans, enslaving millions of blacks, Cold War massacres like Guatemala and Vietnam, or the Global War on Terror.
And though Liberty University has changed since Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. and his Moral Majority, some worry many goals remain. Along with the Sept. 11 attacks possibly being the result of God’s judgment against pagans, abortionists, and feminists, there are those who believe the Prophet Muhammad was a war-like individual who founded a violent religion. They fear too an Islamic global conspiracy that wants to dominate the world and establish a caliphate. As a result, a pro war and military establishment is clearly evident.
Year of Jubilee or Years of Economic Misery
Neither would the Jewish peasant necessarily be a “steward of great institutions” in order to “rebuild the nation.” Indeed, he was one of many itinerant preachers who denounced the exploitation of peasants through corporate debt and imperial taxation, predicting the collapse of any nation or empire that did the same. Consequently, his first sermon (Luke 4) promised the Jubilee “Year of our Lord,” a restoration of economic justice and balance by annulling the backlog of debts and restoring land and liberty to the peasant citizenry.
Mostly consisting of white evangelical conservatives and religious fundamentalists, Liberty University meanwhile continues to denounce labor unions and most of the economic disadvantaged, claiming they just want a “hand out.” In fact, the common theme is that when people “get right with God” they not only become better workers but make more money. As for the burdensome college debt that many graduates have to carry at ridiculous interest rates, it’s simply a test of and religious faith and good stewardship.
What One Learns Leads to How One Acts
The historical Jesus as well reminded nationalists, corporatists, and militarists about an apocalyptic judgment based on feeding the hungry, providing clean water for the thirsty, inviting strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick in prison. Through prophetic condemnations, organizing communities, mass demonstrations, nonviolent direct action campaigns, and political sabotage, he moreover confronted institutions that hanged humanity from iron crosses of intolerance, racism, militarism, and corporatism.
Just as the Moral Majority questioned the sincerity of the nonviolent intentions of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including economic sanctions against Africa’s apartheid state, Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. has encouraged many of the 15,000 (and 100,000 online) students to denounce the recent social unrests by blacks that were often caused by institutionalized racism, police brutality, or a lack of economic opportunities. He moreover takes issue with granting equal rights to the LGBT Community.
Making a Difference Depends On Which Jesus One Follows
Whether or not Jesus would agree with the president telling graduates that they should “relish the opportunity to be an outsider” like himself, Jesus was no multi-billionaire. Instead, he was a common worker who boldly dreamed of dismantling the heartlessness and arrogance of a vast governmental bureaucracy that protected those who built cities on the back of the poor or conquered empires. In view of the arc of history, “changing the world and making a real lasting difference” among Jesus’ followers is dubious at best too.
On the contrary, many graduates of Liberty University hope to make a difference and change the world by dismantling the public school system, which they believe is a breeding ground for atheism, secularism, humanism, lawlessness, and social welfare. In addition to privatizing public and even higher education in order to receive federal funding, many alumni now sit in state legislatures or on state education boards where they’ve mandated Biblical Studies and an anti-science, anti-Climate Change curriculum.
Moral Majority Crucified Jesus but Intervened for Trump
The Jesus before Christianity would moreover find it odd that graduates should “reach for their dreams and that nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic.” Since Jesus was a critic himself, always concerned with how an empire determined the conditions of life, he rejected such superficial ideas. He instead questioned a regime’s superiority and its extension of power that terrorized people into submission or imprisoned them. It was in fact his prophetic criticism of the status quo and radical lifestyle that cost him his own.
Consequently, Jesus would probably also differ with President Trump’s joke about how divine intervention had brought him back to speak at the school which contributed to his surprise victory. For his prophetic vision and seditious utterances, Jesus was a national security threat and civil order risk. In the end, his divine intervention not only consisted of a trial and state execution a Roman cross, but a tortuous death at the hands of the religious, corporatist, political, military, and imperial moral majority.
History Prevents People from Seeing the Jesus They Want to See
Since most tend to see the Jesus they want to see, theologians warn that understanding Jesus’ historical context is vital. Consequently, the Jesus before Christianity will help the faithful to resist the oppressors’ imposed realities-and interpretations. It will also guard against the political/religious elites’ propagation of reality and the justification of their domination as a divine ordering of the world. A real conscientization of Jesus’ transformative life and empowerment is indeed always better than self-imposed silence.
Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for www.worldnews.com.