The teachings of Jesus are often filtered through theological, political, and cultural interpretations that give credence to positions taken by powerful or articulate leaders. Such leaders now and throughout the centuries have spun their own interpretations and deemed them to be the will of God, therefore compatible with Christian theology.
Politicians are often the most adept at spinning so-called Christian values that Jesus would not recognize, much less support. Yet the certainty and absoluteness of their proclamations, reinforced through dramatic Bible thumping and fearmongering, enflames those easily impassioned by such fervent declarations.
There are hundreds of examples of how leaders have spun Christianity to support war, ethnic genocide, slavery, economic privilege, domination of the weak, and even the virtuosity of their own questionable lifestyles. Everything Jesus opposed and even considered evil.
One particularly egregious example of Christian teachings turned upside down supports the wishes of a certain class of human being. It is in the realm of gender privilege. Something originally institutionalized by Christian churches centuries ago and emblazoned on the doctrines of the era. Perpetuated even now.
But not something Jesus advocated.
Exceptionality of any kind was never part of Christ’s teachings. To Jesus everybody is acceptable as someone to be loved and nurtured, even those declared to be sinners. All are equal in his eyes. That is the heritage Jesus left us.
Yet it seems necessary to use Avant Garde thinking to bring it back into focus. To offer what some might consider outrageous suggestions to reclaim and encapsulate the essence of what we say we believe. To be mavericks unafraid of theological frauds who use Christ as a symbol while twisting his message in ways he never meant. Some examples:
- Enslaving certain classes of “inferior” people is okay if they can then be taught better ways of “Christian” living.
- Obliterating certain cultures through violence is okay if they reject Christ or his teachings.
- Colonizing regions not considered Christian for the purpose of imposing correct belief systems.
- Imposing through political maneuvering or violence “right” ways of thinking on values wrongly interpreted as Christian or Scriptural.
- Equating “Americanism” with Christian values only held by certain economic or social classes.
- Rejecting the immigration of people based on cultural, economic, or religious beliefs not associated with certain interpretations of Christianity.
The Christian Maverick Defined
Two words used in the title of this essay may seem alien to us today. The first is wherefore, which originated in Shakespeare’s time and means something like what is? The other word is maverick, which originated in the American west as being unbranded cattle still members of a herd.
So what is a Christian maverick? A person who believes in the teachings of Jesus and tries to abide by them when articulate leaders of nations, churches, and other institutions reshape and obfuscate their meaning and intent. Try to pair them with their own cultural biases and personal predilections through what they say and actions they take.
I first became a Christian maverick as an army officer. Something called cognitive dissonance hit me hard while exercising my patriotic duty while training myself and others to use 50-ton tanks to kill or otherwise destroy the enemy. During the 1961 to 1963 era in which our nation was seriously threatened by the Soviet Union and World War III seemed imminent. I excelled in tank weaponry and tactics and was ready to engage soldiers from the Soviet Block as soon as the “balloon went up.”
But it never did.
Later, as company commander of a National Guard unit, my intense feelings of patriotism morphed into an unexplainable kind of ennui. It made me no less intense in my support of truly American values, something that is still with me. Nor was I any less committed to risking my life to sustain and perpetuate those values.
But my enthusiasm for being a fundamental part of an American peace-keeping force and strong military waned, even while recognizing its necessity to strongly oppose people and nations with evil intent. In that context I greatly admire military leaders like Colin Powell and politicians like Jimmy Carter who worked hard to find peaceful yet uncompromising ways to attain peaceful solutions and avoid military confrontation.
I had already chosen education as my career objective and remain a fervent believer in the importance of a quality liberal education for all Americans. The word liberal is not meant to be a political descriptor, but a way of growth that features deep thought and a constant seeking of new knowledge and understandings. To be a thoughtful and intellectually responsive human being who is in constant cognitive motion, not someone who seeks simple answers to complex questions. To complex human circumstances.
My late wife Barbara helped me expand that point-of-view even further during our months of dating in 1962. A time when I was still in the regular army. Like other college seniors she enjoyed dancing and socializing with her fellow students. Unlike most of her female associates, she befriended those from other races, economic levels, and men with gender identity issues. While the army had already embraced racial diversity, it was definitely not acceptant of anyone with homosexual tendencies.
Nor was I.
But listening to Barbara talk about the extreme loneliness and despair of friends who were wired differently psychologically and physically, made me revise my thinking. While understanding was difficult for me, I comprehended the need to be sensitive in ways rejected before. The way Jesus was sensitive to human frailties and refused to punish people identified by society and its officials as sinners.
In our 57 years of marriage, Barbara was always an advocate for the downtrodden and disdained. She was an advocate for women in leadership roles when many of her local female friends criticized her for not accepting the role of subservient Christian wife. She was clearly a Christian maverick. A Christlike maverick. And she suffered emotionally because of it.
I am now 84, remarried to another woman with strong Christlike convictions and member of a small church congregation that believes in following Christ’s example. It is not an easy road for that church. Surrounded by other churches that mean well and do good work. But do not ask so much of their members. Do not ask members to walk on the path Christ took. Instead, they glorify Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of us all, using his principles for living a virtuous life, and stressing the need to obey God’s will for us as enunciated in Scripture.
Sometimes, through interpretations provided by leadership or doctrine, they advocate as absolute certain social and political positions that can in some ways align with biblical passages or admonitions.
But not necessarily with the teachings of Jesus. Who taught us to love one another unconditionally and think deeply about what we advocate. Not to superficially support simplistic ideas or actions that may sound like the moral and Christian thing to do. But might cause harm or even disaster.
Jesus was the epitome of a maverick. He broke rules established by authorities on a regular basis. Even the rules of religious scholars and leaders associated with the most respected doctrines of the day. He most certainly broke the rules of governmental leaders.
He was a maverick serving his Father in heaven. And serving all of humanity through God-given common sense and well-thought-out behaviors. A model for us who follow his teachings and admonitions, and continually pray for guidance and insight.
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