“Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not…”
This phrase is one of the key insights I’ve ever learned from Dr. John Dominic Crossan. And, honestly, one of the key insights I’ve ever learned in life. Crossan suggests that when the early Christian Church popularized the phrase “Jesus is Lord,” there was an understood second-clause: “Ceasar is not.”
Crossan deftly reminds his readers how the Romans worshipped their Emperors like gods. In fact, he cites authorities which actually call Ceasar “lord.”
It was likely too dangerous for many in the Roman Empire to boldly assert “Ceasar is not.” In many places (at least through the 400s) they faced persecution at the hands of the Romans. The famous legend about how early Christians used to draw a fish symbol in the sand is an example of this.
And so, when the early Christians said “Jesus is Lord,” there was an expressly POLITICAL dimension to that statement. It was a rejection of the Powers That Be. It was a rejection of the Roman Empire and all its trappings. Further, it was a rejection of religion that collaborates with Empire to suppress and harm people.
Jesus speaks some harsh words in the Gospel. But we miss something crucial if we forget that his HARSHEST words are aimed at these very collaborators. Those leaders happened to be Jewish, because Jesus was Jewish. (Not all Jewish people, or leaders, were collaborators. Most, were also victims of the Roman Empire too..)
These collaborators were not “evil” because they were Jewish.
But to the extent that they collaborated with Empire, Jesus condemns them in the Gospels.
And he encourages HIS followers to “Love your enemies….” and “Pray for those who persecute you…”
As I have said and written many times, the closest thing we have in our society to the Roman Empire is the American Empire.
America is a great and vast Imperial Power. America —and all the trappings of both its government and civil religion— are THE Powers That Be in our culture today.
President Trump is the head of those Powers That Be, by right of being the American President. So was Barack Obama. And, lest you think I’m about to be hypocritical…there’s not “but” that comes next.
America’s President is the head of the “Powers That Be” whether they are an orange-haired blowhard, and African-American…and even, God willing, one day a woman.
This is a fact I stated repeatedly to my mostly-liberal congregation, back during the Obama presidency. They didn’t always like it when I said it to them. It didn’t make it any less true.
I am a Christian. I am a Liberal. I tend to support the Democratic Party. All these things are well known.
But hopefully those who know me know that I’ve been willing to stand up to Democrats when needed. The most famous example was being arrested outside the White House during the Obama years….protesting his lack of action to protect “Dreamer” families. When we were arrested in Washington, I was protesting OBAMA…not the Republican Congress.
I try to do the same thing in more local settings too….using the ability and moments that God gives me to speak to local officials….sometimes privately…to encourage them to behave kindly and justly. (I have done that even this week…)
I say none of this to try and get a pack on the back from any of you. I say it to hopefully indicate what I believe to be true: Christian leaders….Christian followers…Christians of all sorts….are called first and foremost to remember that “Jesus Is Lord….and Caesar is not.”
This gets me, as you might imagine, to yesterday’s Prayer Breakfast.
I could slam the President’s remarks here. But that’s too easy. That’s fish in a barrel.
Did anybody REALLY expect Donald Trump to be repentant yesterday?
When confronted with the actual words of Jesus —telling us *all* of us to “love and pray for your enemies,” did you REALLY expect him to break down in tears and say…
“Oh…I’m sorry…I was wrong…” ??
Of course not. Donald Trump doesn’t know and understand enough about the Christian religion to do that.
(“Two Corinthians,” anyone?)
What disturbs ME….to my core….is the laughter of the collaborating evangelical Christian leaders in the room.
I don’t know if you caught that moment.
When Donald Trump, got up to speak —clearly responding directly to Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies” and “pray for your those who persecute you” — he said…
“I don’t know about that…”
And the room LAUGHED.
Allegedly Christian LEADERS laughed.
Ministers who serve allegedly evangelical congregations around the nation….laughed.
Friends, there is no kind or vague way to say this: These leaders are collaborators with Empire. They are the closest thing we have to the the collaborating religious leadership of Jesus’ day.
And they don’t even see it.
Or, maybe they do and, worse, they don’t even care.
Evangelical Christianity —a branch of our faith I have always observed at as an outsider— has been totally taken over by these collaborators.
And almost nobody in Evangelical circles is standing up to them.
Well, a few do.
The editor of Christianity Today did so in December. And he was DESTROYED by the Evangelical Powers That Be.
I will say this….To all of you out there who are not Christian, “I am sorry.”
I will apologize for these leaders, even as I don’t understand them either. Because their collaboration stains us all.
For some reason, they can’t see how deeply *they* need to apologize and repent. (I’ll leave it to other evangelicals to explain more why they can’t see it…but my guess, “power.”)
I’ll also say: their collaboration with the Trump Administration does *not* represent all Christians….nor do I tend to think it represents most Evangelicals.
I belive it’s this very collabortion that is a primary reason so many people are “done” with Christianity. This horrid stain of their words and actions soils all of us who dare call ourselves “Christian.”
So, I’m sorry, anyway, even if I can’t speak for them.
And, like Jesus did once, as he looked over the city of Jerusalem, I believe God WEEPS at all of this.
God weeps at how corrupted and complicit a religion that operates in his name has become.
True Christianity is always willing to hold itself to account.
True Christianity takes seriously that most *challenging* scripture of all: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
True Christianity understands that religion itself can always be co-opted by Power, and therefore seeks to *advise* power, but never *become* power.
True Christianity loves neighbor as self, and seeks to do justice, love kindness, and walk HUMBLY with God….and with ALL God’s children.
What I heard in that laughter yesterday?
That is, in no way, true Christianity.
Therefore I say today…and I invite Christians of all branches of our faith to say with me:
“Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not.”