“Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t believe in God, how in the world (are) we going to let Bernie — I mean, really? Bernie’s got to get saved, Bernie’s got to meet Jesus. He’s got to have a coming to Jesus meeting.” –Pastor Mark Burns at a Donald Trump rally
Most of us who went to a real seminary–unlike Pastor Burns, who went to the pay-for-the-paper Andersonville Theological Seminary to earn a “Master of Ministry” degree, whatever the hell that is–learned very quickly that there are certain things we should never do. Telling a Jew that she or she needs Jesus is at the very top of the list. Seriously. There are few things that are more historically loaded or fraught with pain than Christians forcing Jesus on the original sons and daughters of Abraham. For details, read James Carroll’s amazing book, Constantine’s Sword, or, I dunno, watch five minutes of any documentary on the Shoah. Es no bueno.
But the problem goes deeper than ancestral memory. It is not a matter of politeness. Christians that try to force the Jesus issue forget that Paul told us Judaism is just fine on its own, the problem is our lack of discipline (see Galatians); Christianity is largely for those of us who cannot live the 613 commandments set forth in the Torah. We forget that the first revelation of God was to the Jewish people, and while we don’t need to act like the younger sibling–God loves us all equally, thank you–we would do damn well to remember from whence we came. No Judaism, no Jesus. No Jesus, no Christianity. No Christianity, no Islam. It all is a package deal. We’re not enemies. We’re not competing. Christianity does not have a stranglehold on the truth, and we most certainly don’t have God’s trademark. There is more out there than us.
Gone are the days in which we need to constantly talk about Jesus because the gospel needs to be spread around the globe. Do we seriously think there are people out there who have not heard of Jesus? There are underground churches in North Korea. We’re not dealing with a world bereft of Jesus. The message is out there. So that means that our charge is different. It means that we have to actually start living the principles we espouse and stop shouting through megaphones that people are going to hell.
Pastor Burns represents everything I cannot stand about the popular face of my faith tradition. He has no real education. His “Bible Studies” are laughably simple and self-serving, devoid of any real understanding of the Scriptures. His homepage has a “Donate” button as large as my head, and his main purpose seems to be making money. The image of a wealthy Christian pastor screeching that a culturally Jewish public servant like Bernie Sanders needs Jesus is part of the reason that people go running away from religion. If a good, decent, giving, compassionate person like Senator Sanders is somehow deficient, then I fear for the state of my own soul.
So, pastors. Let’s stop this stuff. Now. Let’s think before we speak, and if we are really concerned that a person needs Jesus, don’t we think that God is in a better place to make that happen than are we? Let’s just stick with the whole “loving each other” thing and leave the other stuff to God.