By James A. Haught
Jesus sided with underdogs.Â He championed little people, not the privileged and powerful.Â â€œBlessed are the poorâ€ was one of his maxims.Â He told a noble: â€œSell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor.â€
Christâ€™s teachings were virtually a prescription for the compassionate â€œsafety netâ€ upholding people and families in modern democracies.
â€œFor I was hungered, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me.Â I was in prison, and ye came unto meâ€¦. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.â€
He also said: â€œWhen thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee.â€
His parable of the Good Samaritan spotlighted the nobility of caring for those who suffer misfortune.
Jesus didnâ€™t support harsh punishments.Â When the law demanded stoning of an adultress, he famously said: â€œHe that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.â€
Jesus advocated separation of church and state. â€œRender therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesarâ€™s, and unto God the things which be God’s.â€
Jesus wasnâ€™t a militarist.Â â€œBlessed are the peacemakersâ€ was another of his maxims.
Clearly, Jesus espoused values generally aligned with the modern political left and peace movement.Â Sometimes, this facet of religion is called the â€œsocial gospel.â€
So itâ€™s strange that Americaâ€™s white evangelicals and fundamentalists are the bedrock of the Republican Party — a party that favors the rich, undercuts the safety net, backs militarism and demands harsher justice and the death penalty.Â Oddly, these conservative believers contradict the values of Jesus.
When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he signed execution warrants for a record-breaking 135 inmates, including 11 who were juveniles at the time of the crimes.Â Many cases involved questionable evidence.Â Bush was renowned as a born-again believer and declared on national television that his favorite philosopher was Jesus.Â The contrast between the two sets off clanging bells of cognitive dissonance.
Meanwhile, secular Americans who donâ€™t attend church have become the largest group in the base of the Democratic Party, which supports the safety net for average folks.Â How odd that often churchless people are closer to the social principles of Jesus than many churchgoers are.
New Pope Francis has gained immense worldwide popularity because he pushes the humane liberal ideas of Jesus, not the sexual taboos and hidebound Puritanism that dominated his church in the past.
â€œInequality is the root of social evil,â€ Francis declares. All poor families deserve â€œland, lodging, labor,â€ he preaches. He says capitalism rests on â€œunfettered pursuit of moneyâ€ and discards â€œunproductive peopleâ€ like the poor, elderly and less-educated.
The prelate rattles conservatives.Â Republican figure Pat Buchanan accused him of preaching â€œsocialist sermons.â€
But the pope is merely voicing the values of Jesus.Â He is underscoring what should be obvious to every thinking person: that Jesus was a liberal.Î¦
James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginiaâ€™s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.