I’m getting a little tired of conservatives calling America a “Christian” nation. There is nothing Christian about it. Our nation’s government was not founded by Christians, nor was it founded upon Christian principles. And although the organized church has long held hands with the government, there is precious little in the practice of the organized Christian church that resembles the teachings of Jesus.
Thomas Jefferson said in his autobiography concerning the preamble of the constitution, “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo [sic] and Infidel of every denomination.” Moreover, in a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, he wrote, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
Benjamin Franklin said, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both there (England) and in New England.”
John Adams, our second president, and member of the first continental congress, said, “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?”
Consider, even, our first president, George Washington, father of our country. The name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned even once in the vast collection of Washington’s published letters. He refers to Providence in numerous letters, but he used the term as a synonym for Destiny or Fate. Bishop White, who knew him well for many years, wrote after Washington’s death, that he had never heard him express an opinion on any religious subject. He added that although Washington was “serious and attentive” in church, he never saw him kneel in prayer.
The evangelical Christian right would have us believe that we are somehow a holy nation, founded by religious men, and that we have pushed God out. They decry the lack of prayer in our public schools. They wail over those laws that limit displays on government property of Christian tableaus. The rail against those who would remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance ( something that wasn’t even added until 1954!) Our founders never intended that God be included in the government.
Consider for a moment, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our former president, George W. Bush, referred to those wars as a crusade. Various evangelical ministers, such as Pat Robertson, have told us that Islam has declared war upon Christianity. Those ministers urge us to strongly prosecute those wars. They urge us to support and defend Israel. Mr. Trump wants to ban Muslims and racially profile those who are here. Certainly, there is no doubt that a great many Muslims have issues with our culture, a culture of greed and self-gratification. And clearly, in many Muslim countries, there are Christians who have been the victims of religious persecution. There may be good reasons to prosecute these wars, but not from a Christian perspective.
We don’t have to look any further than the teachings of Jesus. In the Gospel According to Luke, in Chapter Nine, we see Jesus and his buddies on their way to Jerusalem for the last time. According to the gospel account, Jesus is well aware of the outcome of that visit to the holy city. They travel through Samaritan territory to get there. Most folks back then would have gone around, to avoid having anything to do with the Samaritans. There was no love between the Jews and the Samaritans. They both worshipped the same God, but, as the protestants and Catholics today, they had different ideas of how to do it, and they hated each other for it.
“And it happened, when the days were fulfilled that he be received up, he resolutely set his face to go into Jerusalem. And he sent messengers before his face, and going, they entered into a city of Samaritans to make ready for him. And they did not receive him because his face was going into Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw, they said, “Lord, do you wish (that) we might speak fire to come down from heaven to consume them?” But being turned, he rebuked them. And they went on to another village.” (literal translation)
The Greek word here, translated as “rebuked”, “epitimao”, is the same word used to refer to the manner in which Jesus speaks to demons. Jesus is making it clear that violence against the unbeliever is of the devil. It is a bad thing. What is important here is that Jesus is on a mission. He has “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. He is not going to let anything stand in his way. So when the Samaritans reject him, he simply goes on his way. He does not stick around and attempt to convert all those “Godless” Samaritans. They continue on the way.
“And as they were going on the way, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you might go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven nests, but the son of man does not have a place where he might lay (his) head.”
He said to another, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go to bury my father.” But he said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go. Declare the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me bid farewell to the ones in my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one stretching forth his hand upon a plow, and looking into the past, is well-situated to the kingdom of God.”
We’re all on our way to somewhere, each one of us. Some of us have a specific destination in mind. Some of us drift about, going down the river, with neither rudder nor oar, going wherever the current takes us. Either way, we will arrive somewhere someday. Some folks try to paddle against the current. And they find the current is stronger than they are. They’re not going anywhere any time soon. However you go, there is no stopping. There is no “place to lay your head”, not until you come to the end of the journey, anyway.
And this leads us to that part of the gospel that has always been a problem for me. I mean, here are these two guys who want to follow Jesus, but one wants to say goodbye to his family and the other wants to bury his father. These always seemed like very reasonable requests to me. But Jesus says no. There is no looking back, just as there was no looking back for Lot’s wife, who, according to the myth, turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back to her old life.
But these gospels, as Jefferson says, should not be confused with history. They are spiritual lessons. Each one of us is a link to the past. We are links to the past, unbroken links to the beginnings of time. In last week’s gospel, Jesus told us to deny ourselves, to put our quest for a spiritual connection before all other concerns. And here, Jesus is simply telling us that our own quest for Jerusalem, our quest for divine connection, comes before anything else. Nothing should be allowed to stand in our way. Whatever keeps us from God, or whatever you want to call that power, should be allowed to stand in our way. We need to continue on the way.
We do not focus on the past. We do not focus on the wrongs people have done us. We do not focus on our own failings. We do not focus on our traditions. We do not focus on the future. We do not focus on those who disapprove of our journey. We simply move on, leaving our “Samaritans” and travel on to the next village. And we do not focus on insisting that everybody else continue on the way with us. They each have their own path to follow. We simply focus on our own way. Perhaps if we placed our own energy into following a more spiritual path, the rest of the world would not be so inclined to want to kill us.
Thomas Jefferson also said, “Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear.”
So let’s not worry about Islam. Let’s not waste our time being angry. Let’s not waste our time on hate. The message of God, no matter which faith you follow, is love. Islam is not the threat. Indeed, Jefferson also said, “I believe banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” Let’s just focus on our own way. And our way, according to Luke, and to Jesus, is ever forward.