God calls us to be bridge builders rather than members of an elitist demolition team. Too often we Christians engage in rhetoric and acts that destroys (witting and unwittingly) the connection between our fellow human beings and God. And we employ Jesus as a pawn in our religious games. Jesus is precious to Christians, as should be the case. The black American slaves sang you may take the whole world, but give me Jesus. When the slaves sang that song the world, as they experienced and knew it, pushed their backs against the wall (see Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited). They needed (and believed that) the Jesus and God whom the slave owners claimed sanctioned their oppression to be on their side. The slavocracy and those who supported it had already enlisted the name of Jesus as a means to destroy the connection between God and the slaves. According to the slave owners the Apostle Paul, as a servant of Jesus Christ, said that God wanted slaves to obey their masters and be good slaves. Thus, through Jesus, God sanctioned the immoral and inhumane subjugation of black slaves. Jesus is enlisted as the “middleman” who regulates and determines the relationship between the slaves and God. This Jesus-model should not be replicated by the children and grandchildren of former slaves or former slave owners for any reason even if (or especially if) it is to boost our Christian stock or as a means to construct an identity for “us” over against the demonic “them” or Other. Women and ethnic minorities should be extremely cautious not to imitate the ways of our former and current oppressors.
The New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles (Acts) can be read as a real common ground or bridge-building text despite the anti-Jew rhetoric and the several silenced women, etc. Some Bible readers (and non-Bible readers) and scholars describe Acts as a story about the acts of Peter and Paul and/or the Holy Spirit. Many recognize that it is not about the acts of all the apostles as the title suggests. Careful readers of Acts will notice that the text is really about the acts of God. God promised to send God’s Spirit. God poured out God’s Spirit. God raised Jesus (repeated often). God made Jesus both Lord and Christ (anointed one or Messiah). In fact, readers will notice in the Apostle Paul’s speech to the Athenian audience in chapter 17, he does not mention the name of Jesus. This is an omission many contemporary Christians would view as an unpardonable sin. I recall the uproar over mega church pastor Joel Osteen’s interview with CNN’s Larry King.
I believe the early Jewish believers who joined the Jesus movement recognized (and some maybe insisted upon) the fact that God constituted the glue that united them; God remained the common denominator despite their theological differences concerning God’s Messiah. Even among us professed contemporary Christians, our Christology (ideas, interpretations, and words about Christ) is not uniform. We differ in our understandings of who killed Jesus; we do not agree on whether or how Jesus engaged in social justice acts; despite the Apostles Creed from the first ecumenical Council of Nicea (325 CE’s) concerning the relationship between God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, we disagree on how to articulate or understand the relationship and function of the Trinity (Father, and Son and Holy Spirit) and what it means for our lived experience.
We stand on common ground with people of many religious faiths based on our belief in God who created all things and who loves all God’s created being and demands that we love one another. How do we engage in religious posturing or Jesus-name dropping that is counterproductive to building bridges between God and humanity and that misrepresents, in my opinion, even Jesus’ efforts as God’s son-agent sent to glorify God and to reconcile a people to their God?