These are testing times. For those of us who come from various Christian Evangelical traditions, a divide is brewing. This gives me no real joy, but it is simply a fact. There are (at least) two kinds of Evangelical Christians in America today. This, I believe, is because there are two different versions of Jesus being taught and worshipped at Christian churches and universities.
I just watched President Jerry Falwell, Jr’s speech at Liberty University in which he calls his students to take up arms to (direct quote) “end those Muslims…” It received thunderous applause from his audience. I can only assume that the version of Jesus taught at Liberty would also stand and applaud.
This is probably what most people expect of Evangelicals — hyper conservative, pro-gun, right wing, exclusionists who see anyone who disagrees with them as godless enemies. This is religious tribalism at its most basic. We are right. You are wrong. Our God is God. Yours is not. Be assimilated or, if you provoke us, we will kill you. (Ironically, of course, this also clearly describes extremist Islamic fundamentalists as well as extremist Christian fundamentalists.) Full disclosure: I was once a Christian fundamentalist extremist myself. I no longer am. I speak not as a theorist but as a survivor and a refugee.
There’s another kind of Evangelical Christian emerging. Many of us have rejected Falwell’s version of Jesus. In doing so, we didn’t so much leave our faith as we rediscovered a version of Jesus found in the Biblical narrative. This Jesus is as extreme as the other version, just in a different way. He’s radically non-violent and a relentless advocate for the poor, outcast and disenfranchised. This Jesus teaches his followers to live radically risky and peaceful lives in the name of love. This Jesus modeled what he preached by being obedient to death on a cross. Those of us who have come to follow this sort of Jesus have as negative reaction to Falwell’s speech as his followers do positive. To us, the idea of killing our enemies is so foreign to the Jesus we know that it feels remarkably un-Christian.
As a political aside, let me say this. There’s a very good chance at some level Falwell is correct. A terrorist cell may very well decide not to attack Liberty University if they assume most everyone there is packing heat and ready to fight back. If the primary goal is to protect ourselves from terrorists, then hand out AK-47s at freshman orientation and see if it helps. If our number one goal is to live like Jesus, then it is hard for me to find a way to justify advocating for violence from the student body of a Christian university.
I have many friends who are Christian and disagree with me. I love them. They are my friends, not my enemies. I can say this, though. The Jesus they believe in appears not to be my Lord. He just shares his name. We are two completely different kind of Christians with two strikingly opposed versions of the gospel of Jesus.
There are many others like me. If you resonate with this and feel alone, don’t.
Joe Boyd is the Founder and President of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, a creative agency and movie production company with offices in Cincinnati and Las Vegas. He is the co-founder of Rebel Storytellers, a growing community of thought-leaders featuring a daily blog, weekly podcast and live events designed to spark hope and action in the world.