Guest Post: John Pixley on Taking Back Jesus

Some thoughts by John Pixley, Claremont Meeting, 7/26/2007
Handed out at a Pacific Yearly Meeting evening discussion group, “Taking Back Jesus,” 8/1/2007; published with John's permission

Last fall, a young man that I hired as an attendant would often show up to work wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, on the front of which he had sewn a picture of a Hindu goddess. I was intrigued by this and told him I thought it was cool. He suggested that I have a picture of Jesus Christ sewn onto the bib of my overalls. “That’d be dope!” he enthused.

Jesus on my bibs! That would be cool, if not dope, I thought. Those who know me know that overalls are what I wear, that they are very much a part of my life. Jesus is also a big part of my life. Most likely because of my significant, in-your-face disability, I have long been attracted to his message of love for the different, the outsider, even the enemy. Why not have Jesus, who I admire – indeed, love – and try to honor in how I live my life, close to me, on my bib, and for all the world to see?

But then I got worried. If I went around sporting a picture of Jesus, people would get the wrong idea about me. Never mind that they would think I was out to convert, or “save,” the world. People would think I am a right-wing fundamentalist nut.

People would see me with my picture of Jesus and think I was saying that women shouldn’t be able to get abortions, that gays and lesbians are bad, that it is not only acceptable but honorable to go to and also start war, that it is okay to torture people.

This is what many people think of when they think of Jesus – or at least of Christianity. The sad, shameful fact is that Jesus has been taken by conservative Christians, the Christian right, and used as their exclusive spokesman. This man who preached and demonstrated radical love and inclusiveness, who showed it to the world, has been hijacked and made to say that women and gays shouldn’t have equal rights, that war is good, that torture is fine.

Jesus has been made to say and condone things that he never said and condoned. How else can President Bush, who is against same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to have control over her own body and life, and who sanctions war and torture (not to mention the death penalty), claim not only to be a Christian but also that Jesus is his most-admired philosopher?

It is bad enough that this gives Jesus and Christianity a bad name. Earlier this year, I saw Jesus Camp, a documentary about a summer camp for Christian fundamentalist kids, and I was struck by how the audience at the college screening was laughing. While much of what is said in the film is outrageous and funny, I came away very concerned that Jesus has become a laughing-stock.

Jesus has also been used in other hurtful ways. Since I was a young child, people have stopped me on the sidewalk to tell me that if I believe in Jesus, I will be healed. I have even been told that I will walk if I pray to Jesus! The message is less about Jesus and more of a judgment – that, in being disabled and in a wheelchair, I am sick or not a complete, whole person and in need of healing and not worthy (at least in their eyes, if not Jesus’) until I am healed.

I have no doubt that all of these people are quite sincere and well-intentioned, which makes what they do with Jesus all the more disturbing. (Indeed, the director of Jesus Camp said at the screening I attended that Christian fundamentalists have embraced the film.) Is it any wonder that, especially as a disabled and now gay man, I have become wary of Jesus or at least talk of him? I am sad to say that I am all but ashamed to say that I love Jesus. I notice this, for example, when I’m with my gay friends, and they get frightened and angry when I mention Jesus. This is a tragedy.

I wonder how many other people who would otherwise consider themselves Christians have been scared off or driven away from Jesus by the way he has been appropriated and represented in these ways. Could this be why some or many of us in pacific Yearly Meeting feel more at home with our safe, warm universalism than with what at least I see as the old-time Christo-centric Quakerism of George Fox?

It is time to take back Jesus. I want to embrace him as the man of peace and love he truly was. Indeed, I want to wear him and show him off proudly on my gay, disabled body. I dare say that he, with his world-changing message of all-inclusive love, would like that.
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[UPDATE: It turns out that Forrest Curo had already posted this piece at "A Quaker Watering Hole," along with some additional thoughts of his own: http://acitycanbemoved.blogspot.com/2007/08/taking-back-jesus.html. I'm only slowly catching up with blogreading after moving and going to Yearly Meeting, so I missed this before. -- cm]


Linda said...

Wow. John, thanks for writing this. Chris, thanks for hosting. You know, Chris, that I can hardly write about anything without quoting a Sacred Harp song:

Ashamed of Jesus, sooner far/ Let evening blush to own a star,/ He shed the beams of light divine/ O'er this benighted soul of mine.
From Corinth, 32t

It used to be, I couldn't hear lyrics like this and not cringe. I'm still wrestling with getting past the misuse of Jesus, but singing Sacred Harp and reading essays like this sure help.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for posting this, Chris. John's ministry over the years--the few times I've heard it, during gatherings of FLGBTQC--has stayed with me.

John, you've always given me something to think about and wrestle with. Thank you!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. Thanks, Chris, for the link to the other website that carries this as well.

Patrick Ruth said...

What a blessing to have John's ministry posted on two blogs. As H. Thurman said "Deep is the Hunger" and I didn't realize how deep that hunger was for me and how much it existed among Friends until I attended the discussion group this was presented at PacYM. It renewed my spirit and interest in Jesus of Nazareth and I wish that renewal for others as well. Thanks and later Patrick

Chris M. said...

Linda: Yes, it's interesting how song lyrics in particular can touch us in ways we don't let mere words.

Liz: You're welcome. John blew the roof with his ministry in meeting for worship a day or two later... I hope to write about that eventually.

Patrick: It was great to spend some time with you at Yearly Meeting. I'm glad you found some ease for your hunger! I'm just sorry I got to the discussion so late.