Probably no other historical figure has collected as many titles as the holy child of Bethlehem. Pacifist, holy crusader, enlightenment philosopher, Marxist revolutionary — all have been applied to Jesus. The signs are abundant this season that his essential teachings are again being dragooned by the politics of the moment.
For many conservatives, Jesus is the great moralist. His campaign against sin inspires, among other things, the public display of the Ten Commandments and fuels opposition to gay marriage. (One evangelical leader has called the Federal Marriage Amendment "our Gettysburg.") Hollywood remains an abomination unto the Lord: If Christian radio is any guide, Jesus must think that ABC's Desperate Housewives is the next great threat to Western civilization.
Liberals believe in a more socially minded messiah. He wants more government spending on social-welfare programs and supports the minimum wage. In the war against terrorism, their Jesus blanches at talk about good and evil. Indeed, he sympathizes with the grievances of Islamic radicals, though reserves special scorn for superpower hubris. "The price that Americans are going to have to pay for the kind of arrogance that we are operating out of right now is going to be terrible indeed," predicts Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwaus. "And I think we will well deserve it."
We've heard these judgments before, during a season of similar upheaval. Delegates to the Baptist World Alliance, for example, returned from a 1934 meeting in Berlin impressed with the new German fuehrer. As the Alliance noted: "It is reported that Chancellor Adolf Hitler gives to the temperance movement the prestige of his personal example, since he neither uses intoxicants nor smokes." A year earlier Hitler had burned down the Reichstag, declared a one-party state and begun excluding Jews from government and public life. Yet a Boston pastor praised the Nazis for enforcing public morality. "It was a great relief," he said, "to be in a country where salacious sex literature cannot be sold."
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