Your Jesus Is Not My Jesus

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Hans Zatzka

White Jesus is sending me to hell. Or, at least according to the many many Christians that have found their way into my DMs after angrily reading one of my commentaries about racism.

While I have come to anticipate these kinds of messages, throughout the past few years, I have noticed an increasingly disturbing trend about identifying and noticing race and racism in the western Christian church: white Jesus will often damn you.

Growing up adopted in a Mennonite religious community that espoused colorblind ideology, I remember learning about white Jesus before I could name it.

White Jesus showed up in my picture books and in mission trips.

White Jesus showed up for unnatural disasters but not manmade systems of oppression.

White Jesus hated “divisiveness.”

White Jesus didn’t like to apologize because white Jesus liked to say “only God can know the heart.”

White Jesus insisted on colonization as a means of sanctification.

White Jesus insisted on diversity but never cultivated an environment of inclusion.

White Jesus handed out tracts and condemned abortions but didn’t interrogate systems of power.

White Jesus had an agenda.

White Jesus had a specific culture.

And, white Jesus could never accept the authentic me.

Oof.

Maybe you can relate.

Over the past few years, I have struggled to make sense of and reconcile the white Jesus I encountered as a child with the Jesus I have come to know and encounter as an adult. And, while this journey isn’t even close to being finished, here are two quotes that I am sitting with as I seek to dig deeper into my own relationship with Jesus, and understand those who spew hate.

The first is a quote from Ravi Zacharias. I also want to honor and acknowledge that since Ravi has passed, he has been accused of sexual misconduct

In the book, “Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message,” Ravi offers this: “…At the heart of every religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not and accordingly, of defining life’s purpose.”

Note the intentional and careful articulation about how religion determines both Gxd and purpose. It then follows that if the definition of Gxd one knows does not include an understanding of Gxd as a breaker of chains and idols, or an understanding that white supremacy and racism are chains and idols, then a critique of this ideology would feel like an attack not just of one’s religion, but of one’s value.

The same analysis can also be applied to the more recent ubiquitous question: Who Can be American? Toni Morrison powerfully stated “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” What does it mean then to insist on ‘non’ American stories? Does it mean to be anti-American? Or does it mean to ask questions that are outside of the framework of what society has normalized and glorified as American?

Worth and story. Inclusion and Exclusion. Truth and Lies. See how these value systems and frameworks seem to be seamlessly interwoven. How can we be open to allowing our paradigm to shift?

Here are some questions that emerge for me:

  • How do we define truth?
  • In WHOM (if at all ) is truth defined?
  • From what posture (if at all) do we allow ourselves to be open to new ways of understanding and other voices?
  • What does it mean if our stories and worth have always excluded specific voices and truths?
  • And what if, definitions of truth and Gxd have been confused with worldly idols of supremacy?

The second quote that I am sitting with is a quote by Tyrion Lannister from the season finale of Game of Thrones. I like this quote because it helps me think critically about the power of stories and how those stories operate in the world and in insular communities. “What unites people? Armies? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it…”

The stories we tell and how we tell them matter precisely because they reveal our value systems, and answers the questions: who is worthy? Who is valuable? Who is good?

Lately, it has seemed that hatred tells a powerful story, and that hatred answers the questions who is worthy, and who is valuable, who is good, and who can speak truth.

Love too can tell a story. What story does your love tell? What about your hate?

In the same way, the stories one tells about Gxd matter. The lenses one uses to investigate and interrogate those stories matter. Who one allows to investigate and interrogate those stories matter. And, if the stories one tells consistently align with ideologies like Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery and Make America Great Again, it is perhaps then easy to damn those who are not telling stories that align within that specific framework.

It is perhaps easy then for white Jesus to send people and people like me to hell: because the stories I am telling are specifically outside of white Jesus’ framework precisely because my uncolonized existence is outside of the framework.

White Jesus is sending me to hell.

And I am finding freedom in the Jesus that is the breaker of chains, the dreamer, the sustainer, the redeemer, the curious questioner, the foot washer, the annointer, the restorer of broken things, the lifegiver, and the ultimate healer.

Written by

Bonita Chaim is a racial justice educator (in progress) in Mennonite and interfaith communities. She is the founder of The Ebenezer Project, and a bibliophile.

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