Can Religion Cure the Divide?

The evangelical community often poses a strong question, “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s often shortened to the acronym WWJD. The Bible tells us that Jesus came to a Jewish temple and disrupted the tables set up by the “money changers” in front of that place of worship. It is said that Jesus had no quibble with paying the temple tax, but he drove the moneychangers out because they had been deceitful. The famous quote is, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” Let’s, as they say on TV, unpack that statement.

According to the word of the internet, the Temple tax amounted to a half shekel and was paid by Israelites and Levites to maintain the Jewish Temple. It’s hard to calculate the worth of half a shekel today, but a rough guess is somewhere near $12.

I have a feeling that the young preacher was aggravated because the moneychangers were “quick grifting” at the doors of the temple. Jesus called it “my house,” which was purely a literary trick to connote ownership for the gossip writers who would cover the event 70 years later. Assuming Jesus was the son of God, the meaning is God’s house was, in fact, his house as well. I’m willing to wager that clause was in God’s last will and testament.

Temple politics was a problem for the Galilean man from Nazareth, probably gleaned from John the Baptist. Both Jesus and John questioned the political aspects of Judaism at the time, saying that one didn’t need to have the temple and its high priests involved in communication with God. Jesus preached that people could cleanse their souls and save themselves by praying directly to God. The rural rabbi ignored the rules of the Temple and the laws of the land which placed him in direct conflict with the power structure.

Not to compare Liz Cheney with Jesus, although it’s tempting, she has decided that followers of the Republican dogma do not need to communicate to the world through Donald Trump. Now please hold onto your prayer books here. Isn’t Donald Trump similar to the high priest Joseph Caiaphas from Year 30? Caiaphas had no use for the 72 members of the full Sanhedrin, the Congress of the Temple. He also believed himself to be above the law and could pick who lived and who died in the party, ah, I mean church.

The Roman guards who arrested Jesus didn’t bring him to a Roman jail or the full assembly for judgement as stated in the book of Mark. The hastily organized indictment of Jesus was conducted under a cloak of darkness, with many believing that Caiaphas wanted to get past the whole “Jesus matter” as soon as possible. He did so behind closed doors, without the Sanhedrin present.

Okay, back to the present. Next week, a vote will be taken to cast Liz Cheney, the elected Representative of Wyoming, from all leadership roles in the Republican Party. Minority leader Kevin McCarthy will then return to his office, wash his hands of the matter, and say it was the people’s will. That would make Kevin, Pontius Pilate.

Clearly, I am quicker on my feet with politics than religion. I presented a similar idea in my book “If God Could Talk,” and when I participated in a local book club discussion about that, the gossips in my community decried my use of atheism to tell a story. Some members thought the fiction was real, they couldn’t separate the writer from the characters, which made me feel that my writing was taken seriously.

There is a huge divide in America. Some peoples’ belief in fiction, or as it’s called THE BIG LIE, prevents them from seeing non-fiction as truth. Heavy, eh? But the greatest curse is the blend of politics and church. Jefferson never went far enough with his observations and, of course, he also didn’t go far enough countering the enslavement of Africans.

I just read a great piece by Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He says, “Many theologians have tried to explain that the wonder-working God is a misinterpretation.” Heavy stuff. It reminds me of a Republican who says Trump was “just joking” about drinking bleach. Some try to lighten up the miracle aspect of Jesus so that more people will come into his tent while some Republicans downplay Trump’s errors to rewrite history. Shameful and sad. But Ledewitz wasn’t trying to say the miracles didn’t happen, he was just pointing out how 2021 interpretations may lead to more people finding faith a solution to their own personal problems.

If God can’t do miracles, then who can? The “wonder-working” is what drew me in as a young Presbyterian. I always felt that no matter how bad things got, God could set them straight and provide a fix. God didn’t thrash the money changers in the Temple, Jesus did. Was Jesus enforcing God’s will on Earth or was he just a rebellious preacher taking matters into his own hands?

Of course, 2,000-year-old writings pale in comparison to today’s science and realities. However, the more things like QAnon beliefs and support of centuries old racism leech to the surface, the more we are tempted to think that religion and church teachers are out of sync with reality. If your reality is all wrong, how can you embrace a true belief in the almighty God? It’s the thinking that gets in the way, not the believing.

Trump is not going to live forever, and those who have decided he is greater than truth, the party, or more importantly, the country and democracy itself are hollow human forms who shall perish in time. But before they do, they must be stopped. All Congresswomen should join together and submit an article of censure against Keven McCarthy. Those who can’t or won’t are complicit in the rampant sexism and idol worshipping of the Republican Party. If they cannot support a member who has taken a stand against Trump’s lies and attack on democracy, then what good are they? They are just moneychangers, lying to the people, cheating the citizens and converting cash into their own power.

There are too many Pilates and way too many Caiaphas who would go so far as to kill truth and the son of God to keep their power and prestige among the high priests. The leaders of the evangelical movement do not have the wisdom to know a lie from a truth and they will NOT be helpful in curing the divide. Why haven’t they spoken out? Have they already counted the money and washed their hands? I fear they have done exactly that.

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