Jesus, friend of racist bigots.

Recently I was involved in a version of “The Moral Maze” –  getting a group of 11-16 year-olds to consider the Biblical perspective to some “Moral Dilemmas”: When – if ever – is civil disobedience called for? Should we buy a slave to assure their freedom? Under what circumstances – if any – should we do things contrary to our conscience? etc

The topics generated some of the most thoughtful & thought-provoking conversations I’ve enjoyed in a while.

For the topic of whether it is ever right for a Christian to try and get the guilty acquitted we looked at the Biblical example of John 8: 1-11; and for a contemporary context we used the situation beautifully portrayed in Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”.  They are fascinating dilemmas to try and apply Godly wisdom to.  But it was a corollary of the discussion that has lingered with me and has had the biggest day-to-day implications for how I conduct my life: what did it mean for Jesus to be a “friend of sinners”?

Over and over and over again the ‘elites’, the ‘establishment’; the ‘qualified experts’; looked contemptuously at the company Jesus kept.  Did Jesus not care about his reputation? Did He not realise the doors He was closing to His ministry through His instance in associating with such scum?

So much of our personal lives, and certainly the life of the Church and the world of politics, seems to be about maintaining reputations, keeping up appearances, being respectable, being “Liked” or “Followed” – literally and virtually.  I know that I am supposed to follow Jesus, but who would Jesus ‘follow’ or accept a ‘friend request’ from? Who would He block? Who would He disavow? Who would He refuse to share a platform with?

Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners, sounds so innocuous to our ears.  How about “Jesus friend of …”  Tommy Robinson? Gerry Adams? Nigel Farage? Racists? Porn Stars? Paedophiles? the BNP? Homophobes? [insert your bogey man/group here]?  Does it turn out that by some remarkable coincidence Jesus would be the friend of people we would be friends with too?! Or at least people we can have sympathy for?

I always find it fascinating that when people re-tell the story of the Good Samaritan in contemporary style, the “Samaritan” tends to be someone they approve of (or are at least ambivalent about).  But that misses the impact of the story altogether. The Samaritan was someone that was despised – the Samaritan was a  “racist”, a “homophobe”, a “nazi”, a “hater”. If you find yourself drawn to (or ambivalent about) the Samaritan, you’re telling the story wrong.

So it got me thinking: how much do I care about my personal reputation? Who would l “disavow” if they supported me? What would I do if a friend turned out to be – or once was – a communist/wife beater/white supremacist/child abuser?  Who would I refuse to share a platform with? Which “Samaritans” make me feel uncomfortable? Which friendships or associations should I keep hidden?

Jesus loves you just as you are, warts & all. Just don’t let others know who you really are in case you tarnish yours (and His) reputation. Flaunt your sexuality anywhere you want, but for Christ’s sake, keep your (’wrong’) opinions & friendships firmly locked in the closet.

I greatly admire Dave Rubin – the gay atheist liberal. He’s possibly the only interviewer I know who asks questions to actually find things out, not to to trip up his guests or boost his own ego.  But listen to what he says at the start of this interview (especially from 1min 25s).  I wonder how many of us recognise his fear? And if we do, do we have the same courage to push through it, to face the lies, the contempt, the scorn and the vitriol of those who would label us “friend of sinners/bigots/racists…”

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