An Easter Message on religion and politics

By Charles Bayer

Our media assume that there is no such thing as liberal religion, liberal Christianity – and they borrow that assumption from non-liberal denominations. Charles Bayer has always begged to differ and has written columns reprinted here as a very clear reminder that that assumption is quite mistaken. Easter Week will be upon us before long. So I am printing here an Easter message from a very liberal Christian. Note: this may be Charles’ last column printed here in Progressive Democracy: he is slowing down.

One of the complaints I often hear is that religion and politics should not be mixed. Religion has to do with spiritual matters and politics with worldly matters, and the two must be kept apart. Well, this is what Christians call “holy week,” the most sacred time in our calendar, so let me put on my preacher’s identity and tell you a story right out of the Bible.

Jesus, a Jewish wandering teacher, had just spent several months traveling around Galilee, where his main work was with the ill, the oppressed, the dispossessed and the subjugated. As he traveled from town to town it became increasingly clear that the main problem was the political and economic occupation inflicted by Rome’s army and the henchmen Rome had appointed to guarantee domination over the lives of these subjugated masses—taxed without political representation.

He had been clear about his mission, and identified it in his home synagogue when he said The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are oppressed, and to proclaim that now is the year."

He had subsequently told his disciples that they must go south to Jerusalem and confront the oppressors on behalf of the captives and the oppressed. First, he had to determine whether his disciples were able to affirm his authority. Peter speaking for the others called him the one whom God had anointed. But when Jesus said that the authorities in Jerusalem, the Roman rulers and their puppets, would resist to the point of having him killed, Peter then said that perhaps they should not make that dangerous trip. Jesus call him a devil and determined to go, and on the way south three times had to remind his disciples about what was bound to happen.
Along the way they gathered followers wherever they went, and finally arrived at Jerusalem. He did not enter the city quietly, but led a parade that included crowds of his cheering followers. It was that event on what we eventually called “Palm Sunday,” that made clear he was there to confront the Roman occupiers and their collaborators.

In the week that followed he engaged in a series of confrontations with the Romans and their temple quislings. On what we now call Maundy Thursday evening, he and his inner circle celebrated a meal marking a political uprising that had taken place centuries before when Moses had gone to the Egyptian capital demanding that Pharaoh ”let my people go”. That earlier meal was marked by blood painted on the doors of all the Hebrew homes so that the angel of death would “pass over” those dwellings—and the Hebrews would be on their way to political liberation.
Having realized the extent of the threat, Roman soldiers were dispatched later that night to find and arrest Jesus. This they did, and after a series of mock trials before the Roman governor and his temple accomplices, Jesus was unmercifully beaten and then executed as a criminal who had defied Rome’s authority. The identification nailed to his cross said “King of the Jews”. The message was clear: do not defy the authority of Rome’s occupation.

The end of the story had a very different sign. It was an empty tomb whose message was ”God, not Caesar, has the last word,” and an empty cross that for all the centuries since has affirmed this message.

I suppose we will continue to hear from those telling us that religion and politics are not to be mixed. What they will be saying is, “Do not confront Pharaoh, Caesar or any other political ruler or any so-called secular authority that holds people in political or economic captivity”.
Must religion and politics be held in totally separate worlds? I doubt if that can be said by anyone seriously confronting the events of what we now call “Holy Week.”