Jesus Christ was a political figure with a radical message. Over the past two millennia, however, these teachings have been diluted to maintain systems of oppression. To rediscover the transformative power of Christ, keep these points in mind:
Jesus Christ was radicalized by the mass exodus from Egypt. For hundreds of years, the Hebrews suffered political and economic oppression. So instead of identifying with Pharaoh, Christ identified with Moses and the poor. Remember that Jesus fed 5,000 people (Matthew 14:13-21), and aligned Himself with the naked, homeless, and imprisoned (Matthew 25:40-45). In Luke 6:24, Jesus says “woe to you who are rich.” True believers in Christ must reject capitalism and stand in solidarity with the impoverished masses.
Jesus Christ was not a conservative. He was anti-establishment. His homeland was occupied and dominated by the Roman Empire – and His teachings were a condemnation of the status quo. For this reason, He was convicted of sedition: the crime of inciting people to rebel against authority. Jesus was killed by the ancient equivalent of the police. Christ’s message was never meant to preserve the norm; it was designed to challenge and dismantle injustice in the spirit of love.
Some folks may reject this reading on the grounds that religion is “the opium of the people.” But this popular phrase, which is glossed from the work of Karl Marx, has been emptied of context and is overly simplistic. This is what Marx (1844) actually said:
“Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a position which requires illusions.”
Until we reach a society free from oppression, religion can function as a tool to raise consciousness and “protest against real suffering.” Some of our greatest freedom-fighters believed in Christ: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. Even though slaves were taught a version of Christianity that justified their oppression, Nat Turner utilized it as a liberation theology. The Black Panthers believed an oppressive version of religion was the problem, not religion in and of itself. Huey P. Newton (1973) argued:
“The Black Panthers have never intended to turn Black people away from religion. We want to encourage them to change their consciousness of themselves and to be less accepting of the white man’s God – the God of the downtrodden, the weak, and the undeserving. We want them to see themselves as the called, the chosen, and the salt of the earth” (p. 179).
To the extent that we believe in Christ, His message must be used in the spirit of freedom – or we are siding with the modern-day Pharaoh.
Newton, Huey P. 1973. Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin Books