I spent the first 16 years of my life living with this picture of Jesus:
Heinrich Hofmann’s 1890 “Christ in Gethsemane” graced the wall of our living room (okay, okay, it was a somewhat murkier copy) for all the time I lived at home. I stared at it often.
Look at Jesus sitting there, earnestly and majestically looking to heaven, with heaven looking back and lighting up his noggin’. This is the image I had of Jesus almost the entire time I was an evangelical Christian, a quaint mixture of earthiness—the slightly unkempt hair and the scraggly beard—and godliness—he could command supernaturally-lit attention from on high.
This picture, using an ancient inconographic technique, tells us that despite the messed-up hair and the wayward beard, Jesus wasn’t really like you and me. He was holiness on steroids.
I couldn’t help wondering, though, as a kid, if Jesus did ordinary things, things like take a piss or, well, worse. And when I wondered those things I felt guilty thinking about them, what with that halo and all.
In any case, the Jesus that many of us came to “know” was in so many ways the Untouchable Savior, in the sense that we were told that he was one-of-a-kind, without sin and without blemish. Tempted? Yes. Just like us. But Jesus never failed the test. He passed every time. Every time. Who could really relate to that? Who could, in ways that we would call personal, really know someone like that?
In all the Sunday school lessons I sat through, and then later all the sermons I endured—a few I even preached—I never heard anyone go so far as to say that we should think about a farting Jesus.
But let’s face it. Jesus passed gas. If he didn’t, he wasn’t like any man I know (and some women, but they shall remain nameless).
Now, we don’t have to think that Jesus was such a man that would deliberately, just for laughs, spray his disciples with the vapors, but maybe he did. After one such episode, I can imagine the rowdy Peter exclaiming,
Oh my God, Jesus! You needeth prayer!
Or something like that.
If any of this makes you cringe, don’t blame me. I started thinking about all this again when I read a piece on CNN’s Belief Blog by a bona fide right-wing fundamentalist big shot from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It was written by Johnnie Moore and titled, “Jesus was a dirty, dirty God,” and it began like this:
Jesus was a lot more like you than you think…
In order to make Jesus more you-like, Moore had the nerve to suggest to his “astounded colleagues” at Liberty that Jesus “might have even had dysentery on an occasion or two.” I know why his colleagues were stunned because I am sure there are lots of people who can’t imagine Jesus taking a dump, let alone having severe diarrhea.
It seems like an obvious statement if you believe that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” (as most evangelicals believe and call the Incarnation), but to some of us it seems in the least, inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way. We might believe that God was also man, but we picture him with an ever-present halo over his head.
Yes, that’s pretty much the way I pictured Jesus, thanks to Heinrich Hofmann and essentially a fundamentalist upbringing. But Moore had more:
The real Jesus had dirt underneath his fingernails and calluses on his hands. He probably smelled badly from sweating profusely in the Judean sun on his long hikes to Jerusalem…
This dirty, sweaty Jesus is not the Jesus you meet in Sunday school, at least in the churches I attended. He’s been cleaned up for American consumption, and for American exploitation, ultimately for Republican-American exploitation. The Jesus of the evangelical right, which was once my Jesus, and the one who presumably endorses the GOP platform, is not a farting Jesus.
Oddly, in his portrayal of a gritty savior, Moore let this slip:
He was the teacher from a small town who knew and understood the economic insecurity that was common in the first century.
Ah. Economic insecurity. Jesus knew and understood that, says Moore. And thus it’s fair to ask, since economic insecurity is also common here in the twenty-first century, does Jesus still know and understand it?
Liberty University, the place where Johnnie Moore works—he is a “professor of religion and vice president”—invited Mitt Romney, a man no one would seriously argue understands economic insecurity, to speak at last year’s graduation, right in the middle of a presidential campaign, despite the fact that the theology taught at the university clearly excludes Mormonism from the ranks of Christianity. Why would the university welcome him to speak?
But more than that, why would a Jesus-loving, Bible-thumping Christian university invite Donald Trump to address their Jesus-loving, Bible-thumping students last September? In fact, why would any university worthy of the name invite him to speak on any topic?
But speak he did, after he was reportedly introduced by Jerry Falwell, Jr., as one of the “greatest visionaries of our time.” I’m sure that made both Trump and GOP Jesus very proud.
Trump did not disappoint. Toward the end of his speech he told the more than ten-thousand gathered youthful Jesus-worshipers:
Don’t let people take advantage. Get even. And you know, if nothing else, others will see that and they’re going to say, ‘You know, I’m going to let Jim Smith or Sarah Malone, I’m going to let them alone because they’re tough customers.
“Get even.” You know, in a weird sort of way, Trump has stumbled upon a great truth. “Get even” is God’s message in the Book of Revelation. But I digress.
After Trump’s remarks were criticized by offended true believers, some of them students who actually believe Liberty University stands for something spiritual, who actually believe that Jesus stood for something other than revenge, Trump’s spokesman, Michael Cohen, told ABC News:
I conferred with Johnnie Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the Bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character – just as Trump stated.
So now we know what Johnnie Moore really meant by his “dirty Jesus” claim. Not only did Jesus have dirt under his fingernails; not only did Jesus take a messy poop now and then; not only did Jesus get mad at the money changers; he actually got even with his enemies and, well, he apparently was a lot like Donald Trump!
Thus, here in twenty-first century America, we can see why Mitt Romney and Donald Trump were invited to speak at a fundamentalist university in an election year. The kids had to be introduced to the Jesus who endorses predatory capitalism, who endorses revenge, who endorses the contemporary values of the Republican Party.
And what better way of doing that than by introducing the kids to a couple of Republicans—both claiming to be Christians in good standing—who just happen to be very rich and who just happen to be unable to know or understand what Johnnie Moore said the biblical Jesus knew and understood: economic insecurity.
But the Republican-American Jesus knows nothing of that economic insecurity. He doesn’t sweat all that much, except at the gym. His fingernails are clean. There are no calluses on his hands. He is comfortable in board rooms and in corporate suites, the kinds of places where high-powered people meet to plan their next vulture capitalist adventure. He’s okay with folks who slander our black President as not being an American.
And when this Jesus farts, he often does so in bathrooms in buildings with TRUMP stamped all over them.
He too is a “dirty Jesus.” He just has a different kind of dirt on his hands.