Searching for Bush's Jesus

Laid in a manger, abridged in the White House

I walked out of my Anglican-church confirmation classes when I was 13, thinking I'd put religion out of my life for good, because the "devout" Christians I was being counseled by couldn't hide the hate in their eyes. Still, because I do admire much of Jesus's teachings, I've been angry at George Bush for a long time for claiming to be a follower of Jesus while doing so many things that He would surely have disapproved of. So recently, blessed with many lazy beach hours on the island of Tortola, I decided the time had come to challenge Bush's version of Christianity. It was a deliciously ironic coincidence that back in the late '70s and early '80s, when Bush was just married and way before Christ had "changed" his heart, he would jog along this very beach on Sundays, heading from his friends' house to the tiny mustard-colored Methodist church, with its simple wooden cross propped at the pinnacle of its gabled roof, way at the other end of town.

I recently talked on the phone with the pastor who served there at the time. He claims no memory of George, though you'd think an exuberant white guy would have been painfully obvious sitting among the local little girls, in the same starched and frilly white dresses I wore at their age, the age when little girls want to go to church. Others in the area do remember his visits to Tortola but they are considerately silent, meaning of course that there's lots to tell. Perhaps Bush attended his first Methodist service there, after switching to Laura's religion, though if he'd taken a little more care he'd have discovered that Methodists are proudly anti-war, and indeed church bishops met with him early in 2003 to try to talk him out of going to Iraq. Maybe Bush told them to check their Bibles more closely. Indeed, since the ruins of Babylon, a biblically wicked city, are in Iraq, and since Bush feels that he's been chosen "to do the Lord's will" and that his election was "another manifestation of divine purpose," we may soon hear yet another justification for this war: the United States is engaging in the final battle between Good and Evil.

Since Bush famously claims Christ as his favorite philosopher, and since I distinctly remembered Jesus being a gentle man who preached endlessly about helping the poor, honoring little children, and the impossibility of the rich getting into heaven, along with blessing those who mourn and promising that the meek shall inherit the earth, I decided to spend some of my beach hours re-reading the copy of the New Testament that a Methodist church member kindly lent me, looking for perhaps long-forgotten verses that Bush might approve of. Of course, brilliant biblical scholars have long been busy exploring the contradictions between the teachings of Jesus and the actions of Bush and other Evangelical Christians, and there's a lot of fascinating literature out there. But my concern is more as an ordinary person who was taught as a child that one of the most important lessons of the Bible is to treat others as I would want to be treated myself. So when the debate monitor followed up Bush's "Christ" answer with a suggestion that he elaborate, and Bush said, "If you don't understand, it's hard to explain," I was really surprised. Even a biblical literalist, if that's what Bush is, could easily have found example after example of Jesus's caring philosophy. He could have cited, for example, his agreement with Jesus's very admirable acceptance of women as equals.

illustration: Lady Alexandra Palace

Now, if Bush had just stuck with God as his savior, instead of specifically naming Jesus, I wouldn't have been so upset, since he, of course, could find anything he wanted in the Old Testament. He clearly prefers the Ten Commandments to the Eight Beatitudes, but, as I discovered, Jesus was consciously transforming some Old Testament teachings. In the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Jesus says clearly: "Ye may have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever should smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (5:38-39), as well as "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (5:43-44). And just to top it off, "For if you love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans [great choice of word!] the same?" (5:46). Clearly Jesus had his own agenda. He is definitely one of history's great social reformers, in a class with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and for the most part he appears much closer to a pacifist communist (which most Christians will never acknowledge) than a stock-market gambler.

But I did indeed find Jesus a little contradictory. For instance, he shocked me by saying, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). And then there's, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:14), which I'm sure Bush loves, and "He that is not with me is against me" (Matt. 12:30), which Bush has repeatedly used (though I personally prefer the version in Luke 9:50: "He that is not against us is for us" ). "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13) could be used as a justification for sending young men to war, I suppose. And then there's "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matt. 5:22), which Bush probably gets some comfort from today with all the critical stuff going on.

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