He is risen but how

It was Friday before Mitt Romney’s staff finally informed him that “He is risen” did not refer to his lead in the race.

I wanted to avoid a political discussion on Easter but then the Republicans had to do something like passing the Women as Livestock act in Georgia. Think of it as Georgia’s gift to Jesus on the anniversary of the resurrection to remind us that in him there is neither man nor woman, slave nor master, nor even pig nor cow nor woman.

But today is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This was the day Mary Magdeline came to his tomb and the Republicans told them that, following the tradition of the Augusta Club, women were no longer allowed. In fact, they would have to pay for their own contraception even if it was a medical necessity. The women left in great sorrow and when Jesus came from the tomb and saw them walking away, he asked, “What did they want? Why did you send them away?”

And yeah, the Republican guard answered, “Don’t worry. Ann Romney’s going to tell them all the reasons why they should feel good about us.”

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I believed that you couldn’t be Christian if you didn’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead. Then my first wife Robin decided we should become Presbyterian and my best wife, Carol, decided we should be Episcopalian. Between marriages I took Catholic lessons because after our divorce Robin became Catholic and wanted me to follow suit. It seems my becoming Catholic had something to do with whether or not she was really married her first time and would our son Bryan be a bastard in the eyes of the church.

(Reading this again I know it sounds like I may be whipped when it comes to faith, but I can assure you I wasn’t. I just figured that wherever you worshipped, Jesus would hang out. I know this doesn’t sound very BPK, but two wives and a kid can knock the Baptist shellac off fairly quickly. Two wives, a kid and just about every deacon, preacher and evangelist I ever met.)

Unfortunately for Jesus, or me, I discovered that some Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Unitarian/Universalists among others don’t really believe Jesus showed up on the first Easter Sunday. And not just because the sabbath was really Saturday. They think that Jesus stayed dead and the resurrection is a metaphor, or myth. Or, in a compromise, that his resurrection was spiritual.

I’d heard such people existed when I was a budding young Baptist, but meeting them and reading their books was an eye opener. They believe the spirit of Christ was raised from the dead, but not his body. Bishop John Spong, for instance, had no problem admitting he’s uncomfortable with the resurrection thing. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been accused of rejecting the resurrection, although I’m not sure he ever admitted it. The problem was that, except for the resurrection thing, guys like Spong and Bonhoeffer seemed pretty Christian to me.

Oh, sure, a lot of those guys think its okay for women to be bishops and that gays should not only be married, they can worship and take the Eucharist. The problem is, I agree with them. And those guys don’t seem quite so determined to deny others access to heaven, or charity or a semblance of respect the way people who insist on a physical resurrection do.

Jesus said you will know his followers by their fruit, not their words. In the famous John 3:16 he said that those who believe in him will have everlasting life. He never broke down what it meant to follow him into a specific creed and that includes the belief that he was physically raised from the dead.

Peter denied him three times on the evening before his death, but he was still allowed into the kingdom. Thomas had to touch Jesus before he would believe (a luxury none of us would have). Nor is it clear to me that every one who was a follower of the Way believed in the resurrection.

Paul says to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12) I could discuss the entire defense of the resurrection but I don’t intend to persuade anyone as to whether Jesus’ resurrection was physical or spiritual.

What I find most interesting is that Paul isn’t writing to unbelievers, he’s writing to the church. These are people who profess to believe in Christ and who take communion. And yet some of them do not accept the resurrection of the dead. Nor is Paul suggesting they be thrown out of the church or that they aren’t really Christian. He merely reminds them that the resurrection is a central tenet of the faith.

When I was a BPK, Baptists would tolerate drunks, addicts and smokers, the three worst kinds of sinners. Baptists gave them time to work through their problems. But you couldn’t be Baptist if you didn’t buy into Easter. You couldn’t even be Christian. We would put up with sin but we wouldn’t tolerate doctrinal impurity. Baptists seemed to think your beliefs must follow the checklist but sin could take its time.

Many Christians assume you have to accept the whole package before you’re bona fide but I don’t see it. There are simply too many whole packages. Paul and Peter argued frequently over the requirements for faith. If we give believers time to bring their actions in line with expectations, why not give them time to work out the elements of faith as well?

When we talk of a personal relationship with Jesus we can’t forget the key word “personal.” The relationship is about you and no one else. Your responsibility is for your growth and to make sure you don’t interfere with anyone else’s.

When someone professes the faith then, we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than demanding they pass a JQ test.1 It isn’t for us to decide who truly has faith, regardless of whether they were baptized or believe in a spiritual resurrection, vote Republican or welcome Obama as a member of the faith. That is a question that can only be answered by the believer and Jesus.

Whether your JQ is 1 or 18o, if you seriously want to follow Jesus, I believe he will give you time to find your way.


1Do I really need to explain something as simple as a believer’s Jesus Quotient?back

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