A recent poll reveals that “younger Christians are not as supportive of the death penalty as older members of their faith. When asked if they agreed that “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” 42 percent of self-identified Christian boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, said “yes.” Only 32 percent of self-identified Christian millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, said the same thing.”
Perhaps more noteworthy is the revelation that only 5% of participants believed that Jesus would support the death penalty. I wonder what goes through the mind of someone who checks the box indicating “I am a practicing Christian” and then publicly disagrees with (what they believe is) Jesus’ opinion on a certain issue? I only hope that 35% of the participants at least appreciated the irony of their answers.
This is simply one more example of what we already knew: despite the fact that Christians have a decent grasp on Jesus’ clear teachings (on violence, wealth/poverty, divorce, etc), they feel little need to conform their own beliefs or actions to those of Jesus. In fact, this is such a non-issue for the majority of Christians that they don’t even attempt to hide or rationalize this gap (by arguing that Jesus was for the death penalty, perhaps). How have Christians become so comfortably distant from their own Lord?
My diagnosis: too many people worship an “idea” of Jesus more than Jesus himself. That is to say, they have elevated a vague sense of “love,” forgiveness,” and/or “hope for heaven” over and above the actual person and ministry of Jesus. Too many churches don’t read the Gospels seriously, don’t even try to obey Jesus’ direct teachings, and don’t instruct new believers in the way of discipleship.
In many ways, we treat Jesus as another dead historical figure who has come to stand for certain timeless truths. We forget that he is alive, that he is on the move, and that he continues to call men, women, and children to join in the revolution he called “the Kingdom of God.” Sunday morning worship is not a memorial service in which we gather to fondly remember a distant life. It is a gathering of Jesus’ people, who have joined him in rebellion against the powers of darkness and have instead adopted his way of being human. It is a reminder that Jesus is a person to be followed, not just an idea to appreciate.