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Reach Out, Touch Faith

Ertuğrul (l) and Osman (r), father and son, fighting for justice

I watched the entire Ertuğrul saga on Netflix— 5 seasons, almost 100 episodes per season… all in Turkish. And now I’m watching the sequel, Osman, who was Ertuğrul’s son and the founder of the Ottoman Empire, so far 3 seasons. I’m in the 3rd season, episode 75, each episode is about 2 hours. I am just loving it. And learning so much about Islam. I mean I started watching Ertuğrul because I love historical fiction and this takes place in the 13th Century when the Turks were fighting off the Mongols sweeping in from the East and the Byzantines in the West. But eventually I began enjoying the series’ spiritual messaging as well. I honestly didn’t know much about the Muslim faith, not nearly as much as I know about Judaism, Christianity or Buddhism. Ertuğrul was a mega-hit not just in Turkey but all over the Muslim world— or most of it; there were political problems with Saudi Arabia and Egypt (where it was banned)— and it broke records in Pakistan and has been gigantic in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Albania, Azerbaijan and the Stans. I’ve been fighting with the Turkish producers and with Netflix about getting Osman up on U.S. TV but right now I’m watching it on my computer here, again in Turkish with English subtitles.

One of the subtexts of the series is that while Osman was founding his state, he was treating all religions with dignity. The other night while I was watching he said something overtly anti-Semitic about the nature of Jewish people (not the nature of AIPAC) on the show and it was jarring… but throughout the series he has been treating Jews and Christians equally in the towns he conquers, basically the same way he treats Muslims… lower taxes, dignity, protection from criminal elements and tyrants, etc. There are certainly no forced conversions. I thought of it this afternoon because of a post John Pavlovitz published at his blog, “Stuff That Needs To Be Said,” Actual Followers of Jesus Don’t Want Conservatives’ Compulsory Christianity, he deals with how the warped and twisted Republican perversion of Jesus-oriented Christianity looks at people outside their own sick worldview.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than professed Christians who have no real interest in Jesus,” wrote Pavlovitz. “They’re rather easy to spot if you’re paying attention. They’re usually the ones most loudly claiming things like religious liberty while methodically swallowing up the personal freedoms and elemental rights of other people. They incessantly broadcast their devotion of God on their bumpers and bellies, while living antithetically to the compassionate heart of Jesus actually found in the Scriptures. Their spirituality is largely performative: a showy firework display of culture war talking points and religious buzzwords that distracts from the truth that there lives are yielding almost nothing truly loving to anyone but people who agree with them on everything. Most telling however, is that their theology is built on an idea that Jesus fully rejected: compulsion.”

At the core of Jesus’ movement two-thousand years ago was a personal invitation to follow him in the ways of empathy, mercy, and justice. It was at its heart, an appeal to the voluntary orientation of the heart of each human being he crossed paths with. It was something to be embraced or rejected without fear of repercussions.
In other words, it is nothing like the Christianity of the Republican Party.
The United States is currently at the precipice of theocracy at the hands of a small and powerful minority of professed followers of Jesus— and it would have made him sick to his stomach.
Watching the highest court in this nation here being weaponized by a small number of religious extremists to legislate their morality on the majority, it’s a good time to remember that this wasn’t merely something Jesus would have refrained from— it was the very poisoned, institutionalized expression of faith that he railed against throughout his time here. If you read any of the Gospels, you realize pretty quickly that if Jesus’ feet were on the planet right now, the Conservative Church would be the first table he’d overturn.
Christianity as modeled by Jesus was never meant to hold power. It was never about control or brute force or dictating the laws of the land or imposing itself on people’s lives. It was never intended to be a political or religious institution, but a chosen community of like-hearted people working together for the common good.
This is why actual followers of Jesus don’t want Conservatives’ compulsory Christianity. They don’t want legislated morality. They don’t want people’s bodies and bedrooms and marriages invaded by someone else’s theology.
Actual followers of Jesus understand that spirituality is the most intimate of expressions, wholly and deeply personal and made by a human being for themselves alone.
Actual followers of Jesus aspire to a life tangibly emulating Jesus in the world and perpetuating the compassion they find there, but they would never pile those expectations on anyone else.
Actual followers of Jesus believe their personal faith shouldn’t dictate the laws others live under because they know he preached a kingdom that transcended the systems and paradigms of this place.
Actual followers of Jesus want a world where people’s most intimate of relationships and decisions are not the jurisdiction of any faith tradition, because they recognize that choosing or rejecting a spiritual path is a sacred and singular decision.
Actual followers of Jesus want no part of the Republican Party’s supposed Christianity.
They want something resembling Christ.

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