Love Your Burglar, and Other Strange Progressive Christian Teachings
If there’s one thing every Christian should be able to agree on, whether fundamentalist or liberal, evangelical or progressive, Catholic or Protestant, it’s this: Jesus is at the center of all we are and do as Christians. I’ve found we actually can say that, all of us, and mean it, too — except we say it with different versions of “Jesus” in mind.
Therein lies a huge problem. Progressives in particular have a way of re-defining “Jesus” to fit their beliefs, when instead they should submit their beliefs to the real Jesus and let Him re-define their doctrine.
If you catch me making that mistake, let me know. I want nothing to do with it: It’s too much like the cults. Mormons follow a “Jesus” who’s a brother to Lucifer. They sure didn’t get that doctrine from the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses say they “believe in Jesus,” but this “Jesus” is a created being, the archangel Michael. They didn’t get that from Scripture, either.
Progressives, too, have a way of re-inventing “Jesus” to suit them, one who’s vaguely like the Jesus of Scripture, perhaps just enough to let them think they’re believers. But this “Jesus” of theirs doesn’t close enough to stand up to an actual reading of the gospels.
Pride Parade-Partying “Jesus”
Progressives came out in droves to support “Pride Month,” and brought their “Jesus” along with them. Carlos Rodriguez, an author, activist, and (per his Amazon description) “provocative” preacher, tweeted, “The first thing Jesus would do at a Pride parade — is eat with everyone there.” Rodriguez didn’t use the word “party,” but what else could he picture it as?
The first thing Jesus would do at a Pride parade—is eat with everyone there.
The first thing Jesus would do on a refugee caravan—is feed everyone there.
The first thing Jesus would do at a religious meeting, is leave to go back to the parade and the caravan.
— Carlos A. Rodríguez (@CarlosHappyNPO) June 27, 2023
There’s a trace of truth in there. Jesus scandalized religious leaders by eating with sinners. Look how He did it, though. On one occasion, His disciple Matthew hosted a banquet and “many tax collectors and sinners” came to join in. This wasn’t Jesus showing up to party at a public parade glorifying sin. This was sinners joining a party hosted by one of their own who was already clearly repentant.
Jesus dined with Zaccheus, another tax collector, but again, repentance was in the picture. Zaccheus had already shown he was searching for Him. At dinner he repented of his sins, after which Jesus explained His purpose there: “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” Not to be confused with partying with sinners on behalf of sin.
“Everyone Welcome” Jesus
Another progressive “Jesus” welcomes all, no exceptions. This “Jesus” is especially keen not to exclude homosexual and transgender persons.
Again, there’s a trace of truth here. Jesus certainly invites all, and I’m sure He wouldn’t exclude anyone from attending one of His public meetings. But being welcomed at a preaching event is starkly different from being welcome to, for example, rewrite a church’s creed.
Look at the gospels and see for yourself. Whom did Jesus invite into close fellowship? What kind of activities and behaviors did He support? Whom did He place in leadership? What teaching did He encourage? Those who enter into fellowship with Him are those who deny themselves, take up their crosses daily, and follow Him.
That’s not to say non-believers shouldn’t come to church. Anyone can come seeking, or questioning, or coming along with their parents or spouse. But nothing in Jesus’ life or message suggests we should let these people teach. Nothing says He welcomes the flouting of sin. And certainly nothing hints that everyone is welcome to lead. Sinners can come to church — who else is there? — but open, unrepentant sin must never define any church.
“Love Your Burglar” Jesus
Another “Jesus” I see too often is the one who says, “Love your neighbor.” True enough, He said that. Except this version of “Jesus” says we should love everyone who’s pouring in across the nation’s southern border, such that we accommodate their demands. Wrong.
God loves everyone, but He only expects us humans to love people we have the capacity to love. Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to tell us that included a larger scope than we might think. But notice whom He commended: Someone who was already passing by the way and loved the injured man.
Here and elsewhere, Jesus seems to define “neighbor” as many of us might: Someone we’re in contact with. I can love the person I live near, or the clerk at the store, or the housekeeper at the hotel. To say I should love equally every one of the billions of people on earth is to render the word love abstract, even meaningless.
The point of the parable wasn’t, “The Samaritans are your neighbors, so let them pour into the Temple and take it over.” It’s the story of a man the Jews would ordinarily despise, who demonstrated what being a neighbor means. He did four really good things for a needy individual he met along the road: He gave him first aid, he transported him to someone who could give him further care, he stayed a night to care for him, and he paid for it all.
The parable sets a high standard. Still, the Samaritan did four good things, not five or six or seven or a thousand good things. His love was a stretch, to be sure, but not a self-destructive one. Jesus commands us to deny ourselves, not destroy ourselves — to take out our very ability to keep on giving.
Further, Jesus never said we should welcome people to barge into our homes uninvited and take what they want. That’s not “love your neighbor,” it’s “love your burglar!” Not even the famously giving bishop in Les Miserables went that far. Nowhere does Jesus expect us to let robbers move in and live like members of the family — no matter how needy they may be.
Progressive Christians say Jesus would do things their way, when the record we have shows no evidence for it (at best) and often shows exactly the opposite. What it shows is Jesus never wavering from His own identity, His own truth, His own message.
I don’t know anyone who follows Him perfectly. Again, if I make the same sort of mistake I’m charging progressives with here — if I’m molding or bending Jesus to my own criteria — please tell me. Use Scripture, though, please. It’s our only source for knowing who He truly was and what He taught. If we go soft on Scripture, soon we’ll be molding a “Jesus” into our preferred image, supporting our preferred agenda.
No one follows Him perfectly, myself included. But I don’t ever want to make the mistake of making up some convenient, fake “Jesus” to suit myself, a “Jesus” adapted to my doctrine, who’s following me instead of the other way around. That would be the worst error of them all.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.