By Sandra L. Strauss
There is a widely held view that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and that our laws and policies should be shaped by Christian values. Not all Christians agree that our nation was founded as a Christian nation and will defend that viewpoint by citing the Founding Fathers, Enlightenment theory, and theological arguments.
However, let’s go with the view that we were founded as a Christian nation, and therefore should be shaped by Christian values.
But what are “Christian values?” It’s obvious that there is significant disagreement among Christians over just what that means. It strikes me that as Christians, we should go to the source — Jesus. What did Jesus say? Or what would Jesus do? What were the rules that guided the early Christian community that rose in the wake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?
First, it should be noted that Jesus was born, lived his life, and died as a Jewish person living in a Jewish society under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, so what he said and did is not exclusive to Christians — but it did shape those who became our early Christian forebears.
And where do we find what we need to know about the man we choose to follow as Christians living 2000 plus years later? While there are lesser known writings by historians of that time—like Josephus—our primary source as Christians is the Bible, and in particular, the New Testament, which documents the life of Jesus and the early church.
What did Jesus say? Here’s just a few things: (1) Love your neighbor as yourself; (2) Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; (3) Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me; (4) The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve; (5) In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; (6) From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. There’s more, but what did Jesus do? Did his actions back up his words?
Jesus healed those who suffered from lifelong ailments. He fed hungry throngs when they didn’t have access to food in the wilderness. He broke bread with the least desirable elements of his society when no one else would do so.
He lifted up and protected women, challenging those who were about to stone a woman accused of adultery, and interacting with the woman at the well. He touched and hugged lepers—considered unclean in the Jewish society in which he lived.
His followers obviously took his words and actions to heart, and they lived accordingly, as we learn from these words in Acts 2: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” They lived in a mindset of abundance, rather than scarcity, based on all the promises that God has made to us, and that Jesus modeled.
We live in strange times, and it’s hard to know what lies ahead. Fear can provoke a scarcity mindset, leading us to “circle the wagons” and act to protect ourselves.
However, trusting in God, and following the Christ who showed us how to live, we can overcome the fear and understand that there is more than enough for everyone—and that when all have what they need, we are all healthier, happier, and safer.
Whether or not you believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, this might be a good time to consider and work toward a system that reflects the Christian values illustrated above — many of which are shared across a range of traditions and among people of good will. Too many people have been left behind, and we have it within our power to end preventable suffering.
There is more than enough to provide food, housing, healthcare, education, and so many other essentials for everyone to live with dignity if we are willing to share — and willing to work to create the political will to make it happen. We can do this, even in a time of pandemic — and in fact, maybe this is the perfect time to begin.
The Rev. Sandra L. Strauss is the director of Advocacy & Ecumenical Outreach for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. For more information regarding the Council, please CLICK HERE. Her work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.