I wrote this short piece for the Boston Metro in the summer of 2007, but it never got picked up so I’m using it here:
“For years I have been intrigued by the WWJD phenomenon. WWJD, which stands for What Would Jesus Do, is a slogan that was popularized in the 1990s and has since become an evangelical and consumer sensation. A quick Google search lands you at www.whatwouldjesusdo.com, a commercial retail site that brags, “Our wearable messages offer you the opportunity to boldly proclaim the Good News!”
But this is a ministry of passive decoration, whereas the Jesus invoked in the slogan was a person of dramatic, thoughtful, and subversive action. Yet only one word implies action, and it is the proper noun that receives all the attention. In his lifetime, however, Jesus was not concerned about who he was, but about what he did. So, what would Jesus do?
If we look to the Bible for an answer, it is clear that Jesus would be hanging out with those people most marginalized by society. We would likely, therefore, see Jesus spending time with the sick, potentially raising a ruckus on Capitol Hill for healthcare reform. We would see him caring for the homeless, sitting with the grieving families of those killed in war [not to mention lobbying against war], and advocating for the poor. And we most certainly would have seen Jesus on June 14, walking arm in arm with Bishop Tom Shaw and others as they made their way across the Boston Common toward the State House to proclaim their support for equal marriage. As a Jew, Jesus would have rejoiced in such an ecumenical outpouring of support for equality from so many dedicated people of faith.
Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality. This is a modern day controversy that pits the social majority against the social minority, and I think the Bible makes it clear on which side Jesus would have stood. In ancient Israel it took great courage for Jesus to align himself with the marginalized, to stand up against oppressive systems that were no longer working for the well being of all people. His actions spoke louder than any words, rubber bracelets, t-shirts, or bumper stickers ever could. So, too, did the actions of everyone who stood on the side of equality at the State House on June 14. Thank you people of faith for your courageous stand for equality. That is what Jesus would have done.”
I thought about this because I’m reading Bob McElvaine’s Grand Theft Jesus, in which he makes a similar point, although not about marriage equality. He writes that “The D in WWJD stands for do: `What Would Jesus Do?’ The acronym is not WWWSAJ, `What Will We Say About Jesus?’ Yet the people who most loudly insist that they are Christians and wear the WWJD bracelets usually say that `doing’ — their acts and works — has little or nothing to do with being a `good Christian.'” (17)
My favorite bit thus far is when McElvaine takes on another ridiculous slogan and Mel Gibson in the same go! “Rather than `Jesus Is My Copilot,’ as bumper stickers say, it’s `Jesus Is My Designated Driver.’ I can imbibe all the sin I want to and turn the keys over to Jesus to drive me home. (It appears that Gibson forgot to give Jesus the keys before driving down the Pacific Coast Highway and launching into an anti-Semitic tirade when the cops pulled him over in the summer of 2006.)” (18)
McElvaine is not taking a swipe at all conservative Christians; as he writes in his introduction, his book is an indictment of the powerful perpetrators of what he calls the Christian Lite message (or XL, which I love). As he writes, “Grand Theft Jesus is intended, in lieu of an actual legal action, to be a literary suit against those who have taken Christ out of what they call Christianity.” (11) McElvaine seems to be something of a consumer advocate for ordinary folks who are not solely (soul-ly?) to blame for buying a false bill of goods. He Jesus’s Ralph Nader.
Anyway, for anyone interested in this stuff, read his book.