And I really liked the part where they say that Christians don't follow a book, they follow a Person. I actually felt a shiver of excitement when I read that. Without degrading or belittling the Bible, they put it in its rightful place, the rightful place of all things, under Jesus.
Julie Clawson makes some very good points in her blog about justice, and I agree that this manifesto seems to belittle the role of justice, and of faith communities that see justice as central to their relationship with Christ. One of her points is that while the manifesto claims that Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, it also seems to claim (somewhat falsely) that some christians are doing just that.
The point of the manifesto seems to be that christianity is in some ways failing to give Christ his proper place, that we as Christ followers are supplanting Christ with lesser things. And they specifically point to justice. But in making this point, the manifesto fails to give any advice on how to put Christ first, other than warning against putting other things first. And while this is a good and always timely warning, it lacks any positive exhortation. It does not tell us HOW.
How do followers of Christ make Jesus central? How do we make him Lord? One might argue that he is those things apart from us and what we think or do. But that is not the point of the manifesto. The point of the manifesto is that we must avoid putting other things over Christ. But I don't believe that Jesus magically becomes our Lord once all other lords have been set aside. He does not become central merely by filling a vacuum. There must be concrete ways that we MAKE him our Lord.
I believe that love, and more specifically a justice that flows from love, is the answer to this question of "How?" This is the action that makes Jesus our Lord. The greatest commandment is to love God, and the way to love God is to love others. That is why the second greatest commandment is "like" the first, because loving others is like loving God. Before Jesus died he gave us a "new" commandment: to love one another. And he says if we love him we will obey his commandments. In the parables of the Sheep and Goats and of the Good Samaritan Jesus drives home the key idea that love for others is what it means to love God. He even suggests that failing to give justice to the poor will lead to separation from God. Whatever we do, we do to him. Whatever we don't do, we don't do to him. This is perhaps the most important aspect of relationship, not what we think of others, but how we relate to them. What we think or believe about God is far less important than our relationship with him. And our relationship is dependent on how we treat him. And Jesus teaches that how we treat him is synonymous with how we treat others. The sermon on the mount is full of teaching on how we are to live with and love others. Paul teaches that love is even greater than our faith. James, in a different way, teaches the same thing, that faith without works is dead. And in all of these examples this idea of love and works is directly tied to poverty and justice for the poor. Over and over again it is taught. It is inescapable.
So it seems to me that any manifesto of Jesus MUST attempt to tell us how we are to make Christ central. And any answer to this question that leaves out justice is flawed. So not only does the Sweet/Viola manifesto fail to tell us the answer, it actually admonishes us to give less place to the answer.
But other than that it's great. :-)
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