Last night on CNN, a panel was discussing an upcoming high feast in our nation’s most practiced religion. I speak, of course, of the Iowa Caucuses and partisan politics. Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist who appeared on the panel. Her columns are syndicated nationally by The Washington Post and appear in more than 400 media outlets. So I was stunned that she said something so religiously illiterate, on so many different levels. You can watch it here thanks to Ed Stetzer, who posted it, but she says:
One observation. I don’t know… this seems to have slipped through the cracks a little bit but Ted Cruz said something that I found rather astonishing. He said, you know, “It’s time for the body of Christ to rise up and support me.” I don’t know anyone who takes their religion seriously who would think that Jesus should rise from the grave and resurrect himself to serve Ted Cruz. I know so many people who were offended by that comment. And you know if you want to talk about grandiosity and messianic self-imagery I think he makes Ted Cruz makes Donald Trump look rather sort of like a gentle little lamb.
Breaking: Jesus Rose From The Dead
Let’s get the big one out of the way. Contrary to recent reports in the New York Times, Jesus is not buried in a grave. Not in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as the Times had reported, or anywhere else.
That’s, um, kind of the whole point of Christianity. I am stunned that this needs to be conveyed to someone who graduated from high school, much less received a college education, or lives in a majority-Christian country, but Christians confess that Jesus rose from the dead, triumphing over sin, death and Satan. Or, as St. Paul put it, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
Our entire church is built around Jesus’ death and resurrection. We mark it constantly, from our morning prayer to evening prayer, and we even tend to worship on Sundays precisely because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. Our liturgical calendar is ordered with a focus on Jesus, culminating in his death and resurrection.
So if Ted Cruz is talking about the “body of Christ” rising up, he certainly isn’t talking about Jesus rising from the dead. And Jesus having already risen from the dead is astonishing, yes, but it is not a teaching that Ted Cruz introduced to society. Ignorance of it 2,000 years later is indefensible.
Body of Christ: How Do It Work?
Now, let’s get to Parker’s rather dramatic confusion about the Body of Christ. Unlike ignorance of the central teachings of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection that shaped Western Civilization, this ignorance is more common to anyone who hasn’t read the Bible. Although, as Terry Mattingly points out over at GetReligion, it’s a phrase you hear from such minor religious figures as Pope Francis.
Just this past Sunday, as it happens, the Scripture readings for the church included the following passage from Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Emphasis mine. My study Bible for this passage notes that the Greek word for “member” is melos, meaning “limb or part of the body.” It also references 1 Corinthians 12, which includes the passage, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” The whole passage is beautiful and worth reading so go do that now.
When Christians refer to being members of the body of Christ, we’re saying that we all have different spiritual gifts, but we work together as one. We are one with Christ, but also one with each other. Some of us might be preachers, some of us might be Sunday School teachers, some of us might only be able to show up every few weeks and sit silently in a pew, but we’re all doing our part as members in the body.
It’s a metaphor. And, just to be extra diligent here given the state of education in this country, I’ll add that a metaphor is a figure of speech that identifies something as being the same as some unrelated thing for rhetorical effect, thus highlighting the similarities between the two.
Meet a Christian
Parker says, “I know so many people who were offended by that comment,” of Cruz’s. She also says she doesn’t know “anyone who takes their religion seriously who would think that Jesus should rise from the grave and resurrect himself to serve Ted Cruz.” It is true that she doesn’t know anyone who takes their religion seriously who would think that, because no one would think that. Including Ted Cruz. Thus I’m going to go ahead and throw shade at her claim that she knows “so many people” who were offended at the notion that Jesus was going to rise from the dead to serve Ted Cruz. I mean, how large is the universe of people shockingly ignorant of Christianity yet also offended on its behalf when encountering it?
Media elites seriously need to meet a Christian or two. They live in a country that is majority Christian, in a culture shaped overwhelmingly by Christian influences. Journalists love politics and many voters are shaped by their religious views — so meeting such people can help them in their jobs of analyzing the electorate, something that they have not shined with this year.
More than 70 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. So that gives us hundreds of millions of Americans to go out and meet. Some are more devout than others, but I bet you could find at least a few dozen who understand what is meant by the body of Christ. Or, you know, just read the Bible. I know it seems like a huge book but it’s doable and so worth your time. You will be amazed at how, in addition to the story of God’s salvation of man, there are historic and literary references you never grasped before. Trigger warning: it contains other metaphors.
Here’s what Cruz actually said:
“If we awaken and energize the body of Christ– if Christians and people of faith come out and vote our values– we will win and we will turn the country around,” Cruz told volunteers on a conference call Tuesday.
OK, so he’s calling on Christians to vote their values and saying that if they do, the country will turn around. This is entirely common political speech. Universal, even. Bernie Sanders is telling his voters that if they turn out their people, they will turn the country around. Hillary’s campaign is currently trying to do the delicate dance of telling the “body of feminism” to come out and vote its values of empty uteruses or whatever. Various identity and special interest groups are told precisely what Cruz is saying here. The media just don’t notice it when it’s being told to one of their in-groups.
So it’s wrong to say that Cruz’s comments were about “grandiosity” or “messianic self-imagery” and, as such, they do not actually make Donald Trump “look rather sort of like a gentle little lamb” on this front.
Also, it’s not just Parker who is behaving in a paranoid fashion. A few weeks ago, the Post thought it super newsworthy to push out a story that said very little other than that Ted Cruz had told followers to strap on the armor of God. Now, if you’re familiar with the passage, it’s not worth a story. If you are making a story out of it, though, you clearly aren’t familiar with the passage or you think that readers aren’t. So the Post should have explained the passage!
Listen, everyone knows that more or less everyone in the media dislike Ted Cruz even more than they dislike the typical Republicans they are supposed to cover objectively. But that’s no excuse for journalistic ignorance of the Bible.
Postscript: Some Might Be Offended By Cruz
As it turns out, some people actually don’t like the way Cruz and other politicians across the spectrum conflate politics and Christianity. I am one of them. Our religion certainly influences our politics, but that’s entirely separate from Christianity pointing toward one particular candidate or even one particular set of beliefs. More than that, though, the work of the church is so much more important than politics. In Christ we are rescued from our sins and given true life. Even the best politician, best speech, best piece of legislation and best country can’t do that or anything close to that.
Further, Christ never promises us earthly success. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us, in fact, that earthly tribulations will be many. We are told to expect the world to hate us (spoiler: They do!), to expect persecution, and to expect hardship. Our response can of course include politics, but Jesus counsels us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Don’t tell the New York Daily News).
This is not to say that Christians shouldn’t engage in politics in defense of the unborn or any other persecuted minority. It’s just that we need to understand the important difference between the kingdom of earthly government and the kingdom of the church. And we must never suggest that there is no room for political disagreement among the body of Christ or that the body of Christ working together will guarantee success for a given country.
In any case, journalists covering politics in Iowa or elsewhere simply have no excuse for this level of religious ignorance. Newsrooms must hire people with a working knowledge of the religion practiced by the vast majority of Americans. And in the meantime, a bit more fact checking and humility when discussing religion is in order.