The Jesus Tug-of-War between Rush Limbaugh and Lawrence O’Donnell is underway. They’re each puling for the real Jesus to stand up in the Federal budget battle. Is this just a side show? Or does it reflect the yearning for a story line about how the budget battle defines who we are as Americans?
Rush Limbaugh is incensed that CNN’s Christine Amanpour led into her Easter Day story by saying, “In these turbulent times, has America lost its way? Taxes and budget cuts.” Then she asked some influential pastors, “What would Jesus do?”
Fury hath no greater rumble than Mr. Limbaugh’s indignation. Amanpour and CNN are the foil for his outrage against “the liberal media” co-opting “Jesus Christ one day of the year” to advance their political agenda of promoting America’s decline. Instead, Limbaugh believes that the budget question is “What would Jesus take?”
It’s a jarring question. Mystics and theologian’s write about the self-giving nature of Christ. He’s not presented as a taker. But it is how Limbaugh wants to redefine Christ.
Lawrence O’Donnell’s stinging response to Limbaugh aired last night on MSNBC. O’Donnell is no slouch when it comes to Christianity or budgets. His nine minutes on Limbaugh, the budget, Christ’s compassion for the poor and outcasts of all kinds reflected a Catholic spirituality of social justice learned as a student at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham Massachusetts. His budget credentials are at least as strong having served as staff director of the US Senate’s Committee on Finance.
They’ve each offered an opening shot in the latest iteration of the moral wars. Limbaugh lambasted Amanpour and liberals for lacking morality. O’Donnell castigated Rush for his lack of familiarity with Jesus of the Gospels; for not knowing that they are filled with stories of coming to the aid of one another.
Amanpour’s question is not an unreasonable one for spiritual people. You go to the core teachings of your tradition for grounding or even guidance. Those essentials may even inform your worldview or provide a compass with which to navigate life.
That’s very different than setting policy or legislating based on your interpretation of a particular tradition. I don’t want my politicians or leaders claiming the self-righteous assurance of knowing the mind of Jesus, God, Yahweh or Allah. It’s uncomfortably close to a theocracy.
The Rabbi Jesus drew on his Jewish traditions replete with the exhortations of the prophets to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly” with the Holy.
What O’Donnell and Limbaugh miss is the context ofthe core message of this Rabbi. In the world of the eastern Mediterranean his pre-occupation with love had a different resonance than our association of the word with romantic love or the classic Greek definitions of philia, agape, eros or storge.
Love was understood as a contractual arrangement between states – a promise to come to the aid of one another when under threat or attack. That understanding together with a variety of spiritual teachings on love and compassion are enough to add substantive discussion about budget battles viewed through the lens of faith.
The O’Donnell and Limbaugh tug of war is subterfuge. They avoid the real question of what story line defines us as Americans. Lost in the discussion is Amanpour’s implied question of what tax and budget decisions will say about our way forward. The Federal Budget is not politically, morally or ethically neutral.
The Jesus Tug-of-War may be interesting, amusing or disturbing. It is a distraction from the more significant question of how we define ourselves as a people. Will a vision of the common good be reflected in it?
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