Jesus…a community organizer?

Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee today compared Obama to Jesus and Sarah Palin to Pontius Pilate.

Barack Obama was a community organizer like Jesus…. Pontius Pilate was a governor.

Let’s begin this discussion by figuring out what, exactly, is a community organizer, and what did Obama do in that capacity?

An entire website devoted to community organizing defines it this way:

Community organization is that process by which the people…organize themselves to ‘take charge’ of their situation and thus develop a sense of being a community together. It is a particularly effective tool for the poor and powerless as they determine for themselves the actions they will take to deal with the essential forces that are destroying their community and consequently causing them to be powerless.

As a Community organizer, Senator Obama successfully ran a voter registration drive that registered 150,000 new voters. He also organized a group of public housing residents to demand that the city test and remove asbestos from apartments. Both were worthy causes, and he admirably organized and worked behind the scenes to get those jobs done.

Using the definition above, I find it difficult to “fit” Jesus into the “community organizer” title that Representative Cohen gives him. Jesus did not come to give people the power to “take charge.” He did not tell them to ‘determine for themselves’ what actions they should take for the good of the community.  In fact, he did the exact opposite when he issued direct commandments. Perhaps you can call him the anti-community organizer. Whereas community organizers seek to take power into their own hands, Jesus asked his followers to deny themselves and their own interests:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Mark 8:34

Jesus had a very unique method of dealing with those ‘essential forces’ that community organizers seek to sway to their opinions, and it had nothing to do with the community that gathered around him.  Rather, it had everything to do with the Father and his love for his people.

A person who needed health care for a mental condition found relief and a certain cure not from a community organizer, but from the Son of God:

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil[g]spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.
Luke 4:33-38

As the son of God, Jesus dealt with evil head-on and won the battle every time.

Look a little closer in the book of Luke, and you’ll find a familiar story that I will put in modern day terms. An ordinary man we’ll call Joe was in a car wreck that damaged his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. Unable to walk, Joe lost his job and his health insurance. Now, Joe had a couple of friends who heard about a medical and religious specialist who had success in treating spine injuries like Joe’s. The specialist was a teaching physician and was lecturing to a huge group of doctors at a top-notch medical school. Joe’s friends just knew that if that doctor could see Joe, he could find a way to help him. They tried to wheel him in a wheelchair, but the lecture hall was way too crowded. So they went up on the roof, cut a hole in it, and carefully lowered Joe and his wheelchair down to the front of the lecture hall.

Let’s pick up the story in Luke 5:19…

Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[d] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!”

Indeed, they did see amazing things that day! In his time on this earth, Jesus did many things…but organize the community he did not. Often the crowds hated him. They tried to throw him off a cliff when he proclaimed in Luke 4 that Isaiah’s prophecy of one coming who would be annointed with the ‘Spirit of the Lord,’ who would proclaim that captives be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed be set free, was he himself.  The people in the synagogue mobbed him and tried to throw him over the cliff.  Religious leaders tried to trick him at every turn. The masses sought him out for what he could do for them rather than for what they could do for him.  He often retreated to quiet places to get private time in prayer.  And in the end, even those he was in community with — his disciples — rejected him after he was arrested.  Peter, “the Rock,” denied that he even knew Jesus.

The Bible is full of evidence, then, that Jesus was not a ‘community organizer’ as we term it today. I would wager that he might say he was a community DISorganizer, because he came to show us another, better way to live. In fact, Jesus claimed that He himself is the only way to God the Father in John 14.  The disciples were dismayed because he had told them he was going to die and then be resurrected:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Another reason Obama cannot be compared to Jesus Christ is because he himself disputes Jesus’ words quoted above, where Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Obama is quoted as saying:

“I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.”

The entire purpose of Christianity, according to Jesus himself, is the Great Commission — the command to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ — teaching them the commands Jesus gave us to love one another, to lay our lives down for each other as he did for us.

Being a part of the Christian ‘tradition’ does not make a person a Christian in truth.  Only the Lord and Obama know whether he is a Christ follower — however, as a savvy voter, it is important that I remember these words of Jesus from Luke 6:45:

For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

2 thoughts on “Jesus…a community organizer?

  1. The main point, which I think you miss entirely, is that the role of a community organizer requires that one “give up” enriching themselves to instead help others. Obama put his life on hold to serve others as an organizer and he is mocked because of it. Obama does not perform miracles.

    Jesus also practiced a level of acceptance (tax collectors and prostitutes were not condemned by him) that is lacking in today’s “real Christian”, judgmental world. And Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian.

    The one command that surpassed all others was to “love each other”. Since we are all sinners, we are unqualified to pass judgment.

  2. I am unqualified to pass judgment, but I am also told to gently correct my brothers when they are wrong. Galations 6:1-2

    Ever heard of “hate the sin, but love the sinner?” That’s what I strive to do. I hate the sin — any sin — but love the sinner. If the Lord puts a prostitute in my life, I will show her love and acceptance but I also will not candy coat things and tell her that what she is doing is okay, just as I would not candy coat it if a friend became addicted to alcohol and became abusive to her kids. And I expect my husband and my friends to call me out on the carpet when I step over the line, and I’ll be the first to admit that it happens. It’s called accountability, and that is something that Obama, McCain and I agree on. People need to step up and take responsibility for their own actions.

    Of course Obama does not perform miracles. But he was organizing people to help give them “the power.” And what he did was necessary and right…those in power were ignoring them. He led an effort to correct a wrong, and for that I admire him.

    Comparing his organizing with Jesus’ organizing, on the other hand, was not appropriate. Jesus is God. Obama is not.

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