In art history Jesus has been portrayed in hundreds of ways — young and old, dark- and fair-skinned, powerful and broken — nearly every way you could imagine. In some paintings Jesus is meek and gentle. My grandmother had a giant crucifix hewn from scrap metal, hands hooked in agony, looming over the hallway with such intimidating pain that I didn't dare pass it to reach the bathroom. Thanksgivings were rough.
How we choose to portray Jesus says a lot about us. He was multifaceted, of course, and there is record of his wide range of passionate emotions. But in trying to understand and communicate his message to the world, we have a sort of Rorschach test. If you portray a kind and loving Jesus, odds are you are a kind and loving person. If you portray a distant and aloof Jesus, it may be that those words describe you. While there is room for interpretation, the litmus test for accuracy in portraying Jesus is love. If a person claims to be portraying the message of Jesus, but does not have love, then that message is a "noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13).
This is what we see in the Jesus portrayed by David Grisham, who was removed from the Girdwood Forest Fair last year for presenting his angry, aggressive Jesus. He was also removed from a shopping mall for harassing children, telling them that Santa Claus is not real. Typically using a loudspeaker and signs and speaking in opposition to events like the March for Science and the Pride parade, Grisham presents a message of rage and condemnation, "painting" a Jesus that bears little resemblance to love, and is, therefore, inaccurate. Grisham's picture of Jesus is similar to the Jesus depicted by supporters of Proposition One, on the ballot in Anchorage in April. This proposition and others like it are cloaked in faux religious righteousness, claiming the piety of faith while further excluding and vilifying transgender people. Such scapegoating is not an act of love, and therefore, like Grisham's depictions, ought not to be associated with the way of Jesus. Grisham should not be referred to as a "Christian activist" as he was in the ADN headline of Jan. 9 unless his actions depict the love and kindness of Christ.
For a better depiction of Jesus, look to the good work done by a wide range of groups that provide warm places to sleep for homeless people. If you want to look beyond hateful placards and see a true depiction of Jesus, look instead to the people that provide food for schoolchildren who can't afford lunches. If you want to look beyond dehumanizing ballot initiatives to a true depiction of Jesus, look to groups that reach out in love to provide community to people like refugees, the LGBTQIA community, or any group that is repeatedly pushed to the outskirts of acceptance.
All around us, two Jesuses are being portrayed. One welcomes all and cares for the poor. The other screams at Santa Claus and hangs signs that read "We don't serve your kind here."
The Rev. Matt Schultz is on the steering committee of Christians for Equality.
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