What Would Jesus Do?

by Archbishop Robert M. Bowman

As the world lurches from crisis to crisis and from war to war, we tend to hold powerful forces — governments and multinational corporations — responsible. But for those of us in the Church, it is appropriate for us to examine our own culpability. We have all too often cooperated and colluded with these forces, and have failed our parishioners by diluting and distorting the message of Jesus we are commissioned to preach.

The big thing among Christians these days is WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). They wear WWJD bracelets, necklaces, you name it. The problem is that many of them don’t have a clue what Jesus would really do, because their churches don’t teach them about Jesus. Jesus is almost completely missing from much of Christianity. The churches worship an ethereal risen Christ, but ignore the flesh-and-blood Jesus. Jesus was a first-century Jew in Roman-occupied Palestine. With his parables, he challenged the domination system of imperial Rome and its client kings and temple lackeys. He exposed the injustices of the empire/temple system, and made enemies of both the Romans and the Pharisees. In parables he warned of the futility of violent revolution. In the sermon on the mount he gave the people practical ways to employ nonviolent resistance. He taught them to stand upright and defiantly “turn the other cheek” instead of groveling in the dust. He advised them to “go the second mile,” knowing that it was illegal for Roman soldiers to conscript someone to carry their pack for more than a mile. And he turned the old ways upside down with his counsel to “love your enemies” and “do good to those who persecute you.”

But Jesus didn’t just preach nonviolence. He lived it, all the way to the cross. He showed us a nonviolent, all-loving, infinitely-merciful God — a God not at all like the jealous, scorekeeping, vengeful God too often portrayed in the Jewish scriptures. Yes, Jesus was a revolutionary — but his revolution wasn’t against Roman rule, but against the distorted image of God held by the people. He also drastically altered our understanding of how God wants us to act. God, it turns out, wants us to act like Jesus. He wants us to speak out against and nonviolently resist the exploitative, imperial powers of our day. (That means the oil companies and other global robber barons, as well as their hirelings in the U.S. government.) He wants us to promote the cause of widows and orphans, the poor and the outcast, the alienated and the victims of discrimination. He wants us on the side of single mothers, gays, Arabs — all the tax collectors, lepers, and Samaritans of today. Above all, He wants us to forego violence even in self-defense.

The early Church understood that. Christians were forbidden to be in the Army, to participate in capital punishment, even to testify against one accused of a capital offense. Their active nonviolent non-cooperation with Caesar resulted in their being persecuted and outlawed. The roots of the early Church were watered with the blood of its martyrs.

Then came Constantine. Christians came out of the catacombs and into the palaces. By so doing, they gave up their nonviolence, their independence, and their way. Instead of following Jesus, they began following Caesar. Oh, they came up with elaborate rationalizations for their actions. They invented the “Just War Theory” to justify taking up the sword for the emperor. And for the last 1600 years or so, most Christian churches and their hierarchies have advised young Christians to go to war for whatever is the latest adventure of Caesar, whether he is called Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Bill Clinton, or George Bush (with whatever middle initials). Tens of millions of Christians have died in these wars. What’s worse, tens of millions have killed. Christian chaplains blessed Christian crews as they left to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Is this what Jesus would have done? Of course not!

As a confused but obedient Roman Catholic, I flew 101 combat missions in Vietnam. Knowing what I know now, I would not do it again. Why was there no chaplain to ask me what Jesus would do? Why was there no bishops’ conference to speak out against the war? Why was there no pope to declare participation in all warfare to be sinful? Why even today are the only Catholics truly following Jesus the handful in Pax Christi and the Catholic Worker houses around the country? Why does the Church not speak out against the phony War on Terrorism and the coming wars against Colombia and Iraq?

In the United States, only the traditional peace churches are opposing Caesar, and they’re small enough to be ignored. But what would happen if a really big and influential church became a peace church? What if the Roman Catholic Church did so? Would the Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists be far behind? (The Baptists might take a little longer.) What if Christians throughout the armed services demanded non-combat service? What if no Christians volunteered or registered for the draft?

What might happen is that wars would stop. After all, how many wars can be fought without Christians? Oh, we might lose our tax exemptions and our favored treatment. We might even be persecuted again. If so, so be it. It’s better for us to follow Jesus in the catacombs than to betray him in the halls of power.

What might also happen is that our government would be unable to protect our property and maintain the affluence gap between us and the developing world. They might not be able to protect our right as Americans to consume eight times our share of the world’s resources. Giving up violence means giving up the fruits of violence. We must be prepared for that. (What would Jesus do?)

In the early 80s a Roman Catholic bishop said, “Just war? What just war? No such thing exists. But we must not tell this to the people.” The late John L. McKenzie said, “The statement of the renunciation of violence is clear enough. Christians have never questioned either that Jesus said it or that it admits no qualification. Christians have simply decided they cannot live according to these sayings of Jesus. … If the Roman Catholic Church were to decide to join the Mennonites in refusing violence, I doubt whether our harmonious relations with the government would endure the day after the decision.”

In one of his many essays against the Church’s support for warfare, Emmanuel Charles McCarthy said, “There are just some activities that there are no Christ-like ways of doing. A house of prostitution can be filled with statues, icons, incense, bells, piped in Gregorian chant, a theological library and a chapel but that does not make prostitution an act in conformity with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Nor would the presence of a chaplain. … The ultimate norm of Christian life has to be Jesus, His words and deeds — and if He is not the standard … who or what is? Plato? Aristotle? Hugh Hefner? NBC? FOX?” He went on to conclude, “All attempts today to justify violence from the life of Jesus or His teachings are devoid of spiritual and intellectual merit. … If a person does not wish to truthfully tell the story of Jesus, then why be ordained? Are the allurements of a secure income, status, power, and social acceptance so magnetic that they can seduce a Christian leader into falsifying a teaching of Jesus in order to obtain them or retain them?”

The conclusion we must reach is that when we emerged from the catacombs and embraced Constantine’s offer of secular power, prestige, and protection, we Christians prostituted ourselves. Fortunately, we can still go back! We can rescue the nonviolent Jesus from obscurity and restore the heritage of the early Church — the pre-Roman Catholic Church, if you will. We can spread the true message of the real Jesus through today’s equivalent of the catacombs — the internet and NCR. I call on pastors of all denominations to declare their parishes to be “peace churches” and to sign up at . Just click on “catacombs.” I call on bishops to start preaching the nonviolent Jesus and do the same for their dioceses. I plead with conferences of bishops to have the backbone to oppose Caesar. And I pray that the Pope, who has spoken so courageously about peace, takes that one final step to sever the Church’s dependence on secular powers. Back to the catacombs!

Robert M. Bowman is presiding archbishop and primate of the United Catholic Church, an outgrowth of the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht, Netherlands. He lives in Melbourne, Florida. He can be reached at: catholic@rmbowman.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman