Pardon the Shouting



by John Tyler Connoley


August 31, 2005



Jesus has developed Tourette's Syndrome. I've been thinking this might be a possibility for a while, but it was confirmed last week when Pat Robertson spouted off about the need to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and then quickly recanted two days later.

There's a long tradition in Christianity of viewing the Church as the body of Christ. According to this point of view, all Christian believers make up the physical manifestation of Jesus on earth. Literally, we believers are Christ's hands, feet, face, and heart.

Within this tradition there has developed an idea that certain people -- Popes, Deacons, Pastors, Priests -- are the voice of Christ. And, in the age of television, these people have become Christ's face to the whole world. Pat Robertson is a prominent feature on the face of Christ, but so are James Dobson, Pope Benedict, Jerry Falwell, and of course the first evangelical U.S. President, George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, in the past few decades, the body of Christ has developed some embarrassing facial tics. These days, Jesus' face regularly contorts in angry scowls, as his mouth spews violent and prejudiced phrases. Watching the news, I'm reminded of the man with Tourette's standing in a bank queue behind an African American customer. He was horrified to hear himself saying, "Nigger. Nigger. Nigger."

The man with Tourette's, who recounted his experience in the movie Twitch and Shout, knew there was nothing he could say or do to explain his involuntary actions to the stranger. All of the people interviewed for that movie told similar stories, and were grateful for friends willing to see them for who they were, despite their twitches and shouts. Their hearts were in the right place, even if their faces didn't always show it. As a Christian, I also hope my friends don't hold the rest of the body responsible for the twitches and shouts of Christ's face.

While Christ's face has been starting wars, equating same-sex relationships with bestiality, considering the benefits of assassination, and calling down hurricanes on wayward cities, the hands and heart of Christ have been continuing the work of healing and loving that characterized his life on earth.

This spring, in the wake of the tsunami in Southeast Asia, millions of Christians around the world joined with other compassionate people and reached hands into pockets to give generously; thousands more carried supplies, rebuilt houses, and tended to broken bones. A friend of my family piled whatever supplies he could fit into a van and drove all over Southern Indonesia, offering fresh water and food without asking anything in return. The same is now happening in Niger, where Christ's hands offer food supplements to starving children. And Christians will certainly be part of the relief effort following hurricane Katrina.

Likewise, while the Pope calls gay people "objectively disordered" and considers making heterosexuality a prerequisite for Christian service, millions of Christian mothers, brothers, and friends embrace their gay family members. Instinctively, these people know Christ's heart should love those the establishment would reject. My church, the United Church of Christ, is filled with such people, and I was grateful for all the hugs and well-wishes my spouse and I received a few weeks ago when we celebrated our fifth anniversary. However, even denominations that seem split over the issue of homosexuality have at their heart a core of loving people who embrace their gay and lesbian family -- I was happy to read about the close vote at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's General Synod, knowing it represented a growing acceptance of gay Christians. Let the face of Christ reflexively shout its epithets, Christ's arms hug God's children tightly.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is one of many Christian organizations working toward peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. In the United States, the AFSC also works in schools to offer young people alternatives to war and violence. The World Council of Churches is in the middle of its Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010), and has called for an International Day of Prayer for Peace on September 21. At the same time, the National Council of Churches is calling on its members to toll their bells for the fallen in Iraq. And, in a smaller venue, I recently ran across the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, a Catholic organization that takes young people on trips to Juarez, Mexico, where they live among the poor. With these trips, CAC hopes to jump-start the compassionate hearts of these young Christians.

Certainly it's the face of Christ, twitching and shouting, that makes for interesting newscasts, not the thousands of small gestures performed by Christ's hands motivated by Christ's heart. And we Christians can't expect a mainstream media that thrives on shock and awe to stop highlighting the words of Pat Robertson or the mispronouncements of Rick Santorum -- just as juvenile delinquents will always make fun of a man with Tourette's. However, as a member of the body of Christ, I hope my friends will ignore the uncontrollable rudeness of the face and recognize the heart of Christ that continues to motivate the movements of much of the body of believers.




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