"Why is Jesus getting such bad P.R.?" was the headline that caught my eye. Written by Charita Goshay and distributed by the Gatehouse News Service in April of this year, the article under that caption makes about as much sense as anything I've read in a while.
Goshay begins her piece with a reference to the Hutaree militia. The group's web site said the private army was "preparing for the end-time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive." From there, she begins to muse.
"Maybe it's because he can't be trademarked, but Jesus is misused a lot these days and for causes that bear little resemblance to his mission.
"Does someone who Christians believe walked on water and rose from the dead really need 'help' from Midwesterners running around the woods in tiger-stripe fatigues? What kind of deity needs defending anyway?
"From Pat Robertson to the Vatican fiasco to the Hutaree, Jesus can't seem to get a break.
"Even people who couldn't pick Jesus out in a lineup know better than to believe that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are representative of the faith.
"Giving whole new meaning to 'Bible thumping,' the Rev. Fred Phelps and his cult spend virtually all their time, energy and money to inform us that God hates America, soldiers, and gays."
What Ms. Goshay says is what everyone knows. People since the first century have had to form their impressions of Jesus through those of us who say we know him, follow him, and represent him in the world. And that can be scary.
Someone who experiences a racist church or homophobic preacher assumes something about Jesus. Another who reads a headline about "Christian militia" or clergy raiding church funds may distrust him. And someone who gets close enough to a church to be failed by one or abused by it may curse him.
Ms. Goshay's article makes a positive point, though, by telling the story of Sam LaBarba and his deep involvement in helping immigrants and ex-convicts find their way in new, strange environments. When he died recently, a community of believers in Canton, Ohio, knew they had lost a P.R. agent for Jesus.
"To his last days, he went as far as his wheelchair would take him to preach the gospel in ways that made Jesus' words more than just talk."
To the degree that you can turn Jesus words into "more than just talk" today, you are providing the sort of priceless P.R. he has been lacking of late.
Rubel Shelly has preached for the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville since 1978. During that time, he has also taught at David Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. To contact Rubel or to subscribe to his newsletter, Fax of Life, send email to faxOfLife@woodmont.org