WWJD: What [Boundaries] Would Jesus Designate?
March 24, 2015 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Growing up Christian with a fundamentalist slant, I internalized Jesus's "turn the other cheek" teachings to mean, "don't ever set boundaries or express anger."** I'm no longer Christian, but I'm working on reclaiming my spiritual past and figuring out what to keep and what to set aside. Are there texts that interpret the teachings of Jesus through a lens of social justice/personal boundaries/feminism/activism? I'm interested in scholarly or theological texts rather than pop psychology books.

I've read a lot of non-religious books about boundaries; what I'm looking for are books or essays that deal with Jesus's teachings head-on and interpret the teachings of forgiveness and non-violence in a way other than "grin and bear it; you'll get your reward later."

I Googled but all I could find were 'Christian lifestyle'-type blog posts, which I'm less interested in.

** DISCLAIMER: I know that "turn the other cheek" didn't literally mean "don't set boundaries" -- this is just how I internalized it as a child and teenager.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am not religious but I have gotten a lot of really good wisdom for my life from some of the liberation theology people. William Sloane Coffin in particular is very good at talking about social justice issues through a specifically Christian lens but in a way so that they are also accessible to people who do not believe or do not believe as fervently. I particularly liked The Heart Is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality which he wrote when gay marriage was just starting to be a thing and talking about resolving what the Christian Right says about marriage and love and homosexuality with what he felt Christians should get out of the teachings of Jesus.

You might also find some things to like within the writings of the Catholic Worker movement. It can be tough, you sort of have to pic and choose, but some of their anti-povery work is exceptional (though some of their stances on abortion may not be to your liking). Their newspaper always has good stuff to read.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

You might be interested in reading about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. I think there are some related ideas kicking around in some Mennonite circles as well if you want an explicitly Protestant take.
posted by hoyland at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A few resources:

Sojourner magazine is all about Christianity and social justice. Maybe not scholarly, per se, but reliable, thoughtful, and well-grounded.

hoyland is right about these ideas being in Mennonite circles. The biggest influence there in modern(ish) times is John Howard Yoder, and his book The Politics of Jesus his is widely-acknowledged classic.

Along those lines, but more recent, is Brian McLaren's Secret Message of Jesus, which is a dumb title for a smart book.

The Cornel West Reader has a good section with West's writings about faith from a liberal perspective. It's one of my favorite religious writings.

Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist has gotten a lot of attention recently, and with good reason. Clear, accessible prose, and she makes her case persuasively. If you want to go deeper/broader, Anne Clifford's Introducing Feminist Theology will help show you the landscape.

There's a lot more out there--feel free to MeMail me to follow up if you want more or want to go deeper with something. If I don't know I will know someone who does.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:26 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and I should have mentioned, for non-violence I absolutely love Walter Wink's The Powers that Be. Had a huge impact on me.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:28 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was brought up agnostic and converted to Catholicism as a young teenager (I'm now lapsed.) I always understood the New Testament as being completely about social justice! Perhaps because I wasn't brought up within a Christian tradition, it seemed to me that the gospel message is "Love one another" and that everything else, all laws, rules, traditions and interpretations, are secondary to this. I mean, maybe I understood it wrong, but I absorbed that interpretation from somewhere.

I got a bit mixed up just now looking for the quotation and it's context, because there's that long bit in John 13, but there's also Matthew, "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
posted by glasseyes at 6:45 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not text, but if you google image search for "cleaning the temple" +Jesus +art, you'll get plenty of art for that scene which is in all four gospels, and you can print one up for your wall. There's plenty of theological discussion as well about what that event signifies, but for me, having that visual reminder has been a help in seeing that Jesus got angry and acted on that anger without being sinful, as I work through similar issues.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:53 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've heard "render unto Caeser" interpreted to mean that Christians indeed set boundaries of all sorts between the religious and non-religious. As in, you do what you have to do to get by in the everyday world; it has no relevance to your relationship with God.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:05 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think you would want to at least skim some of Thomas Merton's work, definitely an intellectual with strong opinions on social justice. A quote to give you a flavor of his writings:
"I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlement of differences, for nonviolent but nevertheless radical changes. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another."
posted by forthright at 7:08 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you read any of MLK's stuff? Like his letter from a Birmingham jail? It's some of the best stuff ever written by an American.

Check out, also, Greg Boyle's Tatoos on the Heart.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:59 AM on March 25, 2015

You might consider having a conversation or two with a pastor or reverend in your area. Our family are new members of a Methodist church, and I had a few long conversations with the reverend about what the church's views and her own personal views are on topics that are important to me before agreeing to join. Every religion and religious leader has their own interpretation of the bible and how we can incorporate it into our lives. A religious leader may be able to help you find a way to re-interpret or re-frame what you internalized as a child in a way that makes sense to you as an adult.
posted by vignettist at 8:11 AM on March 25, 2015

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