By Rudy Barnes, Jr.,
Jesus was a maverick Jew in 1st century Palestine. His teachings didn’t address issues like democracy and human rights since they weren’t relevant to his time and place; but his altruistic moral teachings on how we should relate to each other were simple, universal and timeless truths as relevant to our times today as they were to the ancient times of Jesus.
The teachings of Jesus met the requirements of the KISS principle to keep it simple. He taught that to enter God’s kingdom we must have the mind of a child. (Matthew 18:3) Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man;" but Jesus never taught that he was divine or God’s blood sacrifice to save us from sin.
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:28-33) It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims that expresses the will of God; and Jesus taught that all who did the will of God were his spiritual brothers and sisters. (Mark 3:34)
If the early church had taught that salvation required universal love for all others rather than an exclusivist belief in Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God (something that Jesus never taught), the world would look different today. Instead of divisive religious conflict between the Abrahamic religions, church doctrine would have promoted religious reconciliation.
Jesus called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him; but the church knew that the teachings of Jesus on altruistic love would never be popular, so it subordinated his teachings to mystical Christian beliefs. It was a ploy that promoted the cheap grace of exclusivist Christian beliefs over discipleship, and enabled Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion.
Christianity in America is now declining. For the church to restore its legitimacy it will have to emphasize following Jesus as God’s universal Word rather than worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God. That would require church leaders to reject exclusivist Christian beliefs on salvation and emphasize discipleship as God’s will--a mission impossible for a popular church.
In the unlikely event the church ever promotes universal salvation, it would then have to be the moral steward of political legitimacy in America’s polarized partisan politics and promote the common good. Jesus never backed away from controversy in his day, but most 21st century churches have avoided political controversy to keep peace in their congregations.
So long as popularity remains the measure of success in America’s politics and church, it’s unlikely the church will ever address divisive political issues. Since the teachings of Jesus were never popular, it’s unlikely that God’s simple, universal and timeless truths taught by Jesus will ever prevail over the cheap and easy grace provided by exclusivist Christian beliefs.
KISS is a backronym for "keep it simple, stupid", is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided. The phrase has been associated with aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson. The term "KISS principle" was in popular use by 1970. Variations on the phrase include: "Keep it simple, silly", "keep it short and simple", "keep it simple and straightforward", and "keep it small and simple. See https://static.hlt.bme.hu/semantics/external/pages/KISS-alapelv/en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KISS_principle.html.
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/jesus-meets-muhammad-is-there-common.html. and http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2023/04/musings-on-common-word-of-faith-and.html.
Thomas Jefferson was a deist who held the teachings of Jesus in high regard while he detested church doctrines. In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.” Jefferson assembled The Jefferson Bible on the moral teachings of Jesus, and many biblical scholars consider Jefferson prescient in separating the actual teachings of Jesus from what the gospel writers had likely put on his lips. Robin Meyers echoed Jefferson’s criticism in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html. See also Musings on the Evolution of Christianity into the American Civil Religion (December 10, 2022) at
The Jesus Seminar is a distinguished group of Christian scholars who recognized Thomas Jefferson as a pioneer “who scrutinized the gospels with the intent to separate the real teachings of Jesus, the figure of history, from the crustaceans of Christian doctrine.” See The Five Gospels, In the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, What Did Jesus Really Say? Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and The Jesus Seminar, A Polebridge Press Book, Macmillan Publishing Company, NY, 1993 (at pp 2,3).
In his tour of America in 1834, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that religion is a two-edged sword in democracy: While Christians ``readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness,” and “will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law, …religion is entangled in those institutions that democracy assails, and is not infrequently brought to reject the equality it loves and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe.” De Tocqueville noted that secular citizens are skeptical of religion in politics but know “that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” See De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, The Cooperative Publication Society and the Colonial Press, 1900, p 12.