Where Did Jesus Go?

Martin Thielen

February 1, 2020

I recently came upon a collection of surveys of major religious groups in America, including people with no religious affiliation. One of the surveys dealt with climate change.

The vast majority of religiously unaffiliated persons believe in climate change and support efforts to mitigate it. Near the bottom of the survey stood evangelical Christians, many of whom, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny climate change and resist efforts to deal with it.

Another one of the surveys measured support for laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Near the top of the list, religiously unaffiliated persons affirmed, by a wide margin, laws that support LGBTQ rights. At the bottom of the survey were evangelical Protestant Christians. Only about half of them affirmed gay protection laws.

Similar dynamics could be found in the other surveys. For example, take the subject of immigration. Most unaffiliated religious people want compassionate treatment of immigrants, even if they support strong border security. For example, they reject policies that separate immigrant families at the border. Many evangelicals want far harsher immigration policies than most nonreligious people do.

Or take the subject of health care. Most religiously unaffiliated persons support efforts to provide health coverage to as many Americans as possible. Many evangelicals want to reduce health-care benefits.

On and on it went. People with no religious affiliation support compassionate public policies at far higher levels than people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

I found myself startled by these surveys. Issues that Jesus would likely support—like efforts to reduce climate change (after all, “God created the heavens and the earth” and has a vested interest in protecting the planet), or offering legal protections for the LGBTQ community (Jesus hung out with and advocated for marginalized people), or being compassionate to immigrants (Jesus once said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”), or providing health care (Jesus was a healer)—are supported by the vast majority of nonreligious people.

Yet these, and other Jesus-friendly policies, including efforts to reduce gun violence and offer help for the poor, are resisted by many (although certainly not all) evangelical Christians.

I have loved and served the church of Jesus Christ my entire adult life. Even in retirement I joyfully pastor a small, part-time rural congregation. But I’m deeply troubled that the kind, loving, compassionate, and grace-filled spirit of Jesus seems to be disappearing from large numbers of American churches.

Instead, many of these churches are anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-science, judgmental, narrow-minded, overtly political, and mean-spirited. As I look at many churches in America in the twenty-first century, I can’t help but wonder—Where did Jesus go?