Where would the historical Jesus of Nazareth fit in today’s disjointed political climate? A seminar led by Arthur J. Dewey — Xavier University theology professor — and Celene Lillie of the Boulder First United Methodist Church will attempt to answer that question.
“The Political Jesus” is an entry in a series of seminars put together by Oregon’s Westar Institute, “The Jesus Seminar on the Road,” which has been hosted in Methodist churches nationally for more than a decade.
The two sessions, one taking place Friday evening and the other early Saturday morning, explore the political context of Jesus of Nazareth and the Bible’s teachings through the lens of various theological scholars’ historical research.
“This one discusses Jesus in the 1st Century’s social, historical and political matrix. It explores the parallels between the 1st and 21st Century church,” said the Rev. William C. Bills, East Lansing University United Methodist Church’s lead pastor. “Those parallels include living in the most powerful nation on Earth — in the 1st Century the Roman empire and in the 21st Century, America.”
Bills said the political nature of the Bible is often overlooked and underestimated. He calls the seminar an opportunity for people to get a “fresh perspective” on the nature of the gospels, which Bills believes could be referred to as “resistance literature from within an empire.”
“If you were to locate Jesus and his disciples as poor people within an imperial system that used absentee landlords, militarism and taxation to extract wealth from the majority of the citizens to facilitate lavish wealth styles of the upper 1 or 2 percent, you could begin to see the parallels between the United States and first century Rome,” Bills said.
Bills draws further parallels between the time of Jesus of Nazareth and the modern U.S. through the doctrine of the Pax Romana — a period of relative peace in the Roman’s empire history — which Bills calls merely a “lull between wars.”
If these ideas come across radical or contrarian to one’s own beliefs of the politics of Jesus of Nazareth, Bills attributes that to a cultural removal of the Bible from its historical context.
“It is shocking for people, because they have become so comfortable with the gospels. We take these stories about Jesus and his disciples and kind of domesticate them,” Bills said. “We’ve heard them so many times, they’re divorced from their context. We hear them as little stories about morality, when in fact they were addressing people’s everyday realities.”
Bills doesn’t believe it’s a partisan issue and that both ends of the political spectrum could be surprised after taking a deeper dive into the history of Jesus of Nazareth.
Sessions begin at $20 Friday, April 27, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, 9:30 a.m. East Lansing University UMC 1120 S. Harrison Road, East Lansing www. universitychurchhome. org