Reflections on THE FREE STATE OF JONES
The brutality and violence that permeates THE FREE STATE OF JONES utterly appalled me. In fact, I missed some of the movie because I had my eyes closed. I was horrified by the scenes of war. I was especially horrified by the lynching. I was horrified by the scenes of the Klu Klux Klan riding with their crosses, killing Negroes in the name of Christ! I am especially horrified knowing that such hates continues today and is being perpetuated by one of our candidates for president. I am horrified that we who call ourselves Christian continue to torture and kill others in Jesus Name.
I came away from the movie aware that it is not enough for me to say I am a Christian, or that I believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I must also believe him, believe what he said, believe that what he did also applies to me. Jesus lived his life among the poor, the outcast and the marginalized. He taught that those who hunger and thirst to see justice prevail will be satisfied. He blessed the peacemakers, not the war-mongers. He not only taught the love of God and love of neighbor, but he also taught us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hurt and misuse us!
While few of us know what it means to love our enemies, we can assume that at the very least it means do not kill them! Since those fateful days when Jesus said love your enemies the fundamental conflict between the world's way of dealing with enemies and Jesus' way keeps playing out in front of our eyes, generation after generation. Political ideologies and powers not only advocate war as the preferred method of problem solving but they insist that violence is redemptive. Given that Jesus did not call down Legions of Angels to protect and rescue him when he was so brutally tortured and crucified seems pretty clear that he advocated a different way and understood we can't have it both ways. One can't love and hate at the same time.
Either we believe his way works or we don't.
I know this column is not supposed to be overtly religious. Believe it or not, my intention is not to convert anyone to Christianity. Whether we are Christian, skeptic, Hindu, Moslem, agnostic, a Free Mason, whatever, society has come to see Jesus as one of the greatest moral and ethical influences of all time. So in the wake of THE FREE STATE OF JONES and all other movies that glorify violence and killing, I ask, “Are we willing to take the teachings and ethics of Jesus seriously? Are we willing to try another way, the way of treating our enemies with respect, of doing good to those who persecute us, that is loving them? And for those who loudly proclaim their desire to make America a truly Christian nation, my challenge is remains: put your money where your mouth is. It's not enough to believe in Jesus; we must also believe him and do as he said! Even when it means trying a different way.
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite church.