After the awe-inspiring views, one of the first things a visitor to the Flathead will notice is the numerous “God’s Ten Commandments” signs along roadsides. As someone who grew up attending a Baptist church, I agree that the 10 Commandments are the backbone of Western Civilization and our legal system. Period.
However, standing there in isolation, these signs are only half the story of Christianity, which needs to include Jesus Christ’s message of compassion and salvation. Christianity is much more than a list of ancient “thou shalt nots.” And as hate and vitriol dominate our discourse, we need to be reminded of this now more than ever.
Jesus was many great things. Jesus spoke truth to power and he questioned materialism as an impediment to spiritual growth. Certainly, those two aspects of Jesus’ teachings are needed in our society today.
But above all else, Jesus preached expansion of empathy to those otherwise excluded. This is the central tenant of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus’ actions and teachings showed that he was a champion of the poor, the outcasts, and the weak. He preached compassion for “the other” in his account of the Good Samaritan. He showed love towards the unlovable, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and even those who showed him ill-intent. And, he commanded his followers to do the same.
When I read the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and then I look at our society today, I see a huge, ugly contradiction that we must address. How can some call us a “Christian Nation” if so many embrace ethno-nationalism and express open hatred towards minorities? There is nothing more un-Christian and un-American. If Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbors – and even their enemies – where is that love?
This is something that can bring our nation back together. Thomas Jefferson, one of the biggest proponents of “a wall of separation” between church and state, recognized this centuries ago and even wrote a book about the unique moral teachings of Jesus. What we have here is a moral message that is needed now more than ever. Let’s put the Beatitudes on a road sign, and practice what Jesus actually preached.