Over the past few years, I have been involved with a fascinating project: I am Christ's prosecutor.
The setting is a modern re-creation of Jesus's trial, under the current law of the state which hosts the event. For efficiency, we limit ourselves to the sentencing phase of the trial and for efficacy we split the audience into groups of twelve to deliberate to a verdict. Those juries decide if Jesus should live or die. The broad underlying point is to put into juxtaposition our ideas on the death penalty and the bare fact that Jesus was a capital defendant. Because he is indigent, I got Jesus a public defender -- a real-life public defender from Cook County, Ill., named Jeanne Bishop (who is also a HuffPost blogger).
We have now done the trial of Jesus 13 times, in nine states (Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Tennessee, California, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Illinois and Minnesota), and I have never won. I have lost in very conservative places (Regent University in Virginia), very liberal places (the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.), and a variety of places in between. Each time, the verdict has come out one of two ways: a hung jury, or for a sentence other than death.
My lack of success has a few obvious causes. First, my opponents are quite skilled. Second, there is a jury selection problem when the members of the jury pool literally worship the defendant. Still, there is something else that has come up in discussions that I find troubling as a practicing Christian.
In short, people just don't seem to accept that Jesus was very dangerous. I do my best to convince them otherwise, using all of my DOJ training. I urge them to consider the effect of his teaching on our economy, given that he asks people to give away all that they have and live in poverty. I point out that he is a disaster for national security, if we consider his radical pacifism. I rail against his claim that he came to separate families, and I even point out that he has chosen illiterates as his followers, a choice which could doom our heritage. I tie all of these arguments to Scripture, as brought out in testimony.
None of it works.
I don't think that's good. I read the Gospels, deeply and often, and each time I am struck by the revolution Jesus urges on our society and our individual plans and identities. Even before he is born, in Mary's Magnificat, his mother anticipates that Jesus will scatter the proud, bring down the powerful from their thrones, and send the rich away empty. She was right. Jesus unsettled nearly everyone who came to him. They left amazed (the Disciples and others), disappointed (the Rich Young Ruler) and angry (the Pharisees). The Jesus we see, though, doesn't seem to do any of those things. When I see people leave church, I rarely see anyone who is amazed or disappointed or angry. Usually, they just look content.
And there, in those contented faces, may lie the deepest indictment of all.