I was speaking with a group of junior high and high school students this weekend about issues of marginalization and oppression. I specifically turned the conversation from acting on global issues to recognizing injustice within our local proximity. For them, it meant moving from a focus on hunger in the world to the often unjust or unloving treatment of peers in the classroom, at the lunch table, on the athletic field, and within social circles based on economic status. I asked the questions, “If Jesus showed up right here, right now, in this place, who are the people to whom he would be giving his attention? How would he be spending his time? How would he be listening to the voices of those who are often forgotten or ignored?”
An ever-so energetic, enthusiastic, and hormonal adolescent boy instantly shot his words from his reclining chair, “You mean like… what would Jesus do? Like the bracelets.” As I reverted back through the 1990s and the “WWJD?” movement, the phrase made my insides cringe and quiver while my mouth slowly opened and reluctantly uttered, “Yeah?”
I had to concede to my now junior high nemesis.
Essentially, I was hoping that these young minds would actually consider who the person of Jesus was and how he may enact love in our current context minus the popular Christian subculture catchphrase that makes the reality of the question so easy to dismiss.
“What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities and professor of philosophy at Syracuse University, begins, “In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a pastor in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a book titled In His Steps. The subtitle of Sheldon’s book, What Would Jesus Do? fueled the later ‘WWJD’ industry – the bumper stickers, T-shirts, and bracelets that boldly pose a question to which the Religious Right is sure to know the answer. My hypothesis is if our friends on the Right really mean to ask that question instead of using it as a stick to beat their enemies, they are in for a shock.”
I would agree with Caputo and therefore may create my own line of products to sell in a Parable or Lifeway Christian Bookstore near you (because that’s what Jesus would do). The products would read, “WWJD? You don’t want to know.” No. Really. You probably, really don’t want to know.