The political atmosphere of the Philippines is becoming more intense like in the West. Political activists both from the left and right of the spectrum are even using Christianity to influence the Filipino people. As usual, the media are creating an impact in forming a public understanding of political and religious matters.
Rappler, a left-progressivist online media platform, has published an opinion about Jesus as a radical activist entitled “Celebrating the birth of a radical activist on Christmas.”
Rappler’s writer and UP activist Melo Mar Cabello blatantly claims, “Christmas signifies not only the birth of the Christian deity but also the birth of a radical activist who fought against the status quo and stood for the oppressed and marginalized.”
Is Jesus a radical activist? Should the celebration of His birth be focused on radical activism to fight for the oppressed and the marginalized? Is this what the Apostle Matthew mean when he says, “…thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins”? Should we change our theological perception about Jesus for the sake of political activism?
What Is Radical Activism?
To understand whether Jesus is a radical activist or not, we have to reach an agreement about the meaning of the term first. We have two words here: radical and activism. Radical simply means radical, extreme, drastic. In politics, it’s a desire to rapidly change society on a large scale.
In a more technical definition, the Journal of Strategic Security defines a radical person as “a social movement activist who embraces direct action and high-risk options, often including violence against others, to achieve a stated goal.”
Some political writers and thinkers link radical activism to “extreme-activism” or “extremism” that uses political violence to overthrow the government. Though radicalism, radical activism, and activism are sometimes interchangeably used, some social and political activists are not radical.
Merriam-Webster defines activism as a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.
Moreover, Clare Saunders describes activism as “the action that movements undertake in order to challenge some existing element of the social or political system and so help fulfill movements’ aims.”
Both the words “activism” and “activist” are new. They are foreign to biblical terms. They were first used in the early 20th century, exactly about 100 years ago. Thus, we can’t carelessly put our understanding of activism today, let alone radical activism, in the context of the 1st century when Jesus was born.
For Jesus to be a radical activist, He must have gathered disciples to attack king Herod and his soldiers through the Fortress of Antonia instead of the Jewish religious leaders in the temple.
To understand Jesus and His ministry, we have to be knowledgeable of the political and social context of the 1st century Israel and what it means for Jesus to help the “poor,” “oppressed,” and “marginalized.”
In my almost 20 years of Bible preaching and teaching, I didn’t see Jesus confronting the “oppressive” government of His time, let alone doing it merely for the sake of “radical activism.”
Melo Mar Cabello and Rappler should learn more about the life and ministry of Jesus before publishing a blasphemous article tagging Him as a radical activist.
To be continued…