We only know of the “pure message” because a network of self-described religious authorities (i.e., those with power) wrote the words, attributed them to Jesus, and incorporated them into a sacred text–a text that has developed and changed, that has been reinterpreted and re-translated, all works of power.
Well: duh. I did not write that Christians live in an unfallen world in which power doesn't exist. Of course we don't. We are constantly exercizing power in different ways, and the Gospels are, of course, a product of the struggle for power between various sets of Jesus' followers. But that was Jefferson's point! His project was to try to extract from the New Testament those words of Jesus that he believed were the least infected by this. And my modest proposal is to return to that spirit in seeking a faith as far removed from power, violence and coercion as humanly possible. In another vein, although he decries the "the politicized nature of Christianity in the West," Trevin Wax, the managing editor of The Gospel Project, believes Jesus was political in his own way:
Despite his protests against a politicized faith, Sullivan is saying we should follow a Man whose primary message concerned a kingdom. You can’t get more political than that. It’s interesting to see how those who advocate a return to the words of Christ often display a frightening ignorance of what Jesus actually said. The primary message of Jesus was not love – at least, not love in our sense of the world. The message of Jesus was Love with a capital “L” – meaning, His message was about Himself. It was about His kingdom, His identity as king, and the cross that became His throne.
But we know that this metaphor of kingdom was a metaphor on earth. When asked directly if he sought worldly power during his interrogation, Jesus answered:
"My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my servants would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But for now my kingdom is not from here."
And that is why the crucifixion remains the great central symbol of the Christian faith. It is a total renunciation of worldly power. Jesus did not want such an outcome, but he accepted it and loved those who murdered him. One of Jesus' key temptations in the desert was earthly power – offered to him by the devil, just as it was offered him by the crowds that sought him out and which he often fled. Jesus refused all such earthly power. They put the sign above his head in mockery – in the same way they gave him a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He had never sought this regal role, but he accepted it as part of his final humiliation.
Wax later argues that Jesus' message is consistent with opposition to abortion and marriage equality. It can be – but even Wax acknowledges that this has to be inferred, and that Jesus' emphasis was on other things. Freedom at Bethsaida, a Christian blogger, remains hopeful:
[Y]es, Mr. Sullivan, “the church” does face a crisis – and pretty much always has. It has always been the case that there are those in this faith who draw attention away from Jesus and toward themselves – whether it is accolades or power. They cover up abuse (as you note) to maintain their power. They talk smoothly to maintain their power. But they have never found a way to hold sway indefinitely. The light of the gospel has always broken through. We’ve had reformations, and splits, and revivals. We’ve seen people turn away from organized churches and form house churches to break free from the “structure” of it all. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will always be filled. Those who crave a true and unmitigated relationship with God will find a way to have it, and will find that they are helped along the way.
I agree. But hope is not the same as optimism. Or apathy in the face of abuses.