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May 5, 2016

Ken Shupe, A Bad Samaritan?

As a minister, it has been my goal to avoid getting into the gutter of what as of late has become of American politics. But every now and then, there are the occasional occurrences that compel me to respond, and the case of the South Carolina tow-truck driver – who refused to help 25-year-old Cassandra McWade, leaving the disabled and stranded woman who had just had a car accident on the side of the road because she was a Bernie Sanders supporter – happens to be just the sort of thing to get me going.

“The New Testament leaves little place for doubt when the question comes up about helping someone in need, whether they are a friend or a foe.”
The refusal of service could be a topic of discussion by itself, but it has been reported that Mr. Shupe gave the reason for the refusal: his being a “conservative Christian,” as a result of which he felt he had to “draw a line in the sand” and not associate or conduct business with a Bernie Sanders supporter ( as reported by Huffington Post).

Now as a Christian, I asked myself, “What would Jesus do?”

We know that Jesus never uttered a word on a number of hot-topic issues of today, but luckily for us, the New Testament leaves little place for doubt when the question comes up about helping someone in need, whether they are a friend or a foe. And it is in the gospels that we read that the only line Jesus drew in the sand was when a woman, supposedly caught in adultery, was about to be executed by a mob. As he was drawing in the sand, he dismissed the woman’s accusers by asking who among them was without sin.

Of course, most of us know about Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. The passage starts like this:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

I think the point is clear. In this parable, the good Samaritan went above and beyond to care for the stranger – something you would have expected from the priest or the Levite.

If we are looking for what a follower of Jesus should do, the New Testament is full of such examples. Take, for instance, Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, verses 41-43, where Jesus admonishes those who refused to help a stranger, implying that whatever one does unto the “least of these” has done unto Jesus himslef, which is akin to the Golden Rule (found in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31) that requires one to “do unto others as one would have done unto them.” Another verse comes to mind, John 13:35, where Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Certainly, Jesus was talking about a love that is beyond loving those who love us back or those who agree with our particular views on marriage or our political affiliation. His is a love beyond belief, even to the point of loving one’s perceived enemies. Why? Because he said so when he said, “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).

“When did Christianity become so politicized in our nation that people struggle to see the person of Christ in our brand of Christianity?”
Consider 1 John 3:17, which reads, But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” What’s more, the entire 2nd chapter of James admonishes the believers to express their faith through serving others.

What’s your brand of Christ-likeness?

Surely, by adding adjectives to our Christianity, albeit “conservative” or “progressive,” we place a distinction on the type of “Christ-likeness” we feel called to exhibit. The irony is that by identifying as a “conservative” Christian, Mr. Shupe put his conservatism before his Christianity. I ask, when did Christianity become so politicized in our nation that people struggle to see the person of Christ in our brand of Christianity?

Certainly, the heart of our mission and calling is in the service of others, even including a perceived enemy. Those who think they own the “Jesus franchise” often appear to be afflicted by a sort of cognitive dissonance, an inconsistency between what they say they believe and how they live out their (Christ-likeness) Christianity. One need not have a seminary education or adhere to any particular religion to recognize people who attempt to be like Christ, those who aspire to his exemplary life and work, from those who do not.

Perhaps Mr. Shupe’s greatest failure is not in “drawing a line in the sand,” but rather in overlooking Ms. McWade’s humanity and then in neglecting her need – incidentally, a need that he was particularly equipped to meet. In this, he truly missed the mark. And by missing this obvious opportunity to serve, he also missed Jesus.

“Those who think they own the “Jesus franchise” often appear to be afflicted by a sort of cognitive dissonance, an inconsistency between what they say they believe and how they live out their (Christ-likeness) Christianity.”
While this one incident should not be an indictment on an entire faith tradition, it is important to note that there are similar occurrences playing out all across this nation, and they do expose the breakdown of civility and common decency. Whether it is the bathroom issue or bakers and florists’ denial of service, in each instance we should ask ourselves, how should we treat one another; how would we want others to treat us; what would Jesus do?

Mr. Ken Shupe may contend that he hasn’t done anything wrong. He believes that his stand is a righteous one; a position of which Christ, himself, would approve. But anyone who has ever read the New Testament would disagree.

Although the newly avowed Donald Trump supporter may not be, as he has reportedly claimed, “a bigot or a racist,” whatever guided his decision to refuse helping a vulnerable, disabled person on the side of the road was not based on Christ’s teachings. Certainly, his actions were not those of a good Samaritan.

I am a proud, passionate liberal thinker, social-justice advocate, entrepreneur, creative thinker, and songwriter whose mission in life is to try be the change that I hope someday would be in the world. I am also a husband, father, and community minister. I hold an undergraduate degree in Organizational Leadership, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Divinity degrees. Currently, I am serving as Managing Director of Clergy 211, an organization of inclusive and progressive clergy that provide non-judgmental rite-of-passage ceremonies for all people.

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