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Of People Places and Things: What would Jesus drive?

Fri, Jan 17th, 2003
Posted in Columnists

What would Jesus drive? “To some, the question might seem amusing. But we take it seriously...” So begins a recent advertisement from The Evangelical Environmental Network asking Christians to evaluate the choices they make as consumers in selecting vehicles to drive.The ad tries to connect the dots between the type of car we drive, the amount of car pollution produced and global warming.“Transportaton is now a moral choice and an issue for Christian reflection. It’s about more than engineering - it’s about ethics,” the press ad continues.The ad campaign is built around the question Christian teens are encouraged to ask of themselves in making constructive choices, “What would Jesus do?” This concept comes from a book by Charles Sheldon called “In His Steps”. Written before World War II, the book profiled the story of a man who was not well received by a congregation. The parishoners are then asked to consider, “What would Jesus do?The purpose of the what would Jesus drive campaign is to raise awareness among decision makers, America’s auto makers and consumers. From the ad, there is an implied sense that if Jesus were around today, he would drive a fuel-efficient car that minimizes the impact his choice of transportation would have on the world around him.“Because it’s about more than vehicles,” the ad concludes. “It’s about values.” So, it would seem, from a moral standpoint, there is a right vehicle and a wrong vehicle to drive.I heard an editor from Car and Driver magazine on the Today Show say that “of course, Jesus, being the son of a carpenter, would drive a pickup.”I read where one person believed that Jesus would forego the automobile, preferring to stay with his donkey. Another person believed that Jesus would walk, hitch hike, or take public transportation. Others yet have criticized the campaign itself for pitting “your Jesus” against “my Jesus” in a competition of values - as in “My Jesus drives a...; Is that so, well, my Jesus drives a....” Can you imagine one churchgoer telling another, “I see Jim has a new SUV. I guess he’s not ready to accept Jesus as his personal savior.”I asked a local cleric what he thought of the campaign. In a literal answer to the question, what would Jesus drive, he said, “I think Jesus would be modern, he would drive a vehicle. He would be for growth and development.” But the cleric went on to say that the real question posed by the campaign is a moral one. “It asks each person to question the morality of what they are doing and the choices they are making,” he said. “Jesus stands for love and positive relationships and if your choice of vehicle allows you to support that, then you have chosen wisely,” he went on.My initial reaction to the question of what would Jesus drive was that it was a frivolous thought. But then, I don’t look at protecting the environment as a frivolous thing. I called on a friend of mine, a Lutheran Minister, to get his thoughts. Now retired, Russ was a minister at a large Lutheran Church in Rochester. “When I heard the campaign I didn’t take it seriously,” Russ told me on the phone the other day. Russ believes that Jesus would be on the side of the poor and suffering, but isn’t sure what that implies about vehcicle choice.“There is a greater question here, I think,” Russ said. “The question is, “Am I acting as I should? And I’m not necessarily talking about cars.”“So it’s like Sophocles, who would tell people ‘do what is right’ knowing full well that the harder answer is finding out ‘what is right’?” I asked.“Yes,” he agreed. “And that line of questioning needs to be asked about more than what kind of car do you drive.”We talk about how the Buddhists would argue that before you have right action you need right thought; and before you have right thought, one must be willing to give up that which they covet.“So, in the end, maybe what this really comes down to is about applying Christian thought into Christian action,” I said. “I think so,” he agreed. “So what kind of car do you drive?” I asked.“A Buick,” he said.

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