The historical figure of Jesus was not intended to be the center of worship, rather a sage pointing towards a politically utopian Kingdom of God, according to two lecturers who recently spoke at a prominent United Methodist church in Washington, D.C.
Melanie Johnson-Debaufre of United Methodist Drew University Theological School and Robert J. Miller of Juniata College appeared as part of the Jesus Seminar on the Road program. The Jesus Seminar is a once-prominent body of liberal scholars and laypersons who used to gain headlines by disputing the Gospels’ historicity. The group draws from sources outside of the Biblical canon in order to produce what they assert to be a more authentic view of Jesus than the church espouses.
The talks were part of a series on “Jesus in the First and Twenty-First Centuries” held April 4-5 given to about 60 mostly retirement-age persons seated over the image of a labyrinth at the parish hall of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, the “national church” of United Methodism. The event was co-sponsored by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.
In her 2006 book “Jesus Among Her Children: Q, Eschatology, and the Construction of Christian Origins,” Johnson-Debaufre sought to understand the historical Jesus using the hypothesized early source text of Q. The Drew professor proposes alternative ways of reading Q that place the “basileia” (commonly translated as Kingdom) of God at the focus of Q’s interest rather than the identity and uniqueness of Jesus.