Tea Party Jesus: Interview

April 29, 2010

The web site Tea Party Jesus caught my attention immediately because it does exactly what so many people talk about when they discuss the Tea Party: it puts the words of so-called Christians into the mouth of Christ, letting the audience be the judge of what is truly Christian. Here is my interview with the creator and maintainer of the site.

SG: How did you get the idea for Tea Party Jesus?

TPJ: I had a couple of inspirations. Al Franken’s Supply Side Jesus was certainly one, but the most immediate was this picture that circulated around the Internet during the health care reform debate. It took a cheesy old Sunday School-style illustration of a lame man begging Jesus to heal him and added a speech balloon that has Jesus telling him “Pre-existing condition, LOL.”

I thought it was a wonderful illustration of the hypocrisy of so many people who call themselves Jesus’s followers. It was absolutely bizarre to me to hear so many people who identify as Christians oppose caring for the poor and healing the sick. Then, about a month ago, I was driving home from picking my oldest daughter up from school and I realized how much more damning the actual words of someone like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck would be coming out of Jesus’s mouth. I got home, fired up Google Images and Photoshop, and put up about a dozen images that day.

SG: Many people interested in politics as it relates to religion come from religious backgrounds. Is that the case with you? Is there anything you’d like to share about your personal views on faith?

TPJ: I’m a Christian, although I really wish there was a word that would let me identify as a follower of Christ while still saying “I’m not with those guys!” I was raised in a very conservative, very Republican church, and while it’s full of wonderful, caring, giving people, there’s a real disconnect, I think, between what Jesus taught and the kinds of things they support.

It just completely baffles me that you can read a passage where Jesus tells his followers to sell everything they own and give the money to the poor and then turn around and oppose welfare programs. I don’t see how you can claim to worship the Prince of Peace and vote for war and torture. Jesus says that the only things that matter are loving God and loving your neighbor, and they want to enforce a rigid code of morality that’s all about whatnot to do. I think they have more in common with the Pharisees than with Christ.

SG: Your site consists entirely of religious images and quotes from the news media. I imagine you get the quotes by keeping up with current events. Where do your images come from?

TPJ: The pictures are just pulled off of Google Images. I have fun finding a picture to contrast with the quote for the day—Jesus feeding the five thousand to go with Andre Bauer’s quote comparing feeding poor people with feeding stray animals, the crucifixion for quotes defending torture, Jesus surrounded by children of all different ethnicities for Newt Gingrich’s statement that the kids of immigrants shouldn’t be speaking “the language of the ghetto.”

SG: Have you received any criticism of the site that you’d care to discuss? Any praise?

TPJ: I’ve gotten a lot less criticism than I expected. My favorite was the person who was offended that I would imply that conservatives would say such things, and accused me of just making up the quotes as the sort of things liberals imagine right-wingers saying. He never responded when I pointed out he could click on the pictures to see who had actually said them. My standard response to Christians who are offended by those words being associated with Jesus is “Good. You ought to be.”

I’ve been blown away by the positive response to the site, though, from Christians and atheists alike. I was most touched by the email from someone who identified himself as a conservative Christian, but thanked me for trying to keep his side honest about what they believe. If I can get even a few people on the right to think about the disconnect between their God and their political leaders, I feel like the site’s done its job.

SG: Do you have any feeling about what the Tea Party will become, how far its influence will spread? Do you see the site continuing for a long time?

TPJ: I think it’s likely to wind up being absorbed back into the Republican party over the next few years, honestly. It’s possible they may try to run a third-party candidate in 2012, particularly if Sarah Palin decides that’s an attractive way to raise money and boost her profile without any of the hard work that comes with being a serious candidate. I think their ultimate effect is going to be a negative one for the GOP, driving them more and more to the right and further alienating moderates and minorities.

I plan to keep doing daily updates for the foreseeable future. The nice thing for me is that the longevity of the site is basically limited only by the ability of conservatives to say stupid, hateful things, so I should have material for a long time to come.

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