Commentary
By Matthew Gindin 11-06-2017

When the Washington Post ran the headline “Did lesbians cause Hurricanes Harvey and Irma?,” Twitter user “Jesus Christ” (@JesusofNaz316), re-tweeted the headline with a one-word comment: “No.”

Score one for Nazarene-like levels of compassion and authority.

This Twitter Jesus — whose byline reads, “carpenter who hangs out with fishermen, alcoholics, and prostitutes” — is one of several users playacting the role of Jesus on Twitter, attempting to answer the question, "What if Jesus tweeted?" 

There are other social media Jesuses: "Hipster Jesus" (@Hipster_Christ) and the 11-year-old (other) "Jesus Christ" (@Jesus) offer more straightforward satire and subversion, while @JesusofNaz316 stands out for his balance of humor and gravity, offering a mixture of heartfelt prayer, gospel perspectives, humor, and socio-political commentary. What should we make of this kind of digital impersonation? Is it blasphemous? Is it art? Gospel interpretation? A holy, or irreverent, jest?

Christians have been recalling, and sometimes reimagining, Jesus' words for centuries. Along with the New Testament itself, which reconstructs Jesus’ behavior and speech years after the fact, students of religion have the later Apocrypha (non-canon biblical texts) as well as the sayings of Jesus in the 7th-century Quran (Jesus is revered by Muslims as an authentic Jewish messenger of God). The renowned 14th-century work Imitation of Christ (said among Catholics to be second in popularity only to the Bible) contains an imaginary dialogue with Christ.

And today, there are numerous examples of religious Christians being a mouthpiece for Jesus — from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling to Paul Ferrini’s New Age Jesus. But none are quite like Twitter’s Jesus.

@JesusofNaz316 has a funny-sad-outraged quality. He sometimes uses the platform for irony or jokes, but more frequently for protest — sometimes against general injustice, but more often against the hypocrisy of Christians.

His account, which has more than 16,000 followers, has been active since 2010. He is followed by progressive clergy like Diana Butler Bass and Rachel Held Evens and rabbis Danya Ruttenberg and Jonah Geffen, along with theologians and pastors from across denominations. 

“My tweets are really a reflection of how I'm hearing the Gospel in relationship to a whole host of issues,” the account owner behind @JesusofNaz316, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an email exchange with Sojourners. 

“Today I saw a prominent pastor cite scripture in order to sanction nuclear war against North Korea. That's an idea that should be resisted. Maybe in a humorous way on Twitter. ‘Blessed are they who refuse to use first strike nuclear capabilities.’

“Even more, I try to offer an option that's more faithful (in my opinion) to the way of Christ.”

What does that option look like? The “Jesus Christ" of Twitter is anti-racism, anti-war, anti-guns, and pro-affordable health care. 
 

 


He doesn't like President Trump’s behavior.

 

 

 

 


He does his fair share of rebuking. 

 

 

 

 

 


But he's not all jokes and social critique …

 

 

 

 


... He also likes coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asked about his experience of impersonating Jesus on the famously cantankerous social platform, the user behind @JesusofNaz316 is surprisingly positive.

 

“I've been blessed to find a community of people on Twitter,” he wrote.

“Whether we're ordinary people, public figures, or scholars, we all have the same struggles, pains, and questions. I've learned how much wisdom, kindness, and strength a person can receive from others on social media. The people I meet on Twitter make me a better person.”

With the ascension of a Twitter president, perhaps it's fitting that we’re also seeing an ascension of a Twitter Jesus. Now seems a particularly poignant time for Jesus versus empire.

And the popularity and real resonance of @JesusofNaz316 shows just how actively Jesus exists in our creative imagination, as a dynamic and powerful figure in continually re-shaped narratives. It's an interesting window into how humanity continues to channel Jesus' voice to confront challenges.

There are two kinds of playacting at Jesus: One that rewrites Jesus in line with our own taste, and one that attempts to “resurrect” Jesus to confront the present. Which one “Twitter Jesus” is depends, of course, on who you ask.

Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist focusing in interfaith philosophizing and social justice issues. He is the pacific correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News and writes regularly for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, The Forward, The Jewish Independent and the Wisdom Daily. He has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, The Zen Site, and elsewhere.

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