South Carolina Christian re-enacts Good Samaritan story, plays role of Pharisee.
South Carolina tow truck driver and self-proclaimed conservative Christian Ken Shupe followed the example of Jesus yesterday by providing roadside assistance to disabled Sanders supporter Cassandra McWade even though Shupe himself professes loyalty to God’s Own Party. Oh. Wait. I got that backwards. Shupe saw the Sanders sign in McWade’s car and drove off, leaving her stranded on the roadside—the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches in the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan.
In the Gospel According to Luke, a lawyer and member of the religious establishment tries to trap Jesus by asking him how to attain eternal life. Jesus gives a simple but difficult answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Ah, says the lawyer seeing what he thinks is his out, and who is my neighbor?
In response, Jesus tells one of the most repeated stories in the Bible:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:25-37 NRSV)
Go and do likewise, Jesus says.
For those who weren’t raised on Bible stories, the priest and Levite are pious religious leaders, while the Samaritan is a member of a despised minority—despised to the depth that a self-described South Carolina Christian might despise a Mexican atheist. The story, in other words, makes it graphically clear who the good guy is and who will be rewarded in the afterlife, and it isn’t the person who picks the right set of scriptures or devotional practices.
But tow truck driver Ken Shupe, from [the ironically named] town of Traveler’s Rest, apparently hasn’t read the story—or got a little confused—or doesn’t really give a fuck about the inconvenient teachings of Jesus. “I’m a conservative Christian, I’ve just drawn a line in the sand. I’m not going to associate or conduct business with them,” he said.
Them. The generic other. Samaritan Mexican atheist Sanders supporter types.
One can’t blame Shupe too much for getting things backwards and inside out. Most Christians don’t actually read the Bible but instead get their marching orders from religious authorities and Christianity-claiming politicians. And of late Christian authorities have definitely come down on the side of the priest and Levite—just walk on by.
In both popular lingo and legalese, “religious freedom” now means not the freedom to serve, but the freedom to deny service—everything from wedding cakes and pizzas to health insurance or the use of public toilets. Literal priests, meaning the American Catholic Bishops, and modern Levites, meaning other paid religious leaders, have fought all the way to the Supreme Court arguing for their God-given and Constitutional right to deny care, even in public accommodations, even when funding their enterprises with public dollars.
Asked about his presidential candidate loyalties, Shupe named Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and now Donald Trump—which further elucidates his moral confusion. The publically pious Carson waxed eloquent in support of a blatantly anti-queer “religious freedom” law in Indiana. Equally pious Huckabee built his stump speeches not Christianity’s call to service but Christian persecution complex. Trump couldn’t quote the Bible to save his soul, but his brand—however morally repugnant it may be—aligns shockingly well with that of today’s Evangelical establishment.
If Shupe wanted to call himself a follower of Jesus, rather than a “conservative Christian” he might start by reading the Bible. But even that would be only a start, because the Bible itself is a collection of texts assembled over hundreds of years, many of which directly contradict what Jesus said about good Samaritans and how to inherit eternal life.
The simple commandment that attaches loving God to loving your neighbor is way, way harder than simply memorizing the Bible and living by a set of rules. Having the right set of beliefs and the right religious identity are what the priest and Levite did, and Jesus himself—at least in Luke’s version—said that’s not what life is about.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.