In the early 1990s “W.W.J.D.” bracelets were all the rage in youth groups across America. Christians wore them as a constant reminder to ask themselves in every situation, “What would Jesus do?” Nowadays, there are plenty of people, believers or otherwise, telling us what Jesus would do—who he would vote for, what he would protest, which causes he would support, etc. Everyone wants Jesus on their side.
There is a group of self-professed Christians who adamantly believe that the Jesus taught by the church is dangerously wrong and that they have the true Jesus, who is tolerant and inclusive to all. They are part of a movement called “Progressive Christianity.” Certainly, like the Reformers of old believed, if the Church truly has gone astray, then it must be steered back on course. Let’s examine the views of one such person and see what he has to say—or draw—about Jesus.
More Than a Cartoon
David Hayward is a former pastor, now best known for his cartoons. He says on his website that cartoons “speak louder than words and go straight to the heart.” Indeed, anyone who has encountered memes on social media knows how powerful images can be. Hayward uses his cartoons to “challenge problematic norms in religious spaces and life in general,” and to “inspire, provoke, and start difficult conversations.” His cartoons address topics such as religious abuse, purity culture, and the church’s treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s examine some of Hayward’s cartoons, in which he shows what he thinks Jesus would do in our modern society.
These two cartoons highlight the supposed importance of love over Scripture. The prime authority of Hayward’s Jesus is not the Bible but Hayward’s views on love. Thus, if you were to ask, “What would Jesus do?” the simple answer is: “Love.” Certainly, the Bible frequently talks about love. Our attempts to do good deeds are worthless without love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Arguably the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, tells us how God showed us his love by sending his Son to save us. The Bible also plainly states that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). However, if God is love, and if the Bible truly is his divinely-inspired word to us, then shouldn’t we be using the Bible to define love for us? This highlights a major aspect of Progressive Christianity: the Bible is not our ultimate authority, we are. This is why Hayward’s Jesus says, “I use love to determine what Scripture means” and “Love over verses!” However, the Jesus in the cartoon is just that: Hayward’s “Jesus.” Anyone can make a cartoon Christ and have him say whatever they want.
W.D.J.D.—What Did Jesus Do?
How do we truly know “What would Jesus do?” We need to study what Jesus did. Where do we find this information? In the very Scriptures that Hayward disparages. Jesus talked frequently about love. He taught us to both love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) and our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He said that people will know we are his disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35). However, Jesus also taught, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). Where do we find Jesus’s commands? In the Scriptures.
Many of Hayward’s cartoons feature Jesus accepting and protecting LGBTQ+ “sheep” from the abusive Church and Scriptures. As Christians, we believe that all people are created in God’s image and should be treated with love and respect. Yet in Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus cites the Genesis creation account that “the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” and that “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” This affirms God’s design of humanity as sexed beings, male and female, and that marriage is the union of one male and one female for one lifetime. God certainly loves all people, but he does not accept all behaviors and lifestyles. It is never “loving” to reject the authority of Scripture or to condone what God calls sin. Simply put, David Hayward’s “Jesus” is not the true Jesus.
Also, contrary to Hayward’s “Jesus,” the Jesus of the Bible had the highest view of Scripture. He constantly referenced the Old Testament and reprimanded both his followers and the religious authorities for not knowing what it said (e.g. Matthew 22:29). Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). After his resurrection, Jesus rebuked some of his followers for not believing the Scriptures “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Thus, to abandon Scripture is to abandon Jesus and all of Christianity.
Paul criticized the Corinthian church for easily accepting people who come to them preaching “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached” (1 Corinthians 11:4). He calls such preachers “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (v. 13). Even today people are being misled by those presenting their own version of Jesus, such as David Hayward. The only Jesus is the one presented in the Bible, not the ones we create based on our own subjective opinion of right and wrong. Hayward’s “Jesus” is nothing more than ink on paper or pixels on a screen. A caricature of Christ has no authority over us or power to save us. If you want to know who Jesus is and what he would really do, don’t look to cartoons—read your Bible.
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