My recent post on capitalism has brought several questions about how Jesus would handle the political world today. I’m not sure I can identify the political world that Jesus would envision.
The libertarians say, “Surely Jesus would want everyone to make charitable decisions on their own. And more people will have more purchasing power to do more good and help more people in a more free market.”
The statists say, “Surely Jesus would want the needy cared for. And the individual wealthy clearly aren’t doing it on their own. Look at all the poor still among us and the enormous wealth inequality.”
People of all different political stripes say that Jesus would agree with them politically. And they all have a decent case. But I’m not sure if Jesus would take a stand for any of our existing parties or systems.
We see a very political Jesus in Scripture in one sense, but also a very apolitical Jesus. To the secular world, his primary message seems to be “repent.” Stop oppressing people and take care of them. And also: your only real hope will be found in communion with God, not by your own strivings. We could get into skirmishes over the best economic and political systems, but I don’t think any of our secular models really work. In a fallen world, they all break down when it comes to caring for the most needy. [see “Christians, Capitalism, and Ayn Rand” for a brief take on why]
Jesus’ more political statements are for believers. And his call to them is to live out a different economy than our world’s.
What if Christians would give their best energy to living out a Christian economy in a secular world? Rather than expending too much of our time affirming one economic system or another, choosing one party affiliation or another, we have the opportunity to provide a third way.
That’s not living in a bubble. It’s just engaging in a very different way. Not stepping into the back-and-forth political fray — which seems to be mostly about power — but instead creating an alternate economy.
I don’t know whether Jesus would be an advocate for big government or small government. What I do know is that among believers, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” We’re not doing that yet. Much more good will come from that than engaging in the secular arguments, where I’m starting to believe both sides are wrong.
I was a diehard capitalist just a few years ago. Oddly, the beginning of the end was when I read Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and a few other staunch defenses of capitalist economics. The more I read, the more I realized that these people really think our society’s great hope is unfettered capitalism. And it was all based on assumptions that contradict basic Christian belief — about the point of life (some form of material prosperity and happiness), the point of society (more middle-class people with purchasing power), and the state of humanity (generally good, just needing more freedom).
I got so frustrated with those assumptions that it made me start questioning the whole system. I realized that I had wanted to make Jesus a capitalist just as much as others had wanted to make him a socialist or Republican or Democrat. And what we consistently see in Scripture is that when people ask Jesus “A or B?” he typically says something to suggest, “wrong question” or “have you considered C?”
I wonder if my questions — “Republican or Democrat?” “Capitalism or Socialism?” “Big government or Small government?” — were the wrong questions all these years. I wonder whether Jesus’ challenge back to me would be: “How come you have two shirts and your neighbor has none?” Woe to me if I say, “Because the wrong person got elected!”
Two suggestions for Christians during a troubling political season:
- Rome will be Rome. Our hope remains in Christ and his Body.
- For those who vote, a candidate’s integrity is more reliable than his/her issues.