Jesus and Politics

jesus democrat

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.”

I hear 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.

I 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 these all break down]

I think Jesus’ more political statements are for believers. And his call to them is to live out a different economy than our world’s, not to go advocate for a better system within the world.

To clarify my earlier suggestion: I’m suggesting that Christians give their energy to living out a Christian economy in a secular world. I think that’s our better contribution than trying to make secular world political decisions. I don’t think we need to waste much of our time affirming one economic system or another or choosing one party affiliation or another. I think we can 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. I think much more fruit will come from that than engaging in the secular arguments, where I’m starting to believe both sides are wrong.

Oddly, a lot of these thoughts came for me when I started reading Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and other 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 I disagreed with — 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).

[See the problem with our notions of independence and 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 be it to me if I say, “Because the wrong person got elected!”

Also of interest:
The Church as Alternate Economy
Christians, Capitalism, and Ayn Rand
Escaping Conformity

17 thoughts on “Jesus and Politics

  1. I love what you wrote here! I agree that Jesus would probably wash his hands of our politics even though he was a radical liberal figure in his own time. I can only say that as a former Republican who has become a raging Democrat, only the latter party seems interested in social justice. And as far as I am concerned, in a political context that IS Jesus’ message to us.

    1. Saying that democrats are the only party concerned with social justice is just simply not true. Just because Republicans and Democrats have different opinions on how social justice is best executed doesn’t mean either party is more or less interested in it. Sweeping generalizations like that just reinforce the current political divide. The point though in my opinion is, that social justice found in the Gospel is not carried out by Democrats, Republicans, Presidents or Senators but by ordinary everyday sinners saved and transformed by Grace.

  2. No, Jesus said to “Give unto Caesar….” He was advocating to contribute your fair share. Political choices give us our leaders and these leaders control our well-being and prosperity and what we have to give, share, donate, etc. And there are simply some forms of giving that are better accomplished by a third party–how would I determine who is most in need, whose need is legitimate, etc.

  3. Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”, though written from a radically Anabaptist point of view, would be a helpful read. Following him, Hauerwas and others have made the case that the gospel is its own culture, its own set of politics, to which we are called to subscribe as Christians. Their must be a third way – I think Adam Hamilton is brilliant at this – otherwise we Christians will be, and too often are, merely parroting the worst kinds of secular politics (i.e. the Reconciling folks vs. Good News, etc., ad nauseum).

  4. Mama Bee apparently has forgotten some fairly pertinent recent US history, but “raging” is certainly the proper adjective for her newly found party. Just ask George Wallace, Robert Byrd, Lester Maddox, et al. And then consider The Civil Rights Act. The House of Representatives passed the bill by 289 to 126, a vote in which 79% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats voted yes. The Senate vote was 73 to 27, with 21 Democrats and only 6 Republicans voting no. The bill came before the full Senate for debate on March 30, 1964 and the “Southern Bloc” of 18 southern Democratic Senators and one Republican Senator led by Richard Russell (D-GA) launched a filibuster to prevent its passage. Said Russell: “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.”

    But the REAL question is why are we having this discussion in the first place. It would seem to me that once you get past the “Golden Rule”, social justice has left the building.

  5. I think the politics of Jesus are pretty straight forward. You’re right, we’re asking the wrong questions. The answer though is simple. Jesus says, “Follow me.” Actually, it’s deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, but the essence is that Jesus is Lord. Lord, not senator. Lord, not Governor or President. Once we understand the concept of Lord, maybe we’ll be a little less excited about the earthly leaders we elect.

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