Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jesus is my Campaign Manager

I made the mistake last night at church talking politics with one of my friends. Actually, she brought up how she can't wait for it all to be over; she's tired of hearing the same arguments over and over. Then she said something that totally boggled me. She commented on how Jesus never talked about abortion or homosexuality. Now I understand where she was coming from. The Religious Right is too narrowly focused on these issues above all else. But the case she makes doesn't apply to her point. She commented on how the world was more "jacked up" in Jesus' day, yet he didn't bring up these issues. The Romans practiced infanticide, but Jesus didn't say anything against it. Homosexuality was common in pagan worship and temple prostitution, but Jesus didn't say anything against it. Well first of all, Jesus ministered to the Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem. He never went to Rome or Corinth or associated with Greek prostitutes. So why would he bring these subjects up? But here's a twist on the argument. Slaves were present all around Jesus' ministry. In fact, the Old Testament gives instructions regarding slavery. And Jesus never said a word about the practice. Should that mean that slavery is not a religious issue of concern to Christians? Someone should've told that to William Wilberforce.

I mentioned that and she side-stepped it by then saying that Jesus never preached politics anyway. Well yes, and no. He comment on "giv[ing] to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" was both a theological and political statement since Caesar claimed divinity. At the same time, he didn't take any side to the dismay of the religious leaders. The same was true when Jesus instructed his disciples how to pray by saying "Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name." The first comment personalized the God of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, which would've upset the religious leaders, but followed that up by praising his name which usurped the divinity of Caesar. If anything, his politics were indirect. But because he wasn't the political leader many thought the Messiah should've been, it was easy to entice Judas to betray him.

The extension of my friend's argument, that she didn't mention, was that Jesus preached about the poor more than anything else, so that should be a political priority. I don't disagree, except for the political aspect of it. Jim Wallis, in his book God's Politics, dedicates a section in his first chapter titled, "The Political Problem of Jesus" and then goes on to turn Jesus' teaching into a political argument. This is where I disagree with him. I don't believe that because Jesus said to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" that that should apply to foreign policy. That is a personal command. Not a political one. And there's a difference between being under attack and persecuted. But he argues that if a political leader claims to be a Christian, then they should apply that to their politics. I agree that faith should guide morality applied through politics. But to apply faith directly to politics turns this pluralistic country into a theocracy, which I believe Jesus would've opposed. A political leader needs to consider the big picture and the good of the country and balance that not against, but rather on, their faith. In other words, their faith should be the fulcrum of their lever, not one side of the balancing act.

Back to the personal aspect of Jesus' teachings. His commentaries on the poor, lack of explicit political stances, and teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven are personal, not national. So we can't apply "love your enemies" or "blessed are the peacemakers" to policy. That's not to say I'm pro-war. But whether or not to go and participate in war is a personal decision that would have to be informed by a personal faith. Whereas the decision to engage in war on the national level must be policy driven. At the same time, I believe our Freedom of Speech also obligates us to speak out against war if our conscience leads us to.

This would then imply that a Christian politician cannot effectively hold an office and still keep Jesus first and God above all. And I think there's truth to that. That's why I'm suspicious of any politician who says I should vote for him or her because of their faith. And that's also why I don't expect our moral problems to be "fixed" via politics, but instead through individual Christians actively living out their convictions.

As for abortion and homosexuality, I told my friend that sin is still sin. That doesn't mean that morality at that level should be legislated. But if my vote gives me a voice, I want to cast it to make a statement of my faith. And that is what I will continue to wrestle with up to, and beyond, November 4.

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