HWJV: How Would Jesus Vote?
At grave risk of breaking my rule to be apartisan in this blog, I feel compelled to comment on the issue of Christians in politics.
Growing up in Texas, at least post-Reagan, it has been commonly viewed among evangelicals here that you can’t be a Christian and Democrat or a Christian and politically liberal. I had a roommate in grad school who grew up in Pennsylvania believing you couldn’t be a Christian and a Republican. Obviously, what we have here is the heart of Christian unity.
When I look carefully at the Gospels, I find something surprising. Jesus was not a conservative, nor was he a liberal, nor socialist, nor libertarian. He is God.
We tread treacherous ground when we associate our faith with a particular political viewpoint for one very simple reason. Politics takes complicated issues and boils them down to soundbite policies. God takes each aspect of each issue and looks to see what is holy and righteous versus corrupt and sinful. Given the truth of the adage that people with squeamish stomachs shouldn’t watch the making of either sausage or politics, we are hard pressed to find a truly and consistently godly approach to the issues of governing.
Furthermore, as I meet more and more people of various political persuasions in the church, I find that most people have more or less the same goals, but very different approaches to achieving those goals. Nearly every believer wants social justice. But there is a full spectrum of diversity when it comes to how to define it, how to achieve it, how high of a priority it comes and which set of social justice issues should come first. Most believers want to eliminate poverty, but again, great division is present in how to bring it about. Therefore, it seems that we should listen to each other a bit more, and when we share our opinion, do so more humbly, and be careful to understand and lay out our arguments in terms of how and why we support our path to a given goal. We need to understand why the other side(s) object to that path and see how these things can be reconciled.
One of the reasons I’ve observed for frustration in these issues is that different people format belief and argument differently, and therefore, it is easy to talk past each other. A simple example of this is how some people are more swayed by emotional appeal and others by logical syllogisms. Both are ways of understanding the world around us, but each is nearly foreign to the other. Real progress in discussions involves recognizing this and pitching things in multiple ways so that it can be understood by a wider audience.
Another challenge for Christians in politics is that this is a pluralistic nation today. Regardless of the strength of our Christian heritage, we have to deal with the reality of today’s society. It is inappropriate to use political office as a bully pulpit for the Gospel. This has been a disaster throughout the millennia of Church history, as every time the Church takes on state roles, it has led to corruption. Yes, we will reign with Christ. But the Church itself, especially in this world, is never given political sovereignty in Scripture. The Church has always been more successful with the Gospel when evangelism occurs outside the political sphere.
A pluralistic nation has to be governed by laws that apply to its entire citizenry. To write laws is to legislate morality, because a nation’s laws define acceptable behaviour for its citizens, and therefore, in effect, constitute the moral code for that people. Therefore, in a nation as large and diverse as this, we have a real challenge. It seems there is wisdom therefore, in the writings of the founders who advocate for limited, fewer, broader federal legislation and more diversity among the smaller governmental bodies (states, counties, cities, etc). It is impossible to create a body of laws that are pleasing to all citizens, and the wisdom of governing is in trying to moderate the disparate views, avoiding both tyranny of the majority and the minority.
So, where does that leave the Christian? Is there a political role for believers? Absolutely. Is it to create a Christian theocracy? Almost assuredly not. What then is the role of one’s faith in politics? Vital. Everyone has a worldview, and it is the primary filter through which we literally view the world. As a Christian, a candidate must treat their campaign and holding of office with the principles and morals demanded by Scripture. To do otherwise is to commit hypocrisy. As an office holder, we do more for the Gospel by treating that office as an opportunity to love and serve our entire constituency than we do by telling them they need Jesus. We have an opportunity to create an environment than engenders respect for Christianity explicitly by not abusing our power.
When Christ calls us to be salt and light, those are two aspects of living the Christian life. The second, light, is being highly visible with faith, and it is also meant to be comforting, not necessarily blinding. The first, salt, is invisible, acting as a preservative, and explicitly not calling attention to oneself except through the effect of our actions. It is fine for folks to know we identify with Christ, and then to let them judge the attractiveness of that through the fruit of our service.
So, how would Jesus vote? On the one hand, it depends on the issue. One the other, I’d say He wouldn’t. He’s the King.
I guess that leaves us to choose our votes humbly and prayerfully, realizing we are choosing humans just as fallen as we are. They need our support, encouragement and challenge to stay true in office to what they said they support during the campaign, and to explain why new information has made changes to those views (which is wisdom—to get new information and adjust conclusions accordingly).