Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Would Jesus Vote?

Today, as most everyone should know by now, is election day (and if you're reading this in Virginia, New Jersey, or New York's 23rd congressional district and have forgotten to go to the polls, you may still have time). At various points during the course of the day, I was engaged in (read as "started") several debates on whether today's results - no matter how they turned out - would be a referendum on the first ten months of the Obama Administration. The comments were lively, to say the least, and there was a lot of passion from all those who weighed in with their remarks.

At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself that I had limited this blog to discussions of faith and my family, and that I was leaving the political discourse on one of two other sites on which I comment (One Man's Politics and Two Rhodes Diverged). What will surprise you, though, is that faith is involved very much in this discussion.

How? Quite simply, I began to wonder whether Jesus - if he were here today - would vote.

The Gospels of Matthew (22:21), Mark (12:17) and Luke (20:25) all contain the story of Jesus speaking to a crowd and asking for a denarii, at which point he got them to name which person's likeness was shown on the coin. He then responded, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." As Caesar was (in a very loose sense of the term) a politician supported by the Roman Senate, would the entire realm of politics and elections fall under that same division of "belongings"?

So if Jesus were here today, or if there were such a thing as the election of a Roman governor in the early years A.D., would he have voted, or would he have simply continued his ministry of social justice and the crusade to develop a sense of concern for the least of us by others in the population, and to heal and bring people to a knowledge of God and the imminence of His kingdom here on earth? I'll interject at this point that I first broached this question to a friend and priest to see what his initial thoughts were; his response was, "He couldn't vote... technically he couldn't register because he was from a Kingdom 'not of this world.'"

After giving me time to absorb the humor of that comment, he went on: "You could ask what the political process would look like in the Kingdom of God. I mean, if we're living with one foot in this world and another foot in the next (prevalent theological idea), one might ponder what God would want us to drag over from his Kingdom into ours. Our political system is flawed - and why? I think that it's because there's too much emphasis placed on "mine!" - and not enough emphasis placed on how we can band together and help 'respect the dignity of every human being.'"

So what would God want us to drag over from his kingdom into the one we have been told to prepare for here on earth (leaving aside, of course, the entire debate about whether Jesus himself was the personfication of that kingdom realized here)? One of the most serious attempts to show the role that religion can take in making informed political choices was undertaken by the group Sojourners in the lead-up to the 2004 election. You may recall that they issued a document with the headline "God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat." This paper, which was widely distributed around the country, laid out some key factors when considering which candidate to support on election day - and they are certainly relevant well beyond the Bush-Kerry election. In reading through this again, in Jim Wallis' God's Politics, I heard a 21st century version of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Here are the portions of the document that I think are particularly relevant today, with my own insertion of parts of Jesus' sermon:

We believe all candidates should be examined by measuring their policies against the complete range of Christian ethics and values.

We will measure the candidates by whether they enhance human life, human dignity, and human rights; whether they strengthen family life and protect children; whether they promote racial reconciliation and support gender equality; whether they serve peace and social justice; and whether they advance the common good rather than only individual, national, and special interests.

We are not single-issue voters.

We believe that poverty - caring for the poor and vulnerable - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25:35-40, Isaiah 10:1-2) - Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We believe that the environment - caring for God's earth - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)

We believe that war - and our call to be peacemakers - is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5:9) - Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)

We believe that human rights - respecting the image of God in every person - is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1:27)

We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13 )

We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS-and other pandemics-and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deuteronomy 30:19) - Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.

We also admonish both parties and candidates to avoid the exploitation of religion or our congregations for partisan political purposes.

Looking back on all of this, and considering each of these points, I again asked myself: Would Jesus vote, or would he simply continue his ministry of social justice and the crusade to develop a sense of concern for the least of us by others in the population, and to heal and bring people to a knowledge of God and the imminence of His kingdom here on earth?

My conclusion? Both.

For you see, if you vote based on your faith and your convictions, you are doing your part to put others in a position who can contribute to the ministry of social justice. People who are in a position to better address our concerns for the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer. For refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger. And yes, even for our enemies and those who wish us harm.

I think there is a reason that Form V of the Prayers of the People in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer has us pray for our church leaders and those in positions of public trust before praying for our fellow man. I think that if we vote based on all of the areas listed by Sojourners, we will have leaders who will truly work for the public good.

And so Jesus would vote - not because he has suddenly developed a political tilt, but because he recognizes that two or three, or a hundred, or a thousand, working for their fellow man can accomplish more than a single person.

One can change the world, yes - but think of how much change many could bring about. As Isaiah said, "They will not hunger or thirst, Nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He [US!] who has compassion on them will lead them And will guide them to springs of water."


Frank said...

Good thoughts. We confuse political positions with God. When, or if, we begin to see that God is beyond all judgments and all categories, we can begin to ask how politics serve the True and the Real. Nothing more, nothing less.

karen said...

Hmmmm....would Jesus vote. I'll have to think about that. I like this....it's a good question.

rdl said...

i definitely think he woud vote or health care reform with a public option.

Kansas Bob said...

He may have voted but I doubt that He would tell folks how he voted. If I am remembering correctly Wallis and other preachers like Brian McLaren publicly endorsed and stumped for Barack Obama last year. Guess I don't see rabbi Jesus doing the same but I may be wrong. Maybe He would be the president of the Moral Majority... naaaah :)

Shirley said...

I enjoyed reading your blog I happened upon it by chance. I had to add my humble opinion...I definately feel Jesus would not vote. He knew his father's (God's)
kingdom was going to be established as declared in the Lord's Prayer, "Let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." A kingdom is a government.He was the messenger of that promise from God. If the earth in the meantime is lying in the power of the "wicked one" Satan...(and we know this because Satan offered Jesus the earth, for just one act of worship... when Jesus had fasted for 40 days up on the mountain How could Satan offer that, if he was not in fact the leader of this world?) So why would Jesus endorse a human imperfect government? One that obviously was a product of Satan's influence? It would be a contradiction to his message of turning away from the world's evilness and become a part of God's new system. The whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth in the first place. So why would he in the meantime got involved in voting for what was politically going on at the time? He had a much grander purpose (his referral to giveing Caesar what belongs to Caesar, is simply a reminder to us to be law abiding citizens in the meantime, pay your taxes and do what the earthly goverment that is in charge now, wants us to do, as long as it doesn't conflict with God's laws.) There is a lot of good done in this world by some of the goverments in charge now, but God's new government is what Jesus and we should be supporting and looking forward to. Human leadership is flawed no matter how righteous their intent. As we see in the world today with povery, dishonesty in goverments, war. I can go on and on. I am with Jesus as I vote for what he is endorsing, God's new kingdom government, with perfection at the helm. God created us who would know better how to govern us? So again I say no Jesus would not vote.