Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jesus and Politics

In college, someone asked me - with much sincerity - how I could be a Christian and vote against Proposition 187. For those of you who may not have been in California or paying attention at the time, Prop 187 was an initiative that was meant to deny social services, health care, and public education to illegal immigrants. Health care workers and teachers were also supposed to report suspected illegal immigrants, I believe. The proposition passed, but was later overturned by a federal court.

Aside from the disturbing consequences that might come from having the illegal portion of our population denied vaccinations and education (anyone really think that's going to help us out as a state? Whether or not you agree with undocumented workers being here, I would think we'd all want to make sure their children didn't get polio, even if it's only for the selfish reason that we don't want another polio epidemic!), I was confused about the assumption that Jesus would obviously want me to vote for Prop 187. Really? Because, if you actually read the Bible, you'll start to notice that Jesus spends an awful lot of time with people that others thought of as not being worthwhile or not being in the right place. The oppressed and downtrodden, even. I have a funny feeling that he might have been on the side of the illegal immigrants.

Now, I'm also not saying that you have to be a Democrat to be a Christian. In fact, I think that reducing God to the level of politics is shameful. God transcends politics. Jesus would not be a Republican, a Democrat, or even a member of the Peace & Freedom Party (although they have a great name!) I think that when we try to sum up Christianity in terms of political platforms that we are limiting God and trying to make him small enough for our minds.

I've been a Christian for a long time, and I'm pretty sure that in order to be a Christian, you have to "Confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead" and you will be saved. (Romans 10:9). Not vote against illegal immigrants. Not be a registered member of the Republican party or the Christian Coalition. Not stand for "family values" (and who decides which things are values, anyway? Jesus seemed to think that standing up for the oppressed, feeding the poor, and visiting prisoners were more important than many of the so-called family values. Look at Matthew 25: 34-45.

The ridiculousness continues. Apparently Republican voters in some of the primaries are asked in exit polls about their religious convictions. Democratic voters are asked about their union ties. Because obviously, an evangelical Christian couldn't be a Democrat. And Jesus cares more about banning gay marriage than social justice. Right. Not likely.

Now there's talk about Mike Huckabee wanting to amend the Constitution to "God's Standards." First of all, what exactly does that mean? Is it going to be constitutionally mandated that we all sell our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor? Or that we love our enemies... including Islamofascists?

How do Christian morals and values affect foreign policy? It's not as clear cut as many Christians in politics make it out to be. For example, would Jesus perform pre-emptive bombings on countries that might be developing dangerous nuclear weapons? Probably not. He seems to let people make their own choices, even if those choices result in people dying. I'm not sure what I would want my national leader to do, but if you're looking to what Jesus would do... it's not always in line with what Christians would want!

Second, being a Christian is about the state of your heart. Theocracies turn out to be... well, not that good for everyone! I believe that mandating Christianity - or even Christian values - is not what God wants. If it was, he would have created us without free will. What makes Christianity truly remarkable is that we have the choice to follow God or spit in his face. He loves us either way and rejoices when we come back to him, but he never takes that choice away.

Many Christians lament the lack of prayer in school. I happen to take a different view, and I don't think that makes me a "worse" Christian. If I, as a Christian, can lead prayers in school, -then we also have to let Muslim teachers, Jewish teachers, Pagan teachers, and Scientologist teachers lead prayers in school. (Something that Christians leading the prayer in school charge tend to forget). Otherwise we very much risk becoming more like Iran than I am comfortable with.

Also, kids can pray in school. After the September 11 attacks, one of my third graders asked me if we could pray. I said that I couldn't pray for them but that I could give them a few minutes of silence and that they could pray inside their heads or just be quiet if they wanted. Turns out that, as usual, the kids are wiser than the adults. One of them informed us that "Duh, you can pray any time you want because God hears what is inside your head. Even in the shower." A Vietnamese girl, who was raised Buddhist, asked her Christian friend if Jesus loved her (the Buddhist girl) too and the friend said yes, he loves her very much and would she like to come to church with her. Both much more powerful than if I had been the one to answer... and totally legal because it was kids sharing their opinions, and not even during instructional time!

Another one said that he was going to pray for the terrorists. He said that the terrorists hated people and that means we needed to pray for them.

And to think I would have missed all this if I had led the prayer.


justducky said...


I was encouraged to home-school my children, so they would not be polluted by the "worldly population". But it's said in the Bible to be IN the world, just not OF the world.

I believe that the local school is where the world hangs out? Did Jesus or Paul or Peter isolate themselves? John says Christ was advocate for us and for ALL the world. Pretty inclusive. I don't see isolationism or judgement there.

Well, I'm trying to be walk with Jesus and he's eating with those who've been rejected by society. He's loving the whole world. Loving them to wholeness, not hating them to heaven.

brendan said...

You mention that:

"God transcends politics. Jesus would not be a Republican, a Democrat, or even a member of the Peace & Freedom Party."

I agree that God transcends politics. But I think that the God-made-flesh was very much willing to jump headfirst into any level of politics. While I would never presume to suggest which party Jesus would be a member of, were He to have appeared to preach today, I think he likely would have been profoundly political, in the same way he was two-thousand years ago.

I bring this up not to naysay or nitpick, but rather because I think there is a dangerous thinking about spirituality, which holds that the truly spiritual are outside of the realm of the political. One of things that makes Christ's message so powerful, to me, was precisely his zeal in getting his hands dirty in making very political, controversial statements.

Dei Gratia,

B said...

I think you have a very good point. I agree that Jesus would have been "political," but not in the way we think of political today. I think that he was furious about injustice, for example, and people who oppress others. But I think that he would have done it in a different sort of way than politicians are doing it. I don't know if that makes sense - I don't think that I have fully formed my thoughts on it.

I don't think that Jesus was afraid to be controversial at all. But I do think that he would probably have problems with BOTH major political parties and for sure that he would surprise Christians with his message - as they say in the Narnia books about Aslan, "He's not a TAME lion." I think we've made Jesus tame in our politicizing of him.

Maybe the difference to me is that Christ fought for things I believe in and the Christian right these days fights for things that I don't feel Jesus cares that much about.

More thinking required...

Jonathan said...

If you're going to quote the Bible, what about Leviticus 19:33-34:

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."