In the past week, I’ve had one question on my mind: how would Jesus vote?
That is the question theologian Linda Seger asks in her recent book Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Republicans Don’t Have the Corner on Christ. Seger wonders, if Jesus were alive today, would he feed the poor or cut free school lunch programs? Would he comfort the old and infirm or eliminate Social Security? Would he turn the other cheek or invade Iraq?
Now, right up front, let me get a few things out of the way. I don’t think Jesus would be a Republican or a Democrat if he were living in America today. And personally, I think it is essentially pointless and somewhat dangerous to wade into the murky territory of such historical (and spiritual) speculation – especially when taking a figure like Jesus under consideration. Before long, such an exercise can reduce Jesus to one of our own ridiculous cultural caricatures; he either ends up driving to the abortion clinic in his hybrid-vehicle or patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border fresh from a meeting of the local N.R.A. Frankly, it’s hard to picture him doing either of those things.
All that said, given the incredible role Jesus plays in American culture – and in American politics especially – it is perhaps useful to reconsider what Jesus stood for in his own time and look for ways to promote those same issues in our present time. How can our government make policy that prioritizes the poor in the same way Jesus did? How can his concern for peace and justice inform our foreign policy and war on terror? How can his model of compassion and tolerance guide us within our own borders as we seek to work together as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents? Reexamining these questions with renewed senses of sobriety, humility, and objectivity might benefit our society in tremendous ways.
And in order to do that, there is a major misperception that we must first confront: Jesus is not the unofficial mascot of the GOP.
Over the course of the past three decades, a sort of political transitive property of equality has been written in America. Remember the transitive property of equality? If A = B and B = C, then A = C. Well, that same mentality has allowed for the same logic in American society. Whereas, if Jesus is represented in America by the Religious Right, and the Religious Right is represented in government by Republicans, then Jesus is represented by Republicans. That simply is not so. And no one has done more to disprove this logic than George W. Bush, whose policies have rewarded the wealthy, ignored the poor, and created an entire population of widows and orphans both in the U.S. and Iraq. It’s hard to look at the record of the Bush administration and find examples of it doing unto others as it would have done unto it.
The fact is we need to reintroduce the logic of the golden rule into our politics. The idea that we have a stake in one another is not new. It is a foundational truth that has guided almost all religions and humanistic philosophies in all ages. In fact, the foundational notions of our own democracy are similarly guided by this idea of an ethics of reciprocity, where individual rights and equality are valued first and foremost.
The fact that this proven truth guides Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency is perhaps the main reason I believe in him so much. Others in the race have impressive records and intriguing positions, but none has so boldly and consistently said that we must rediscover this foundational ethic in our own national interest.
Obama has said, “what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart and… if enough people believe in the truth of the proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.”
This weekend, Obama stated in plain terms before a national meeting of the United Church of Christ, “Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart.” He continued, “Faith got hijacked partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us.”
Obama is right. Without question, faith has been hijacked in America. And we must find a way to use faith – all faiths – for unity, not division.
But of course, this is a campaign of hope. This is a movement of national renewal. And I believe it is working. After reading Obama’s remarks, I visited the website of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network. I expected to find a firm rebuttal and familiar conservative rhetoric. Instead I found a column by CBN Correspondent David Brody who, to my surprise, wrote:
“For Obama to stand up and talk about how Jesus changed his life, my friends that takes guts. You may disagree with everything he’s about, you may disagree with his policy goals but as Christians, shouldn’t we like it when someone talks about Christ being the missing ingredient in his life?… To me though, the criticism of the religious right was a small part of the speech. I saw it more as an uplifting speech that can bring people of faith together. For example, Obama talked about how God SHOULD NOT be removed from the public square…Here’s what it comes down to. Obama’s view of his faith calls for social justice. Moral issues like immigration, minimum wage, healthcare, etc are all part of that equation…Social conservatives see the pressing moral issues as abortion, gay marriage, etc. So how can you bring both sides together? Maybe you can’t. But if religious conservatives are willing to engage in some of these other ‘moral issues’ that Obama talks about, then Obama and the progressives might also need to be willing to engage on the abortion and gay marriage issue. For example, nobody expects Obama to all of a sudden become pro-life, but will he be able to move towards the middle on issues like parental notification or a congressional bill that warns would be mothers that their fetus will feel pain if aborted after 20 weeks? At the end of the day, Obama’s most important line didn’t have to do with any issue. It had to do with Jesus…And as Christians, that’s something we can all agree on.”
That is tremendous – to read such fond words about a liberal Democrat written by a correspondent of CBN. That is the power of Obama’s campaign, and that is a testament to his leadership and unique vision. It makes me feel that this movement Obama has started is real and is working. It makes me anticipate the potential and promise of this campaign. It is national renewal already underway. It is the golden rule in action. It is faith uniting us, not dividing us.
It may be hard to know how Jesus would vote today, but I think it’s safe to believe he would stand for unity such as this.
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