How would Jesus have voted? Well, he didn’t…

We got sort of theological on an earlier post, and it reminded me of something I meant to blog about a couple of weeks ago, when this item ran on NPR:

Christians Debate: Was Jesus For Small Government?

What would Jesus do with the U.S. economy?

That’s a matter of fierce debate among Christians — with conservatives promoting a small-government Jesus and liberals seeing Jesus as an advocate for the poor.

After the House passed its budget last month, liberal religious leaders said the Republican plan, which lowered taxes and cut services to the poor, was an affront to the Gospel — and particularly Jesus’ command to care for the poor.

Not so, says Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee. He told Christian Broadcasting Network last week that it was his Catholic faith that helped shape the budget plan. In his view, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity suggests the government should have little role in helping the poor.

“Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities — through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community — that’s how we advance the common good,” Ryan said.

The best thing that government can do, he said, is get out of the way.

But Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at Catholic University, says he thinks Ryan is “completely missing the boat and not understanding the real heart, the real core, of Catholic social teaching.”…

At the time, I zeroed in on Ryan’s (rather restrictive and misleading) use of “subsidiarity.” What I didn’t get into was the bigger subject: What would Jesus do politically? What sort of government would he advocate?

In a sense, it’s a stupid question, in that it really can’t be answered authoritatively.

We are hobbled by the fact that Jesus wasn’t into politics. In his day, that simply wasn’t in the hands of the people, and therefore there could be no moral imperative to shape one’s society. He taught people how they should live their lives in the world as they found it.

Such issues as “the size of government” (which has always seemed like a ridiculous thing to talk about, as though there could be an objectively ideal “size” — of course, that’s me talking, not Jesus) simply were not anything an average person had any control over. That was up to Caesar. Or the Senate. Or on the more local level, the Tetrarch or Pilate. Or the Sanhedrin. In His day, government actually was what libertarians imagine it to be today. It was “they,” something outside of and apart from the individual.

One of the tough things about applying moral teachings from the Bible to our own time and place is that our relationship to government today is so radically different. For the first time in human history most people (in Western countries, at least) now have a moral responsibility for the world around them, because they have a say in it. They elect the leaders who make the laws. That was unthinkable in Jesus’ day.

Jesus had a live-and-let-live attitude toward government. Unlike his apostle the Zealot, he wasn’t interested in revolution. And if you tried to engage him discussing the morality of taxation, he said render unto Caesar — that was Caesar’s business, not his.

The challenge that Christians have today is what to in in a world in which they have a say in the government. But they don’t get all that much guidance from the Bible, which is why Christians run the gamut from left to right on the political spectrum.

There’s no question, for instance, that we are called upon to care for the poor. But both left and right can make cases for their positions. The left will insist that government must do that job; the right will insist that it must be done by private entities.

The weakness in the left’s argument is that, in this country at least, what the government does is by definition done outside the Christian framework. Government can’t say, “What would Jesus do?” and act accordingly, on account of the way we currently interpret the First Amendment.

The weakness in the right’s argument is that since a Christian today does have responsibility for his government, he should advocate that his government act in accord with his beliefs. If we are enjoined to minister to the poor, than we should vote accordingly. Our vote should be an instrument of Christian charity just as our tithe at Church is.

Ironically, it is so often people on the left who object to anyone trying to make the government an agent of any sort of religious agenda. (I point you to liberals’ horror at what they perceived Rick Santorum as being about.)

In the end, Christians on the left and on the right will tend to imagine what a “Citizen Jesus” would do if he lived in a modern liberal democracy in terms of what they themselves believe politically.

When, of course, we know he would have voted UnParty…

37 thoughts on “How would Jesus have voted? Well, he didn’t…

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    I believe one’s answer to that is most likely a projection of one’s political beliefs, which are themselves a projection of oneself.

    There’s a reason why we are advised to avoid discussions of religion and politics.

  2. Brad

    Which is actually what Jesus did. He avoided discussions of politics, anyway.

    But those who wished him ill kept trying to draw him into such discussions. He was good at dodging them.

  3. Lynn

    As I recall Jesus’ interaction with gov’t wasn’t positive, it was after all a governor who executed Jesus.

  4. Steven Davis II

    Interesting, we now know the political habits of a man who may or may not have ever lived. I wonder how Santa Claus voted?

  5. Doug Ross

    If we all aspired to act like Jesus, we wouldn’t need government – certainly far less than we have now. That’s the point Ryan is making. The EASIEST thing to do is to turn the power over to someone else by paying taxes. And because people are not driven enough by the ethics and principles of Jesus, you end up with a system driven by greed and power. The same is true in the private sector.

    One thing we do know, the military budget in a President Jesus administration would be smaller than the food stamp budget.

  6. Brad

    But Doug, you are once more missing the point of living in a republic. When you advocate as a citizen for your government to do something, that’s YOU doing it. It is not “turn(ing) the power over to someone else.” That’s you taking responsibility for seeing that your government acts in accordance with your beliefs.

    As I said, in Jesus’ day, government actually was a separate entity OUT THERE, a sort of “they” for which the individual was not responsible.

    Not so today. Not so at all, today. You are the government; the government is you. It’s not “someone else.”

  7. bud

    Brad, you completely ignored Doug’s very important point, the food stamp program vs the military. I doubt Jesus would have had much of a military. His peaceful proclivities would have found a huge killing machine military abhorent.

  8. Steven Davis II

    “When you advocate as a citizen for your government to do something, that’s YOU doing it.”

    Since when do politicians do what the people who elected them into office want?

    @bud – And his country would have been overrun shortly after taking power.

  9. Steven Davis II

    This is all pure speculation. As far as I know there is no concrete proof that such a man ever existed. He left nothing behind, there is no tomb, there is no grave marker, there is no physical piece of evidence the man ever walked the face of the earth. All we have are stories of his existence… much like the stories of Bigfoot and Loch Ness (actually we have more evidence that they exist).

  10. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Doug–Render unto Caesar?

    @ Steven Davis–I think it’s pretty much not disputed that Jesus lived. Whether he was the son of God is the dispute….and for what it’s worth, St. Nicholas also lived. He didn’t live at the North Pole and fly a sleigh pulled by reindeer, though.

  11. Brad

    Yet another thing we could argue about ad infinitum.

    Jesus never condemned the military of his day, even though it was the military of an oppressive empire occupying his country, an essential element to a plunder economy.

    He was in fact impressed by the faith of the centurion who likened Jesus’ power over sickness and health to his own authority over his soldiers. It was, after all, the centurion who spoke the words we say in every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” (Actually, the wording of that recently changed, but I don’t have the new version memorized. So I cheat by saying it in Spanish: “Señor, yo no soy digno de que entres en mi casa, pero una palabra tuya bastará para sanarme.”)

    Jesus didn’t condemn soldiers for what they did, even as they oppressed his country. He did say they should not abuse their positions for gain (“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”). And he advised the citizenry not to buck the power of the legion: If asked to carry a soldier’s pack for a mile, he said, carry it two miles.

    But I fail to find anything in the Gospels that condemns military might per se, or suggests that being a soldier was in any way less moral or honorable that other lines of work. I’m not saying the Gospels support a strong military; I’m just saying they are neutral on the point.

    Jesus admonished one of his disciples for using a sword in his defense, but earlier had made sure that someone in his party HAD a sword (“If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”) And he also said “I do not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

    So, mixed messages.

    I think it’s completely accurate to speak of him as the Prince of Peace and to see him as opposed to violence (in spite of that incident when he made a whip of cords and drove out the moneylenders). But a pacifist? I’m not sure of that at all.

    It simply isn’t a question that the writers of the Gospels were trying to address.

  12. Silence

    That’s a good point Karen. Some believe that Jesus’ original message applied only to the Jews:
    “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

  13. Brad

    I love the wedding at Cana story. Jesus didn’t want to turn the water into wine, but his mother made him do it… “Aw, Ma!…”

  14. Doug Ross


    Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

    How much of God’s kingdom belonged to Caesar?

    I can interpret those words to mean give nothing to the government.

  15. Karen McLeod

    Yes, he did say, “I come not to bring peace, but the sword,” but he didn’t say to whom he was bringing the sword. From Rome’s behavior shortly after his death, I suggest that his followers would have to be facing the sword, not that they would use it.

  16. Brad

    I’m joking, but not entirely. That’s essentially what Jesus said to Mary.

    In fact, he really kind of mouthed off to her: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

    Rather than giving him a smack across the face, she just ignored him and told the servants to follow his instructions. And he meekly went ahead and performed the miracle.

    I love these little flashes of personality that occasionally show through in Biblical accounts…

  17. Steven Davis II

    “I love these little flashes of personality that occasionally show through in Biblical accounts…”

    Is the Bible fiction or non-fiction?

  18. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – Yet there’s not one concrete piece of evidence he existed, only stories. Isn’t there a legal term for that? There are images and paintings, yet none of them depict a non-European looking male from the Middle East. Unless the skin color over there has darkened over the past 2000 years.

  19. Scout

    I think Jesus was a pragmatist. He would have used whatever vehicle was most expedient to reach the most and neediest people – be it public or private or a combination of both. I don’t think he would have cared or gotten hung up on the details.

  20. Herb Brasher

    One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the people who say Jesus never existed have very seldom sat down and read through the Gospels objectively even once.

    It sure takes a lot of faith to believe that a person who totally changed human history never really even lived. Or rather, I suspect that it takes a willfully blind heart.

    From a simply human point of view, Jesus was crucified because of partisan politics.

    I taught a Sunday School lesson last week that basically touched on this subject. Acts 7–beware of the Sanhedrin syndrome. God’s strategy for the church is to avoid the power trap, but be lambs in the midst of wolves–but also clever like serpents, and harmless as doves, which I take to mean integrity. Not much of that around these days.

  21. Herb Brasher

    Actually, it you want to know what Jesus taught about politics, listen to this talk by Carl Medearis at Tufts University. It’s on loving your enemies. He sat down with Hezbollah on the one hand, and Israelis on the other. Also got James Dobson and Richard Skorman to sit down and talk to each other. It’s a hoot.

  22. Steve Gordy

    SDII there’s no concrete evidence that either of us could point to documenting the existence of any of our ancestors, yet here we are. Flavius Josephus and Tacitus were considered credible witnesses in their day and they mention Jesus and his followers.

  23. `Kathryn Fenner

    SD–There is ample documentary evidence that a man called Jesus existed in non-religious texts.

    He probably could not have obtained a state-issued ID, though (good one,Burl!)

  24. Steven Davis II

    Those stating that there is concrete proof that Jesus existed (Herb, Kathryn, Steve), can you provide one reliable website that has guaranteed proof? Of all the religious scholars throughout the years, you’d think one would have something other than theories and guesses. I believe most if not all of the paintings and drawings of Jesus were done centuries after he supposedly had died… didn’t people in 0000 to 0030 (I’m guessing) have access to drawing materials?

  25. Steven Davis II

    Actually 0000 to 0030 would be the years after his death, and there were BC dates before his birth. What were the years called while he was alive? Apparently not only did he create miracles, he also dictated a basis of time.

  26. Karen McLeod

    AD is abbreviated Latin for “In the year of our Lord.” It indicates all years from the date of Jesus’ birth. (It’s believed to actually be about 3 years off).

  27. Karen McLeod

    The question that comes to my mind is not what/who Jesus would have voted for, but who/what should I, a practicing Christian, vote for?


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