Jesus & Politics

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I’m going to talk about politics, and I’m going to talk about Jesus. And I don’t care if you agree with me.

Oklahoma is a “Super Tuesday” state, so last week I voted. The line was long, which is supposed to be good news, and my wife and I were not the only ones who brought our kids. The woman in line in front of us had a daughter about the same age as our two-year-old. The woman a few places back had a son a little older, and a lot less happy to wait in line. He knocked over some pamphlets in the church hallway and made a lot of noise. His mother started to take him out, and this is when my favorite thing happened. Everyone around told her to stay. “He’s fine.” “We don’t mind.” “This is important.” “I’m just glad it’s not my kids.”

No one knew who she was voting for and they didn’t care. It wasn’t about the winners and losers. It was about participating in something important and it was about basic human kindness.

So, not about politics at all.

We live in a country and I live in a state where people bring up Jesus a lot in their political debates. And I’ve come to believe that even when I agree with their point, the attempt is misguided. People tried to engage Jesus in political debates all the time. They asked him to weigh in on taxes, to support the Sadducees over the Pharisees (or vice versa) and ignore those who cooperated with Rome. These are political questions. But Jesus never gave political answers. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes) and to God what is God’s (whole self)” is a redirect. He was pushing the perspective up and out to take in a bigger picture. Just when the Pharisees thought he might be on their side because of something he said, he called them “white washed tombs.” He said they were pretty on the outside, and dead on the inside because all they worried about was how they looked and who was on their “side.” He ate with tax collectors, not because he supported Roman occupation but because they were people. Real people who weren’t okay.

Jesus probably had opinions on all of these arguments. They were important. Finances were scarce and it mattered where every coin went. The Pharisees were a grass roots populist movement who were at least trying to obey God. The Sadducees were the only group with the money and power to resist Roman rule and the Romans were dangerous, violent and occasional perpetrators of religious oppression. That stuff matters. Still Jesus didn’t really weigh in. Instead, he took care of the humans in front of him.

Now, let’s look at modern American politics. I know the politicians and pundits need to yell really loudly about the differences so we’ll stay interested enough to tune in tomorrow. But I’ve got a degree in American History and I can tell you that our two political parties just aren’t that far apart. If you put all human governments on a line 10 feet long, stretching from “right” to “left”, the difference between Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders (the guys who won Oklahoma’s primaries) would be about an inch. 98% of the Federal Budget is spent on things we generally agree about – defense, infrastructure, personel, ect. And the last 2% is all we’re really arguing over. Everyone who disagrees is selling something – themselves, their network, Mountain Dew, their soul. Issues like immigration, taxation, health care and foreign policy matter. But things have gotten ugly. Too ugly. The fight is making us distrust each other in ways we never have before. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter who wins the election. We’ve all lost.

So here’s the thing – the “Christian” way of being political has almost nothing to do with who you vote for and almost everything to do with how you treat the ones who vote differently.

The issues matter, yes, but nearly as much as the humans standing around you. So vote. Vote carefully and vote for the party/person who you think helps us look and act more like Jesus together.

But like I said, I don’t care if you agree with me. I care if you’re okay.

 

2 Comments

  1. The next time I disagree with someone, I am totally going to call them a “white washed tomb” – it’s what Jesus would do!

    And, maybe it’s the liberal in me, but I’m not sure how you *can* separate politics from basic human kindness (or lack thereof). I mean, people either vote in society’s interest or in their own self-interest, and either way they’re being kind to (and looking out for) *someone* who is a child of god. When it comes down to politics, it’s really just about figuring out whose interests you’re voting in – and (from a religious perspective) deciding whether that will get us closer to the Kingdom of God or not.

    I feel like this election in particular has shed light on a lot of the racist, sexist, us vs. them attitudes we have in the US that “polite company” doesn’t like to talk about. Right now, that feels like a bad thing. But I guess not talking about it doesn’t make it not-there. And… I am not sure about “politeness and kindness” as the cure and/or what Jesus would do. Sometimes “politeness and kindness” is just the veneer that lets us go drinking with our gay friends one Saturday night and then vote for the dissolution of their marriage the following Tuesday. I mean, if we need to scream at each other a little bit in order to realize why dismissing a woman for being “on her period” is Not Okay, then… maybe screaming IS the lesser of two evils. It’s hard to say what truly drives us apart as a culture, and what is merely growing pains.

    1. You’re right. There are political questions that do really matter. However, almost none of them have ever been decided by a presidential election (slavery is an exception I can think of quickly). Legislation and Supreme Court decisions are at least slightly more likely to establish righteousness or fight injustice. But that has nothing to do with Trump supporters calling all Sanders supporters “traitors” or Sanders supporters calling all Trump supporters “Nazis.” I think both accusations are unhelpful because they keep the two sides from ever trusting one another long enough to have an honest conversation.

      You’re also right that this election has revealed a lot of ugliness. And I’m not advocating “politeness and kindness” (your quotation marks make me think you’re assuming it’s a call to just be quiet and smile). I think we should enter into honest debate. And during honest debate, there may come a time when you say “that position is sexist/racist/self-serving.”

      What’s been upsetting is that no one on either side has being saying that. They’ve been saying “You’re an a**hole and you’re wife must be stupid.” That’s where I think we need to back off.

      We also need to back off the demonization and over-simplification of the other side. Both sides in American politics believe the other is voting selfishly, while their side is voting for the good of all. Neither is true all of the time.

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