Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How Would Jesus Vote?

If you know much about me, you know that I don't talk politics.  It's not that I lack political views.  And I am not particularly afraid of controversy.  I avoid talking about politics publicly for two reasons: First, as a pastor, I realize people aren't going to take things I say as "strictly my opinion."  To many people, I represent--at the very least--the church I lead, if not God Himself.  That's a huge responsibility, and one I take seriously.  I do have opinions about politicians and political issues, but they are just that--opinions.  I don't want anyone to mistakenly believe that my views are God's views.  Second, I think it damages the Church's ministry when it becomes identified with a specific political ideology.  Non-Christians get turned away from Christ, thinking that if they follow Him, they must also adopt the political views being championed by the members.  The Gospel gets obscured. as people know what we stand against, but not what we stand for.  Christians get more excited about attacking political opponents on social media than they are about loving their neighbors as themselves.  That has happened in my lifetime, and frankly, I think it's a huge part of why we as Christians have lost cultural credibility.  I don't want to be a part of it.

So with that disclaimer, here is all I will say publicly about the 2016 election:

How would Jesus vote?  It's an important question, since everything we do should be done in His name (Colossians 3:17).  That's another way of saying we should do everything in a way that reflects His character; "What Would Jesus Do?" should be more than a cliche.  And let's be clear; Christians should vote.  We are part of a tiny minority of humankind: People who have the opportunity to choose our own leaders, to have a direct influence on the laws that rule our society.  We cannot forsake that responsibility.  So, again I ask, how would Jesus vote?

First of all, you might be wondering if Jesus would vote.  Wouldn't He instead run for President Himself?  Wouldn't He make the best leader?  Of course, but let's be honest: Jesus could never be elected President of this country.  Elections are won by people who play to the base, pay attention to the polls, adapt their views to fit the popular consensus, and spin the truth in a way that is advantageous to themselves.  Jesus, in contrast, refused to do anything that would bring Himself popularity.  He healed people, but would usually tell them to keep their healing secret.  He would periodically say incredibly harsh things that would cause the crowds around Him to thin; sometimes, He would disappear from the crowds entirely.  He could have easily gained followers by attacking unpopular groups like the occupying Romans on the cultural right or the "sinners" on the cultural left, but instead, He relentlessly spoke out against the most popular people in the nation: The patriotic, morally upright Pharisees and teachers of the Law.  In His closest brush with political power, standing before King Herod and then Pontius Pilate on Good Friday, He refused to play ball;  He wouldn't perform any miracles or give any soothing answers that could have saved His own life.

If Jesus were voting today, I believe He would reject any political leader or ideology that changed the law to fit shifting moral standards.  Jesus lived in a nation that had followed a strict moral code for centuries.  He knew that the people in power had misused the commands of God to prop themselves up and oppress others.  If we had lived then, we might have expected Him to say, "Forget the commands of Moses and the prophets.  We're living in a new day now."  But instead, in the Sermon on the Mount, He doubled down.  You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery."  But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).  Over and over, Jesus takes the commands of God in the Old Testament and says, "Not only should God's commands still stand, we should take them even more seriously than our forefathers did.  Don't just obey the letter of the Law and seek loopholes for your own benefit; live to please God in everything you do: Sexually, financially, relationally."  Jesus wouldn't be concerned with being "on the right side of history."  As the coming Judge of the living and the dead, and as ultimate King of Kings, whatever side He is on is automatically the right side.

If Jesus were voting today, He would prioritize the socially marginalized.  During His earthly life, He spent most of His time with the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors who were despised by the people in charge.  People often think Jesus was different from the God of the Old Testament; that Jesus was compassionate and gentle, where God in the Old Testament was stern and wrathful.  Not true.  Jesus said quite a bit about judgment and Hell; there are plenty of sayings of Jesus that we never put on bumper stickers or write in calligraphy in frames on our living room walls.  And God in the Old Testament continually takes the side of the widow, the orphan, the poor and the alien.  In fact, the Law He created to establish Israel was heavily weighted on the side of people who were poor.   When the Israelites lost their nation and were exiled, the prophets made it crystal clear that God judged them because they didn't do all they could to help those at the bottom rung of society.  Christians sometimes rationalize their lack of concern for the poor by saying, "Jesus said the poor you will always have with you, so it's no use trying to eliminate poverty."  But that's a classic case of taking Jesus' words out of context to fit our own purposes.  Jesus championed the cause of the poor, the sick, the persecuted and the imprisoned.  He said that at our final judgment, we will have to  account for how we treated them (Matthew 25:31-46); any good thing we do for those who are lowly, we've done for Him.  When God created Israel, He told them that if they faithfully followed His commands, there would be no poor people at all (Deuteronomy 15:4).  I think it's obvious Jesus would vote for the candidate whose ideas would do the most good for the people who had the least.

Mostly, I think Jesus would refuse to vote for any candidate who appealed to people's fear and anger. The opponents of Jesus specialized in that kind of approach, dominating society by intimidation, prejudice against outsiders, labeling opponents ("sinner" "unclean" "uncircumcised dogs"), and stirring up anger.  Was Jesus sometimes angry?  Yes.  Turning over tables and thrashing merchants in the Temple Courts was not performance art. He was legitimately, violently angry.  But here is the crucial point: He was angry at injustice.  He was angry on behalf of people who were being denied the ability to worship, so that people in power could make money in the name of God.  He wasn't angry because He felt His own rights were being infringed upon, or because He didn't want to pay taxes, or because people who were "different" were gaining power, or because "it just doesn't feel like my country anymore."  Friends, when you support a politician because he or she stirs your emotions, ask yourself, "What emotions is this person inspiring in me?"  If it's fear about the future, or anger at people you don't like, admit to yourself that those emotions don't come from the Spirit of God. If, on the other hand, he or she inspires you to higher thoughts and hopes, inspires you to want to do more for others, inspires you with realistic, credible ideas to address real might be on the right track.

The best news is this: The King is coming.  And even if our nation would never elect Him, someday He will reign nonetheless.  On that day, all the problems our politicians are powerless to face will be no more.  Amen...come Lord Jesus.

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