Three views on christianity and politics

Ballot box

The combination of religion and politics can be explosive. It is very easy to hold our political views with religious zeal, and I am not always an exception. And so we often think that God is on our side of politics. (Or else we think God stands in the middle between the two polarised views.)

I thought it might be interesting to take a bunch of much argued over political issues and see what Jesus, as God’s representative on earth, said about them, if he said anything at all. A sort of HWJV – How Would Jesus Vote?

Right vs Left, Conservative vs Liberal

These terms are not the same, and you can find discussions of how the definitions depend on a view of wealth distribution (Capitalism vs Communism), or of the degree of individual rights vs Government powers. I’m not even going to try to unravel all the fine distinctions. Rather, I’m going to go with what most of us already know. Conservative/Right and Liberal/Left views are generally well known to us.

So I have scanned a number of websites that list political/moral/social issues on which the two sides have generally quite distinct and differing views, and made a list of 22 political/social issues. Then I have tried to find where Jesus said something that is meaningful on that issue. If I can’t, I am happy to accept what the rest of the New Testament says, or else make an informed guess, though I rate these conclusions as less certain. At the time I am writing this paragraph, I don’t know how it will turn out.

I’m not suggesting that everything Jesus said is directly relevant to today – culture changes and so ethical principles may be expressed in different ways today – but his sayings are surely an important start.

I’d be interested in any constructive comments.

How Would Jesus Vote?

This table is in alphabetical order of issues.

Issue Jesus says … HWJV?
Abortion We don’t have a clear saying on this, but he might have valued both women’s rights and the sanctity of life, with the latter being more important. Probably right
Criminal law Jesus valued the Law (Matthew 5:17, see also Romans 13:1-5), but also had sympathy with victims of inequality (Matthew 9:11-13), and always offered opportunities to repent. Probably right
Death penalty Jesus wanted people to repent, and probably thought that only God should take away life. Probably left
Economic policy Jesus was wary of wealth (Luke 6:24, see also James 5:1-6) and criticised the Jewish leaders for their greed (Matthew 23:25, Luke 20:47). He would likely have wanted governments to use wealth for the common good. Left
Education In a low literacy society, Jesus appears to have been literate, so we can probably assume he valued education for all. Unclear
Energy & climate change We cannot know, but I think he valued God’s creation, and would oppose greedy exploitation that harms the vulnerable (compare Luke 20:47), as is beginning to occur with climate change. Probably left
Environment We cannot know, but I think he valued God’s creation and would have supported sustainable practices. Perhaps left
Gay rights This is a difficult one. Jesus upheld traditional sexual morality (Matthew 5:27-30), but supported the victimised (e.g John 8:2-11). I think he would likely have opposed homosexual behaviour but supported gay people. Possibly right
Healthcare Jesus’ healings leave us in no doubt that he valued health, and saw sickness as not fitting in God’s kingdom (Mark 1:40-41). Left
Immigration & refugees The OT supports the loving care of refugees and strangers (Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19), and Jesus would surely have supported this. Left
Individual rights Jesus championed the vulnerable against the powerful, and criticised the leaders for lack of sympathy (Matthew 23:25, Luke 20:47). He spoke more about responsibilities than rights. Left
Marriage & divorce He spoke strongly against divorce (Matthew 5:31-32) and supported the traditional view of the sanctity of marriage (Mark 10:2-12). Right
Materialism Jesus saw materialism as a trap and spoke strongly against building our life on owning things (Matthew 6:19-34, Luke 12:15). Left
Racism Jesus was a Jew, and he saw his mission as being to the Jews (Mark 7:24-30). But the NT church saw their message as being beyond race (Galatians 3:28). Unclear
Religion Jesus strongly opposed the sort of religion that oppressed people or led them into legalism rather than towards God (Matthew 23:1-28), but he probably saw religious and political leadership as the same. Unclear
Religious freedom Jesus’ call to people to take responsibility for their faith in God suggests he valued religious freedom. But it is hard to see how left and right differ here. Unclear
Social welfare Jesus wanted his followers to alleviate injustice and suffering (Matthew 25:31-46) and take care of their neighbours (Luke 10:25-37). Left
Taxation Jesus seemed not to oppose the paying of taxes, even to the occupying Romans (Matthew 22:15-22, see also Romans 13:6-7). Maybe slightly left
War & pacifism Jesus said we should love enemies (Matthew 5:43), showing the same example that God does. Left
Violence & gun ownership Jesus apparently opposed violence (Matthew 26:52), anger and murder (Matthew 5:21-24). Left
Wealth, poverty & inequality This is in many ways a summary of other issues here. Jesus certainly was wary of wealth, supported the poor and criticised inequality. Left
Women in society Jesus was a strong advocate for women, treating them much more equally than his culture (e.g. Luke 7:36-50, John 8:2-11), but I doubt he’d have supported strong feminism. Probably left

Assessment

This table suggests that Jesus’ views were across both sides of the political spectrum. Nevertheless, the table indicates he might have supported leftist views on more issues than right views.

CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity about what a truly christian society might look like: “We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, “advanced,” but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic.”

This agrees with what I have arrived at in the table. Because Government is about public life, we might expect Jesus to vote more leftist, while on those issues that are more personal, he might be more right wing, but these are less often matters for government.

So of the three views, left, right and a bit of both, I’m on the left side of both, because I think that’s where Jesus would be. As I said before, I don’t necessarily think that Jesus’ teaching back in first century Israel should automatically be applied today – we should be following the principles rather than legalistic rules, and allow the Spirit to guide us – but I think the broad pattern of his teachings on the issues still applies.

Thoughts?

Photo: MorgueFile

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11 thoughts on “Three views on christianity and politics

  1. Invisible Mikey says:

    Unclear about racism? What about the parable of the good Samaritan? Samaritans were minority foreigners, generally distrusted and/or feared by both Jews and Romans, much like today’s Hispanics and Muslims.

    Then there’s Paul’s assertion from Galatians that in Christ, there’s neither Jew, Gentile, slave or free, even no male/female. In other words, faith in Jesus is entirely above and beyond politics.

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  2. westofthebluemountains says:

    I’m not a Bible person as you know, but an interesting passage came up on another forum I visit, relevant perhaps to war and pacifism.

    Matthew 10:34.

    Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword

    What is your interpretation of this ?

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  3. unkleE says:

    Hi, yes that is a tricky saying.

    If it was said by Che or Mao or Osama we might interpret it literally. So the question is, should we interpret Jesus literally?

    I don’t think so. Jesus was often a cryptic person who used figures of speech, and his clear teachings were against violence.

    So I can only conclude that he was talking about the effects of his teaching, not his intentions. He knew his teachings would be confronting to some people, especially those in power, and he knew what the result would be.

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  4. westofthebluemountains says:

    Thanks. I guess the question for me is when to interpret literally and when to interpret metaphorically. It seems a matter of what you want to believe.

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  5. unkleE says:

    Yes, it can certainly be that. But if we are honest with ourselves, we want to find the real truth, and that requires going beyond what we’d like to be true. That means being diligent in reading up on facts, and for christians it also means praying for guidance. I’m sure I’m not as honest and open as I’d like to be, but I have changed my opinion on many things, so I must have been somewhat open.

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  6. unkleE says:

    Hi Mikey, thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t think of the Good Samaritan, so that is a helpful comment.

    My thoughts were that Jesus’ comments to the Gentile woman in Mark 7 are seen by some as being racist. On top of that, it isn’t clear to me if right-wingers are much more racist than leftists. So I decided not to make a clear choice here.

    But I can see your perspective too. These things aren’t cut and dried. Thanks.

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  7. unkleE says:

    Another tricky question. In his day, work on the Sabbath was forbidden, so he wouldn’t have supported them back then. But of course today is different. It would depend on what is actually best for workers. As a Galilean carpenter, he may not know that, but as the son of God perhaps he would understand economics – there are theological arguments about how much Jesus knew and didn’t know.

    So my answer is, I don’t know. I should have said that first I guess! πŸ™‚

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  8. vengaturreino says:

    Hi there! I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to share a recent blog post my husband and I wrote about Christians and politics:

    “…. Although Christians are told to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-2), there are no instructions anywhere in the Bible to seek political authority for ourselves or participate in political campaigns or decisions.

    As Christians, we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ in order to live in unity (1 Corinthians 1:10). However, those who are involved in politics often find themselves divided on opposing sides, debating and arguing with each other.

    Whole article:
    https://faithandencouragement.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/christians-and-the-question-of-voting/

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  9. unkleE says:

    Hi thanks for the link. But I am a little puzzled by your conclusions.

    Do you think that christians shouldn’t participate in something (like voting or being elected) because it isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible? (That would mean we couldn’t be having this internet discussion!)

    I agree with you that politics can be divisive, and that it would be better if it wasn’t divisive. But churches and doctrine can also be divisive, but I presume you wouldn’t oppose them? (Or maybe you would. I’d be interested to hear.)

    Do you live in Britain? Some of your words suggest this, but the Spanish suggests somewhere else such as USA.

    Thanks.

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  10. vengaturreino says:

    Hi there!

    Yes, I’m from Britain, but live with my husband in Chile πŸ˜€ We’re going to get back to your comment, but prefer to write together πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    Thank you for replying.

    God bless

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