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|
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.