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Politicizing Jesus
January 24, 2009, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Christian Doctrine, Culture, Ethics, Politics

Some Christians (especially those on the left) say they want to re-politicize Jesus.  There is something deeply incoherent about this, for it is usually coupled with a commitment to non-violence.  I think these folks are blind to the inherent violence of politics.  

“Jesus is Lord and so Caesar isn’t.”  OK.  I’m not sure the NT has as much to say in support of this as some folks let on.  But insofar as this is an accurate message, it is an anti-political message, right?  Or it is meant to lower our confidence in political power, right?


I’m generally anti-war and I worry about violence underwritten by the state.  But I don’t subscribe to a position of strict non-violence.  And so it is NOT inconsistent for me to support coercive taxation to fund the social safely net.  (If you don’t pay taxes you’re thrown in jail.  Yes, this is violence!  This is ‘the sword’!)


One problem with the political religious left is they fail to notice the social safety net is the fruit of Caesar’s sword.  It is underwritten by violence.


(FYI – I am a non-violence person with respect to the activities of the ‘city within the city’ called the Church.  If ‘Caesar’, inspired by the teachings of Jesus, decides to implement a social safety net, this doesn’t make him the Church.  Notice that Jesus did NOT instruct his followers to take up the sword and coercively take money from the rich to fund the social safety net.  Which is not to say that Caesar oughtn’t do this.  And which is not to say Christians cannot participate in this as citizens of the city of man.  Yes, I guess I’m a kind of ‘two-kingdoms’ person.)


5 Comments so far
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People on the Right politicize Jesus all the time. Look at Focus on the Family. I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong but at the same time it creates conflict in the Church.

I think a lot of people think that the intersection of their faith and their political beliefs is black and white, but it’s not.

It would be easy for a Christian that leans to the left to say that the social safety net and welfare system are consistent with Jesus’ teachings on helping the less fortunate. But, a libertarian that finds the redistribution of wealth abominable can serve the less fortunate through acts of charity in the private sphere.

Similarly, a Christian on the right can find examples in scripture that indicate that homosexuality is wrong, leading him to believe that gay marriage should be banned. Yet, a liberal Christian may lead a heterosexual life and believe that regardless of what the Bible says on the topic, all people should have equal marriage rights.

So, overall I agree with your thesis. Christians on all sides of the political spectrum must not let these issues divide them. They must also be cautious when they politicize the teachings of Jesus and the Church.

Comment by olivett

Yes, people on the right do politicize Jesus. We agree on this. But I’d go farther than you, and I’d say this is wrong or at least mistaken.

But the mistake here, in my view, is NOT the confusion of a ‘grey’ issue with a ‘back and white’ one. The confusion is over what the government’s responsibilities are.

Ought it to lead us in Christian discipleship?

If yes, then the government is the Church, or is a branch of the Church.

If no, then the matter of whether holy scripture teaches that Christian discipleship requires one to refrain from homosex is (nearly) irrelevant to civil marriage.

Jesus’ teachings on acts of charity are (nearly) irrelevant to the social safety net. The social safety net is not charity, since charity can never be underwritten by violence.

Comment by the.pilgrim

All this is not to say that there are no reasons for thinking ‘gay marriage’ is a bad policy.

That it might ruin our Christian discipleship, or that it will make God displeased with us, are the wrong sorts of considerations. Heck, lying will ruin our discipleship and make God displeased with us, but we recognize we can’t sensibly use the power of the state to further our discipleship here. That’s not what the government’s for.

Which is not to say that the government doesn’t have role in protecting us from certain kinds of certifiable dishonesty. But the reason won’t be to keep God happy with us, but in order to secure a modicum of justice and social harmony. (Which is pleasing to God, right? These things tend to overlap, right?)

And God has NOT promised our nations temporal blessings for obedience, so we don’t need to worry about special curses from God.

Comment by the.pilgrim

So, I think that what you are saying is that the Church and the political system are two separate spheres or should be in theory. Hence, Christians should not attempt to influence public policy to reflect God’s precepts. Instead Christians should only worry about meeting His precepts in their individual lives.

The only problem is that Christians are a part of society and must do what their conscience leads them to. For example, it would be difficult for a Christian Congressman to sign off on a bill that furthers abortion rights in good conscience. The public and religious spheres do overlap in certain instances. But, I do think that many Christians highly exaggerate the intersection of the two.

Comment by olivett

Well, it may be a part of Christian discipleship to not have abortions, but it is also a matter of public justice. Since it is the role of the state to secure a modicum of public justice, therefore the state has a role to play in stopping abortions.

Consider a parallel. It is a part of Christian discipleship to not commit rapes, but it is also a matter of public justice.

That the Christian Congressman finds it hard to sign off on a bill that furthers abortion rights in good conscience is irrelevant to the question at hand. It’s not because abortion’s against his religion that he won’t sign the bill.

After all, if he’s a Baptist, praying to the saints (a la Catholicism) will be against his religion. But he recognizes that, as a matter of public justice, the Catholic is within her rights to do it, even if it is wrong. He might not want to promote the practice but, as matter of principle, he recognizes your right to do it if you judge it to be good and proper.

Abortion is not like this. Or, if it is rightly to be outlawed in some way, then it is not like this. (And neither is murder and rape.) We have no right to have abortions, murders or rapes done.

Comment by the.pilgrim

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