I am sick to death of books, articles and comments that draw conclusions about God, Jesus and politics. Just today I saw a blog titled, “How would Jesus vote?” In my humble perspective, the two words “Jesus” and “vote” don’t belong in the same sentence. Nor do “God” and “politics”. Further, I take offense at writers who maintain someone’s faith is questionable if they don’t agree with the political slant of the writer. Good grief! Who are they to judge??? It is simply another form of religious bullying.
Let me explain.
How we live our lives matter. What is the right thing for one person to do might be the wrong thing for another. In Wesleyan theology, the term for this is, “the intention of the heart”. In common vernacular one might say, “what were you thinking when you did what you did?” In other words, the rationale behind our behaviors is what makes them the right or the wrong thing to do. If I take food to an elderly neighbor because I am hoping it will be noticed by the other neighbors and…let’s be honest…by God, I am doing the right thing for all of the wrong reasons. However, if I know my neighbor needs help and I offer that help simply because they need it with no strings or hopes for personal gain attached, I am doing the right thing for the right reasons. What motivated my actions? What was the intention of my heart?
I have a hard time seeing Jesus as a political activist. Instead, he modeled right behavior through the actions of his life. He attempted to change legalisms that prevented caring for others even when it wasn’t convenient or considered to be ‘right’. Take for example healing on the Sabbath. Jesus put relationship and compassion above following the rabbinical laws. Yes, these were religious laws as opposed to governmental decrees, yet they were powerful and offenders were subject to serious consequences, including death. It’s hard for those of us living in Western Civilization cultures to understand the magnitude of the ancient religious laws. We talk about our religious traditions, some of which impose excommunication for those who choose not to recognize them. Yet, at the end of the day, we do not fear prosecution if we act outside of those traditions.
We also see liberal and conservative religions making claims that are diametrically opposed, claiming God’s sanction for opposing perspectives. Consider the abortion issue. One side claims it is a mortal sin and seeks compassion for the unborn while the other side seeks empathy for situational crises and the need to show compassion for the mother. Who is right? Who is following God? I would wager neither and both.
You see, our faith doesn’t come in a neat little package. For every law that is passed, we can find a person or group of people that the law oppresses. That’s because life is messy and no law or series of laws can address situational peculiarities. Some laws that are intended to offer compassion to groups of people unintentionally, yet actually, withdraw compassion from others. Certain groups become ‘politically correct’ in their approach in one decade and 10 – 15 – 20 years later they are recognized as oppressors to the rights of others.
Think of the low fat diet craze of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Saturated fats were on the dietary hit list. We were encouraged to substitute trans fats for saturated fats. Some products limited fat all together but added high fructose corn syrup to make up for the bland taste when the fats were removed. Now, with additional studies, we understand that trans fats and high fructose corn syrup are not good for us. Some studies even report that we need saturated fats in our diets! The balance has to come from knowing something about health and nutrition and making wise choices based on that knowledge. It might involve getting to know a respected dietitian or nutritionist and visualizing them whispering in our ear as we navigate the grocery store or a restaurant’s menu. What would they do when confronted with a minefield of choices? Their advice would be given through the lens of knowing what nutrients promote healthy living.
I believe Jesus offered us the same kind of guidance. To follow Christ and the life he modeled is to consider all things through the lens of compassion, justice, mercy and love particular to a situation. It isn’t about governmental laws forcing us to make certain choices. It’s about our own hearts and what we are thinking as we stumble through life. And, it’s about allowing the still, quiet voice of Jesus to stir our conscious into right action.
Yes, we need governments to manage some things and that requires laws. John F. Kennedy aptly stated, “law alone can not make a man do right.” The bigger picture is personal responsibility and owning our shared responsibility for those who need a hand. It isn’t simply the rich handing over resources to the poor for that helps neither live within the fullness God intended for all of us in creation. Nor is it ignoring human need whether that need is for friendship, food, healthcare, dignity, education, housing, love, trust, justice and the list goes on. The thing is, the list does not have socioeconomic boundaries. Human need is present in palaces and slums; in rich nations and impoverished countries; in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. All we have to do is look around us and we will find it.
So, what does that have to do with voting? Actually, nothing. It has everything to do with each of us as individuals living life as God intended for us to live. You know, loving God with all of our heart, our mind and our spirit and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It isn’t about imposing our will on others, rather it is seeing our neighbors’ need and responding to it as we are able.
Jesus never forced his will on anyone, either through religious condemnation or the power of law. He did teach us to do what is right through the beautiful lens of compassion, mercy, justice and love. Of course, we all attach our own meanings to these words. Therein lies a problem. Yet, if we strive to balance these components and use them as guides, we won’t be too wrong. And, when we simply don’t know what to do, humble prayer and meditation help us find the still, quiet voice and reason of God to help us along the way.