I’m not one, anymore, to get into heated political discussions. I hate them. So it will come as no surprise that I truly hate election season. Not because I am anti-political (if you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that’s not true), but because I am anti-vitriol. I hate hate. I detest fear mongering. I am repulsed by judgmentalism in Jesus’ name. And it seems to me that this is precisely what election season gets us—every time.
You all know I’m on Facebook. Lord, am I on Facebook. Please, somebody save me from Facebook. If you’re familiar, you’ll know that when you go to your ‘home’ page, you get a news feed on what all your ‘friends’ have said, done, and said or done to each other since you were last at your home page. Anything a friend posts on his / her page shows up on your feed. Now I have a diversity of friends, from the most anarchic of so-called ‘leftists’ to the most authoritarian of so-called ‘rightists.’ Most fall somewhere in between. No surprise to anyone, I fall pretty far left (and south) on that sociopolitical scale.
Among my friends are a few who post a ridiculous amount of political stuff. I often wonder whether they ever get anything else done. Still, this is important to them, so—so be it. However, I have gotten to the point of being physically ill from the tone of it all. I have already ‘unfriended’ (if that be the term) one person because his anger was causing physical tension and nausea every time I read his rants and commentary. And I am struggling greatly with whether I should do this to another person (who, fortunately, has not yet made me physically ill). In the first case, it was not so difficult because I wasn’t really much more than acquaintances with him (we shared an office for a year, but never hung out). In the latter—well, I care a lot about this person. Further, the guy I removed from my friends list was somebody I more often than not agreed with. This other friend—well, not so much.
So the impetus for this (guaranteed to be as long as ever) posting is to explain where I stand politically—and why.
First and foremost, I am a Christian. This means I try very hard to live the principles Jesus lived, the values Jesus presented—to follow the example Jesus set. When Jesus was challenged by the politio-religious leaders about the law, he said that we were to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, that on these two things hung all the law and the prophets. He said that his disciples would be known by their love. He said that our neighbors included those most despised by the cultural elite, those society said were subhuman (Samaritans were foul half-breeds, possibly not fully human, religious apostates who worshipped all wrong, defilers of true faith in God). He said that one who has been forgiven much loves much. I understand this last phrase to mean that one who understands how much she’s been forgiven loves much. For truly, we’ve all been forgiven everything if only we realize that. That’s what the whole “God so loved the world” is all about, anyway.
It seems to me, then, that we should act out of this love even in our political moments. That we should look to Jesus, if we call ourselves by his name, to glean how we should vote, since voting is a part of how we live, and we look to Jesus to see how we should live.
So. Should it be about pet sociopolitical issues and favored theological dogmas, or should it be about social welfare and egalitarianism?
Jesus said that true religion was to care for the widow and the fatherless. Jesus said that the nations will be judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, cared for the sick. Jesus castigated the political and religious leaders of the day, respected and ministered to the social outcasts. Consider what seems to me a plausible scenario, were Jesus here today in the USA.
“Happy are you on welfare, for you own God’s kingdom. Happy are you who barely scrape by on food stamps, for you will be stuffed. Happy are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Happy are you when people judge you, exclude you, despise, condemn, and spit out your name as evil and distasteful because of your relationship with the Son of Man. Leap for joy—heck, throw a party when this happens, because it is absolutely certain that you have a great reward from God because this is the same sort of thing that was done to the great prophets of God long ago.
“On the other hand, it truly sucks to be you, and a curse will fall on you worse than you can even imagine, if you’ve got a comfortable little stock portfolio, because you’ve already got your piddling happiness. And woe to you who laugh now, because the time will come when you are the mourners and weepers. And woe to you who’ve got the means to eat well every week, because you’ll be famished soon enough. When everybody speaks about how great you are? Watch out, because that is what happened to the liars who said they were speaking for God long ago.
“Listen to me, then! You must love your enemies—Iraqis, Iranians, Muslims, atheists, so-called ‘secular humanists’ or whomever—and do good to anyone who hates on you. Make it a point to speak well of those who seem to go out of their way to speak ill of you, and pray for those who abuse you, whether it be physically, spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically. If you love those who love you, those whom are easy for you to love, those to whom you easily relate—well how’s that such a big deal? Even Hitler loved his dog. It’s not exactly rocket science, but anyone can love the easy-to-love. Don’t think you’ve done anything worth noticing.
“But if you want to be noticed, if you want to be a part of the kingdom of God, then you need to love your enemies, do good things to anyone, even ‘lend’ to people you know cannot ever pay you back! Don’t expect payback from anything you do. Then your real payback will be from God (not that you should even act in order to get some divine payback!)—you’ll be God’s true children! You’ll show this by resembling God, who is kind and merciful to the ungrateful and gentle to the wicked. So be like God! And don’t judge, for crying out loud! If you judge, then you get judged. If you condemn, then you get condemned right back. Forgive people! Be generous in whatever you do (forgiveness, mercy, lending money and time, etc.) because you’ll find out that whatever you do will come back to you in spades. How you treat others will bounce back on you.
“And consider who you follow! If somebody is blind about any of this, should you follow him? Don’t you think that if you do, you’ll both be easily deceived? The blind leading the blind leads to pitfalls. If you are the disciple of the blind man, can you be above him? Don’t you realize that if you’re blind, you have no place to go on and on about some splinter in somebody else’s eye when you’ve got a redwood trunk in your own? Don’t be such a hypocrite! Worry about your own blindness! And when you’ve finally got that all squared away and you have perfect vision, well, then you can think about worrying about splinters in other people’s eyes.” (cf. Lk. 6:20-42)
That’s the foundation. How is this political? Consider: Jesus said if we want to follow him, we must deny ourselves, and be willing to endure humiliation daily, to be social outcasts daily. We should be willing to lose everything—reputation, respectability, fiscal security—and only then will we gain anything worth living (cf. Lk. 9:23-25). So what does this tell us about politics?
It seems to me that Jesus was a community activist, lobbying hard for the neglected, abused, despised, and marginalized. He condemned those in political power who failed to aid those less fortunate—including those who failed to share the wealth with the poor. He told us to beware of them, like one is told to beware of a violent dog, because they love to look all respectable and austere, yet “devour widows houses”—that is, they talk a good talk about holiness and compassion, but have manipulated the law so that it somehow has become ‘holy’ to abuse the truly poor and to resent it when anyone talks about sharing their excess with those who haven’t enough (cf. Lk. 20:45-47).
Jesus, it seems to me, was a wild man crazy liberal. And so it also seemed to the early church, who were in the minds of the religious and political elite, godless socialists. They were so crazy as to share everything, even to give up private ownership of things altogether. Truth be told, they weren’t socialists so much as communists (cf. Acts 4:32-35). Not that they were expected to be this, but they understood God’s love and Christ’s message and life to indicate that this is what love entailed. They took Jesus’s words seriously. And those who, in a twisted way, turned the teaching around so as to try to look good, those who pretended they were following the generosity of Christ and were rather importing the false-fronted legalism of the old politico-religious order, those were struck dead by God as blasphemers (cf. Acts 5:1-11).
I could go on much further, through Paul’s teachings, through the Johannine epistles, but I think the point is getting made.
So. Point One: if we sacrifice caring for those less fortunate among us in order to maintain some status quo that is more beneficial to the fiscal superiority of the fabulously wealthy, we are not acting in Jesus’ name. Indeed, we are blaspheming.
Point Two is related. The politico-religious leaders of Jesus’ time fell into worrying about singularized issues, and as a consequence, failed to understand the point of the law and their religion. In Leviticus, Moses reminded the people that God prefers mercy over sacrifice—i.e., compassion over doing what the law dictates. Jesus pushed this so far as to say that if we thought there was anyone at all who was mad at us, we should take care of that first, to make amends, before we worried about meeting our traditional religious or political obligations. When we worry about the singularities, when we focus on the details, we miss the point.
Translated into politics, it comes down to voting for candidate X because X endorses viewpoint A that is so very crucial to us. We look down the list of candidates, trying to find who agrees with us on A. Yay X, vote X. But then, by doing this, we fail to look at the bigger picture, and say we find out that X “devours widows houses”, even though by golly, X endorses A. Yay X, vote X. We find out the candidate Y doesn’t endorse X, but Y cares for the widow and fatherless—for the single mom and ghetto street kid. Boo Y, vote X. Issue A is so much more important than those lazy welfare queens and addicts. Vote X.
This is so far from the Jesus I know, it sickens me. I can hear him now, saying, “woe to you, Fundamentalists and Neocons, for you strain after saving a single fetus, but encourage the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and Palestinians! Woe to you, Fundamentalists and Neocons, for you claim the value of character, and preach on the street corners about how religious and compassionate you are, yet you take bribes, manipulate laws to meet your own gain, and ignore the cries of those who cannot pay their monthly bills on minimum wage. Woe to you, Fundamentalists and Neocons, for you complain about taxing the billionaire yet find ways to justify forcing the single mom and physically challenged to work long, underpaid hours, just to allow them to have sufficient income to qualify for welfare. Woe to you, Fundamentalist and Neocons, you are so blind in your self-proclaimed enlightenment and compassionate conservatism! You make all the right moves to keep your base happy, but conveniently omit true compassion, by helping the helpless, by keeping your word even when it hurts. What is the point of the law but the people the law is for? It isn’t about looking all righteous but actually being righteous, especially when you think nobody is looking! What is true religion? To care for single mothers and street kids.” (cf. Mt. 23:23-28)
He warns us to beware those politico-religious leaders who put huge financial and religious burdens on others, but refuse to share the load (cf. Mt. 23:2-4, Gal, 6:2). He condemns those politico-religious leaders who make being acceptable so hard that nobody but those who look just like them will fit into their plan (Mt. 23:13), and calls those who enthusiastically embrace this social viewpoint as doubly “sons of hell” as the leaders themselves.
Point Two: we cannot forget the forest for the trees. Government is about the people, and we cannot ever lose track of that. If we do, if we get so caught up in issues that we forget it’s all about love and caring for those who cannot care for themselves, we are not acting in Jesus’ name. Indeed, we are rather sons of hell.
Ultimately, the final point I have is derived from the same foundation as these. When we get so caught up in the issues that we condemn and judge, when we get so caught up in the issues that we forget whose we are, when we get so caught up in the issues that we forget to act in the love that is supposed to be the defining characteristic of us as Christ-followers, then we are, in fact, no longer Christ-followers. We remain his, certainly. But what a poor example we set, and it is no wonder people do not wish to follow us as we follow Christ, for we do not follow Christ. When our language is no longer colored by grace, when our communication is no longer characterized by mercy, tempered by kindness, then this very failure to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-25) demonstrates we are not “walking in step” with the Spirit. When we are so caught up in anger, in fear, in judgmentalism, in hate, in mocking, we are not caught up in Christ.
And this is what ultimately matters to me. I believe it all boils down to the very hard work of love. It is far easier to hate and to fear. But John writes that perfect love—completed love—the love of Christ in us—this love casts out fear (I Jn. 4:7-21). Jesus said that we are to be known by our love, not our fears. That, as it were, our faith is centered on this love—that those who have been forgiven much love much. James tells us that we show this faith by what we do, that real faith, true Christianity, isn’t just words, but actions, and that among these actions is egalitarian treatment of all (Jas.2:1-26).
Thus, the summary, the core of my political position: if it doesn’t jive with the radical egalitarian love of Christ, then no matter what it calls itself, it isn’t a Christian value.
And if one value sets itself up against others, then we have to look at the whole of the pie. If candidate X supports A (yay X! vote X!) but fails to support F-S, then it seems clear that we have to go with what will get us closest to what Christ taught, which means looking for a candidate that maybe doesn’t support A, but gives us a lot more on the love of Christ to a dying world scale.
And that is where I stand politically and why.
All images in this posting are from Jon’s wonderful blog, The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus.