Election 2012 – WWJD

So, what would Jesus do? If he were a U.S. citizen today, would he vote for incumbent Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney? In this world of never-ending turmoil and chaos, would he vote at all?

Well, we know that Jesus was attuned to the things of this world as well as the heavenly realm during his sojourn on earth. Warned by the Pharisees that politician Herod was looking to kill him (just as he had done in John, his cousin), Jesus with a touch of sarcasm responds with what to tell “that fox.”

So now, a few of his thoughts on items of interest for this 2012 election nearly two millenia later.

On taxes, Jesus says “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” OK to pay taxes as long as one tithes as well.

The non-canonical but very early manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas has Jesus add a significant qualification: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, give to God the things that are God’s, and give me what’s mine.” Here we have the complete political statement – recognizing the authority of the public realm, the divine, and the individual.

On family values, Jesus is a bit more out of synch with current evangelical discourse. Jesus offered clear thoughts about marital fidelity, bluntly stating that “whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Not a topic for much political discourse today as even evangelical Christians experience rates of divorce comparable to the general population.

By comparison, Jesus either had nothing to say (or his biographers chose not to quote him) on questions of abortion or same sex attraction – despite these practices being well known, at least in Roman society.  

On the question of the 1% versus 99%, Jesus could be found on both sides of the fence. Luke’s Jesus blesses the poor and the hungry. Unlike his counterpart gospel writer Mathew, Luke’s Jesus directly blasts the 1%,  speaking “woe to you you who are rich.”

On the flip side, Jesus is also a friend of the wealthy (think Nicodemus or unseemly rich tax collectors like Zacchaeus). And Matthew’s gospel has Jesus commenting somewhat dismissively that “you will always have the poor.” This is no vote of confidence for any political platform naively aimed to eradicate all poverty.

Certainly, Jesus had much to say and do in the realm of health care – a topic front and center with this election. Jesus has played virtually every health care role available – that of physician, psychologist, exorcist, administrator, even insurer. Yet he also quoted the proverb,  “Physician, heal yourself,” showing his understanding of the  limitations of the much-vaunted healing profession.  Those he healed were almost invariably asked to do something on their own.

And on at least one occasion, Jesus initially refused health care services to a needy (non-Jewish) supplicant who wanted help with her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus suggested he had better things to do in serving the “lost sheep, the people of Israel.” When she persisted, Jesus commented: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” Only when she continued her plea did Jesus finally relent, owing to what he called her “great faith.”

Jesus initial statement bears an uncanny resemblance to Romney’s recent comment of late July that was widely interpreted as a put-down of Palestinian economic vitality and/or culture. The major difference is that, in the case of Jesus 2,000 year old interaction, the Palestinain gets the upper hand in the argument.

And what about fiscal integrity? Listen to what Jesus has to say, as quoted by the gospel writer Luke.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enought money to pay the bills? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of funds.

And then how everyone would laugh at you! They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!’

“Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? If he is not able, then while the enemy is still far away, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace.

So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me.

Jesus serves up two seemingly contradictory messages. The ‘left brain’ offers up a logical, eminently conservative cost analysis as the basis for making a decision. Make sure you budget in advance and can pay for what you have planned.

The ‘right brain’ says something entirely opposite. Yeah, you’ve made the budget calculation, but ‘go for broke’ with me.

So, where does Jesus really come down? The answer –  right in the middle. Jesus is saying, know what you’re getting into. Then, if you can handle the cost, if you can absorb the pain, go for it. No pain, no gain, go for kingdom gold.

There are undoubtedly more issues of relevance today on which Jesus offers some perspective. But this is enough of a sampling, for now.

So, how would Jesus vote today? Well, this Saviour is nothing if not cagey. For a clue, look to the account given by the gospel writer John of Jesus’ stubborn persistence to lay low in Galilee rather than heading to the action in Jerusalem at the annual Feast of Tabernacles. His own brothers attempt to egg him on, saying: “Go where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become a public figure if you hide like this.”

Jesus’ response: “I am not yet ready to go … because my time has not yet come.” And so it it might be with this election. Jesus is both a fiscal conservative and a spendthrift. A universal healer and an advocate for personal responsibility. A social do-gooder and a student of never-ending human frailty. A moralist and a libertine.

Just when we think we have him figured out, he lays back, then launches in with a few pointed questions, pushing  our buttons. And so it may be with this election. Unlike the vast majority of Americans who appear to  have already made up their minds on one of the 2012 candidates, Jesus might holding his vote for the guy that can see, feel and act on both sides of the issue. Not just one issue, but every issue.

So far, neither Obama nor Romney are there. Right now, each candidate is practicing the politics of polarization – of winner takes all. And so Jesus … and perhaps we … wait. For the leader who knows the path to kingdom today and for the long-term requires not one who simply divides and conquers  … but one offers a new and better future through the lessons of intense, creative conflict. And so, we … wait.


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