This is an odd title for a column. But it got your attention, right? The short answer is, of course, that Jesus was would not have supported either party.
However, the point here is a broader one, suggested by a book written by evangelical preacher Jim Wallace during the Bush administration in 2005: “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”
Wallis noted that the conservative, liberal and libertarian political options are not what American Christians — liberal or conservative – really should want.
Wallace supported traditional conservative moral positions on personal or financial responsibility, sexual integrity, or the need for strong families, so long as they do not scapegoat groups like single parents or LGBTQ individuals. He also commended liberals for addressing problems of poverty, racial justice, gender equality and a sustainable environment.
Wallis supported the idea of the common good (long an American political ideal) as an alternative to the political extremes evident today. The common good is also honored in Jesus’s Kingdom of God.
The message of Jesus does not line up with the policies of Republicans, Democrats or any other political party. However, Jesus’s message was largely about how we should live with each other, which is one of the things that politics is basically all about.
Jesus was indeed political, but he was not a politician: He never sought public office or power over others. He always told the truth and forgave people instead of judging them.
However, Jesus was disturbed by income inequality. Note the following:
Luke 14:21 shows Jesus to be a friend of the poor, blind, and oppressed. And he was! And yes, Jesus also was critical of the rich. Two chapters later, he is quoted by Luke as saying: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6: 24-26) How, pray tell, could these statements by and about Jesus not have political implications?
Yes, I know that Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. That did not mean that he was not interested in this world. After all, this was his Father’s world, and the love and justice Jesus associated with his Kingdom was supposed to exist on earth — not just in heaven. The Lord’s Prayer asks us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So, to get back to my title, there are several reasons, in addition to his lack of political skills noted earlier, why Jesus could be neither a Republican or a Democrat. First, his Kingdom both transcended and confronted that of any earthly ruler. When Jesus said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” he was escaping a trap set for him — and really saying that it was actually all God’s!
A second reason why Jesus could be neither Democrat or Republican has to do with the demands of love and justice and the need to pursue these without violence. Non-violence was a key principle of Jesus (despite the unfortunate incident in the Temple sparked more by anger at the system than by anger at people).
And violence is a necessary component of any political system. We cannot imagine a country without an army (except for Switzerland, which remains safe due to its banking and skiing). Jesus could not be a politician because of the injustice and violence found in all institutions, especially political ones.
What then is the Kingdom of God and the politics of Jesus ultimately about? If it is not only about individual salvation in Heaven after we die, and if it is also about making this earth a better, more equitable, or holier place, how is this supposed to happen?
A major difference between Jesus and his Roman executioners was that Romans believed that peace came though conquest while in the Kingdom of God peace instead required justice.
And justice was not to be seen only as a personal duty but also part of our social lives.
Injustice was certainly a personal sin, but injustice could also become systemic or structural. Governments, corporations and bureaucrats can create injustice by putting rules, things, and their egos ahead of human welfare.
All this reminds me of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets once worn by many religious young people. What would Jesus tell today’s political leaders they should do?
Might he say to those of us who are Democrats that he supports our efforts to address the needs of the poor and the outcasts in our society, but that we should to be careful that government programs designed to do this don’t become the source of systemic injustices?
Might he also say to Republicans that he supports individual responsibility but also that this, along with individual freedom, should never be allowed to descend into selfishness and greed that creates huge income gaps that are destructive of the common good?
Might Jesus tell all political parties that love and justice should transcend all political frontiers and that integrity means we should admit when our political party is wrong?
Ken Wolf is a Democrat and a retired Murray State University history professor. He speaks here as an individual and not as a representative of either of these organizations. He can be reached at email@example.com.