Was Jesus Political?

Two recent events have caught my attention and have raised a question that has been asked of me on more than one occasion. The first is the ongoing border crisis and the debate over how immigrants/refugees should be treated. The second is the unfolding fallout from the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Now a group of pastors and Christian organizations want to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws when it comes to LGBT persons, arguing their religious beliefs allow for such discrimination. Both of these current issues could take up column space for weeks to come, but the question that has resurfaced is one that emerges out of Christian critical thinking: Was Jesus political? This is an important question in that it helps clarify how one might interpret Christian Scriptures in light of the political issues that continue to be raised like immigration and separation of church and state. Many Christians would say, “No,” that Jesus wasn’t political and that the church should stay out of the political arena. Others would say, “Yes,” and point to the radical nature of Jesus’ message of inclusion and the reign of God that ultimately triumphs over all other forms of government.

In a way those who say no and those who say yes are both right. I think that those who say no are mostly referring to politics in the more specific cases of, for example, pastors telling their congregants how to vote on particular issues. In those instances the church should stay out. On the other hand, to say yes is to recognize that to be Christian, to be the church, means pledging allegiance to the Reign of God above all else, and that means speaking truth to power despite great risk.

When a person says, “I believe in God,” they are saying the one they turn to for guidance, understanding, life planning, and decision-making is God. If that isn’t the case, then what is the point of believing in God?!

Believing in God from a Christian perspective means living the life of God on Earth in the hope of the ultimate reconciliation and healing of all creation initiated by Jesus and sustained by the Holy Spirit. It means participation in the work of revealing the Reign of God now, looking forward to a future when that reign will be complete.

Anything other than that is simply “noisy gongs and clanging symbols.”

Emphatically I say that Jesus was political, but political in the more profound understanding of the role of the Reign of God. Jesus was not political in that he would somehow be a Democrat or Republican!

To understand Jesus’ mission—that is to announce the Reign of God—is to see these current issues in an entirely different light. To understand Jesus’ mission requires asking different questions. And demanding different responses.

The Church, and by this I mean the entire Christian body, was meant for such a time as this. The Church was meant to be the presence of God in such a time as this. To bring Good News to the poor, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, hospitality for strangers, healing to those who are sick and in need.

And to do these things is to be as political as you can get.