In times of presidential elections, the question that is usually asked is “Who would Jesus vote for?”
However, if that’s the main question we ask, then we’ll most likely just end up making Jesus look like a Republican or a Democrat. He will just fit neatly into our American two-party system.
Seeing as Jesus is King, I don’t imagine he’s terribly interested in voting or joining any existing political party.
Perhaps the better question to ask is this: if Jesus was running for President, would we vote for him?
For a lot of us, this is probably a weird question to ask. It’s probably due to the fact that we don’t like to think of Jesus in political ways. We separate our private spiritual life from our public political life. Of course, we do this very inconsistently, always citing Jesus when convenient for us, no matter which side we fall on.
However, as Christians, we cannot detach our beliefs about Jesus from our convictions about politics. I think it helps to start with a re-visioning of Jesus’ famous line in the Lord’s Prayer in modern, comparable terms as Brian Zahnd suggests:
Thy government (kingdom) come.
Thy policy (will) be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. These are both political terms. When the early Christians said Jesus is Lord, the implicit statement there was that Caesar was not Lord. Using modern terms then, Jesus is the President of Presidents. The Sermon on the Mount is his Constitution.
But if he were running, would we vote for him?
Obviously, when asked straight up, our answer would be yes.
But if Jesus came today in the same way that he did 2,000 years ago, would we be too blinded by our own agendas and political affiliations to see the God we claim to follow?
Jesus and Israel
The Pharisees and other Jewish people were eagerly waiting for a leader to come and make Israel great again. He would take back their nation from the Romans, and God would vindicate them once and for all.
They had a very narrow idea of what this type of leader needed to be: a violent, military leader who would cause a revolution against Rome and make Israel the nastiest and most powerful nation on the face of the world. All the other nations would stand in awe of Israel, as their leader reigned supreme in power with a heavy hand.
What they got instead was Jesus.
In fact, they were so blinded by their own vision of Israel’s greatness that when this God that they claimed to serve and worship came to them and looked them in the face, they rejected him. In fact, they didn’t just reject him, they killed him.
The Pharisees wanted Israel to be great in a certain way and they wanted a certain type of leader to make them great in that way. But then Jesus proclaimed a different type of greatness in Matthew 23:
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
They wanted a leader who would exalt himself and their country above all others. Rather, this is the route Jesus took, as told in Philippians 2:
7b And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus conquered not by killing others, but by being killed by others. Jesus didn’t make Israel great for Israel’s own sake, but for the sake of all—every knee, every tongue. The way one is exalted is by humility, not in spite of it.
This isn’t what the Pharisees expected, and so they missed it. They missed the chance to serve the God they claimed to worship, because they were too concerned with their own vision of Israel’s greatness and their own idea of how to exalt Israel.
Jesus and the U.S.
Have we learned from what we saw in the gospels between the Pharisees and Jesus? If Jesus were running for President today, would we vote for him? Or would we follow the route of the Pharisees?
Now, in America, we have a man running for president who is promising the U.S. all the same things that the Pharisees were searching for in a leader during the first century. He wants to make America great (again). He wants to get rid of all the people who would deter the U.S. from taking its rightful position as supreme: Muslims, China, immigrants, etc.
What makes us think that if Jesus came today in the same way he did in the first century that we wouldn’t react exactly the same way as the Pharisees did?
There is no earthly way that Jesus would ever be elected as President. Especially by Christians. Could we really get behind a President who truly embodies the Beatitudes in Matthew 5? Poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, or a peacemaker? That doesn’t sound like a path to greatness to us.
Our Savior definitely wouldn’t be accepted as either a Republican or a Democrat—he wouldn’t win one state in the primaries. If he ran as an independent, he wouldn’t be given any attention. The attention he did receive would upset people from all sides.
Jesus, a brown man from the Middle East, would most likely either be called a terrorist or a Muslim, and would most likely either be deported, killed, or imprisoned in such a way that would drown out his voice from any place in the public life of the country.
Our Lord would be just as big of a threat to our idea of America’s greatness as he was threat to the Pharisee’s idea of Israel’s greatness.
Unlike Donald Trump, Jesus would want something that did not exalt America at the expense of other, but something that would humble the U.S. for the sake of others.
Those who would vote for Jesus wouldn’t do so because they recognized that it was Jesus and felt obligated. Like the parable of the judgement of the nations in Matthew 25:31-46, those who would vote for Jesus would do it simply out of love for neighbor, never even realizing that it was Jesus. And like the goats, we would reject Jesus, not ever realizing it was him.
A Judgment of American Christianity
At the RNC, Donald Trump thanked only one group in particular: the Evangelicals. We made it so that Donald Trump could happen to America.
The very fact that someone like Donald Trump could rise to power because of us is a judgment on the state of Christianity in the U.S. We created an atmosphere where someone like Trump, the antithesis of Christian character, could thrive in our political imaginations.
Don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. I can tell you I personally won’t be voting for her. However, 99% of the Christians I know aren’t voting for Clinton. She wasn’t made possible primarily because of Evangelicals in America. Donald Trump was.
We are the Pharisees, obsessed with our own vision of greatness, totally separated from the God we claim to worship and serve. This is why we can get away with saying things like “We aren’t voting for a pastor… we’re voting for a leader.” As if Jesus was not both! We cannot separate our idea of what our country should be from the character of Jesus.
If Jesus were to join the political process today, we would laugh at him. We would say, “You can keep your peace, love, and mercy… but we need a man like Trump to actually lead this nation and get us to where we need to be.”
If Donald Trump can do anything good, he can be a wake-up call to Christians in the U.S. If we can collectively bring a corrupt, immoral man like this to power and not see any conflict with our dedication to follow Jesus, then we might be mistaken about what it means to follow Jesus in the first place.
So ask yourself, would you vote for Jesus? This man who, according to Matthew 25, judged the nation on how it treated the poor, the immigrant, the hungry, the naked, the homeless? Does the person you’re going to vote for look like this kind of Jesus? Or do they look like your own vision of what would make America great? What if the Pharisees aren’t those people, but instead they are us?
We need to take all of these claims seriously. To not do so would be devastating, not only for the state of our country, but also for the soul of Christianity in this country.
Let’s make America great. But let’s take very seriously the idea that greatness looks like servanthood, being first looks like being last, and this country (or at least our idea of it) will have to die before it can, like Jesus, be resurrected.