In this post, I discuss the Jesus as a politician motif, an unfortunate attempt to use the divine as the authority backstopping our own political biases.
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The obsession with politics that permeates our culture makes it inevitable that political and religious beliefs will often intersect.
Christians of all political stripes like to relate their politics to their religious beliefs and then utilize the Jesus as a politician trope, using the Son of God as a spokesman for the positions they hold.
Jesus as a Politician
I have never been comfortable with this Jesus as a politician motif. I don’t like the idea of Jesus serving as a talking point or using God to bolster our own political positions.
The solution of completely separating religion and politics, however, is not feasible. For the religious person, faith permeates every aspect of life, and it is, therefore, unavoidable that it will influence political beliefs, whatever they may be.
What then is the answer? Is there a solution to this problem?
The Need for Humility
This issue, therefore, should prompt us to approach politics with a sense of humility. If we approach a position in a certain way because of our faith, we should acknowledge that and be able to explain why.
We should recognize, however, that we do not speak for God, and we very well could be wrong. Not even the pope, with his title as vicar of Christ, claims to be God’s political mouthpiece. Run of the mill Christians shouldn’t, either.
Religion is a journey to seek out God’s will, and our understanding of that will frequently manifest itself in our political beliefs. But this journey marks our best effort, and, when dealing with the divine, we must recognize that we are unable to capture the divine essence, and we certainly cannot reduce it down to fit within the framework of our own parochial political interests.
We are simply doing the best we can, and whenever we invoke the divine, we should do so with humility, recognizing how limited our knowledge of God actually is. Jesus was not a politician, and we must drop this Jesus as a politician motif that drives so much political discourse, particularly within the Church.
Unfortunately, however, we often tend to take the Jesus as a politician route, operating with a sense of arrogance as to the absolute rightness of our political beliefs.
I come from a politically conservative position, and I know that my side is frequently guilty of this. From where I am right now, however, I see this failure just as prevalent on the progressive side. Even if it differs somewhat in the way the religious right has approached the matter, they are two sides of the same coin.
The Religious Right Reincarnated
I recently came across a statement from AOC, where she complained about how tired she was of people only using the term “religious freedom” to justify bigotry and discrimination.
Of course, as is often the case when progressives say such things now, they mean that religious freedom is not a sufficient justification for denying services—such as in disputes over the baking of wedding cakes or the practices of faith-based adoption agencies.
The subsequent step is then to compare what religious groups are doing now with how some earlier religious groups addressed slavery and Jim Crow.
This, however, is a leap in logic, as the current move toward forcing private individuals to violate their religious beliefs is actually more reminiscent of the past behavior progressives rightfully attack.
Religion to Justify Evil?
Yes, religious groups indeed used Scripture to justify slavery, discrimination, Jim Crow, and all kinds of evil. Yet, the key lies in precisely what the underlying actions they were seeking to justify were.
That is, they used religion to justify the use of the coercive power of the government to take direct action to support them in their position. They used “religious freedom”—a term that is a bit anachronistic when applied to the past—to justify the use of the state apparatus to keep people in subjugation, to bar African Americans from certain public areas, and the like.
Indeed, they used their religious beliefs to justify the government’s active infringement on the freedom of others. If a private business in the Jim Crow South wanted to serve African Americans and whites on equal terms, the government would forbid it.
That is, the state compelled private behavior—a clear demonstration of the abuse of the Jesus as a politician motif.
The use of such coercive means, however, is what progressive groups are now seeking to do: to use the power of the state to force others to engage in behavior in which they do not wish to engage. Further, they too often use religion as justification for the utilization of that coercive power.
They are repeating the earlier mistakes of the religious right and the perverse Southern preachers of the past.
They want to use the state to punish those private citizens who do not wish to engage in behavior they believe violates their religious beliefs. They want to force evangelical bakers, for example, to make cakes for ceremonies they find religiously distasteful, and they want to force Catholic adoption agencies to engage in practices inconsistent with Church teaching.
These people may very well be wrong in their religious beliefs. That is a debate worth having, a debate we should be having.
Those claiming religious freedom today, however, are merely asking to be left alone. They are not asking the state to do anything to support their positions. They are asking the state to do nothing, to refrain from forcing anyone from doing anything that violates their religious beliefs.
Progressives and the past religious abuses they attack have this fundamental thing in common: they want to use the power of the state to force private individuals to conform their behavior to a norm they seek to impose.
With some exceptions, those asking for religious exemptions are no longer asking the state to prohibit adoptions by gay couples, nor are they asking for the prohibition of gay weddings. Similarly, Catholics are not asking that birth control be banned.
Instead, they are merely asking that they not be compelled to violate their religious beliefs. The validity of those beliefs may be in question, but the validity of using alternative theological positions to justify forcefully squashing them through state intervention should not be.
The Jesus as a politician motif is distasteful, no matter who utilizes it.
The End of This Road
We should not find private religious exemptions controversial. Everyone should take note that, while the government may agree with you today, it may disagree with you tomorrow. History bears this out.
Any time we seek to utilize the coercive power of the state to force our points of view on others, we should ask ourselves, When the shoe is on the other foot, would we want our opponents to show us the same respect that they are asking us to show them now?
This should hold true no matter what you believe about the validity of the religious beliefs these people claim. You may find them distasteful. You may find that they actually violate Christian principles. That’s fine.
But is it consistent with Christian principles to force someone to engage in particular behavior with the threat of violence? Is that not the issue here?
This is the troubling aspect of the Jesus as a politician movement in whatever form it takes. It is troubling when conservatives do it, and it is just as troubling when progressives do it.
It is the use of force in Jesus’ name. Conservative or liberal, that is a dark path down which to walk.