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Q & R: Is Jesus more of a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian?

Here's the Q:

I apologize I have about a page here... but there's much to say in order to get my question across. If you are unable to respond I understand.

First, I want to thank you very much for your contribution to the Christian community. You have played a major role in causing me to see the scriptures a bit differently, and not be afraid to ask questions, to possibly be open to being misguided, as well as seeing the gospel of Christ through a new lense. I especially enjoyed your book 'A New Kind of Christianity'. Thank you!

Second, I wanted to ask a question on something that I tend to notice in the emergent church movement (which I consider myself to gladly be a part of). I've read many articles that Jesus would be for the 99% and would challenge the 1%.

This is said, understandably so, because Jesus had so much to say about the poor as well as the tendency for the wealthy to be greedy.

To a certain degree, I can understand that. Jesus, as revealed in the gospels, is clearly for the oppressed. And so ought we to be. But in my mind it doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus is against wealthy people per se. Or that he expects us to demand that government be the care-takers of the poor.

Without calling Jesus a 'libertarian', wouldn't constitional freedom be an ideal for the political world (as well as a Christian ideal)? In other words, to put limitations on government and to grant liberty to people to make their own voluntary choices rather than be coerced by government to do so? Abolishing income tax (as some candidates like Ron Paul propose) would propose more equal playing field in the business world, free market system.

I just find we tend to make Jesus a pro-socialist, anti-capitalist in many of the political discussions.

My question to you is - What do you think of all of this? And do you find that there is a tendency to make Jesus a bit more democrat than republican in emergent discussions?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this....

Here's the R:

Thanks for this good question. It really deserves a whole book (and a number of relevant books have been written - but as a start, try these two by Chuck Gutenson


Here are a few brief responses.
1. When Republicans emphasize the need for individual freedom with a corresponding need for individual moral and social responsibility, they are resonating with Jesus' teaching and example. When they tell half-truths, stir up racial fears and animosities, underestimate systemic injustice, are careless towards the environment, are "hawks" about war and killing, and show a bias towards the rich, not so much.
2. When Democrats emphasize the need for care for neighbor with a corresponding need for fiscal foresight, they are resonating with Jesus teaching and example. When they complain about Republican mistakes without proposing and promoting creative solutions, when they fail to communicate with necessary simplicity and passion and consistency, when they underestimate the dangers of debt, when they provide a safety net for the poor but don't do enough to help them not need it, not so much.
3. When Libertarians warn of the dangers of oppressive and unchecked power, when they expose the foolishness of entering wars without proper counting of the cost, and when they magnify the importance of individual freedom and dignity, they resonate with the teaching and example of Jesus. When they underestimate the need to hold corporations accountable, when they trust unregulated markets to bring justice and do so with compassion, and when they show naiveté about systemic injustice and its effects on the disenfranchised, not so much.

So I think all of our parties have strengths and weaknesses. But I hasten to add that I don't believe they're all equal in this regard. I believe there is an asymmetry both in spirit and content ... some parties being more resonant with the way of Christ and some less. I hope sincere Christians will work for justice in both parties, and I hope that new parties will challenge the paralyzed polarization of our current system, remembering that inside any party, one must never subcontract out one's own conscience to the party's ideology, and one must not so emphasize the weaknesses of other parties that one becomes blind to the weaknesses in one's own.

I also hope that Christians will lead the way in promoting civility and in refusing to allow incivility to go unconfronted and unchallenged - doing so in a civil way, of course!

Obviously, I wish that Christians would read and ponder Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John a lot more so as to sensitize ourselves to the way of Jesus. It's terribly easy - on any and all sides - to remake him in our own image.

I think you may be setting up a few unhelpful dichotomies in your inquiry. First, Jesus can be for poor people without being against rich people: as you suggest, he can be against the greed of the rich or the complacency of the rich or the lack of compassion among the rich without being against the rich per se. And when you refer to the "demand that the government be caretakers of the poor," you may be creating a false dichotomy since in one sense, the government is simply us working together ... If we want to work together to help poor people (or go to war, or protect the environment, or regulate corporations, or uphold the rule of law, or reduce abortion, or promote entrepreneurship, and so on), we often do so through mechanisms that we call "the government."

One last example ... seeing the world through the black-and-white lens of socialism versus capitalism might itself be a betrayal of the way of Jesus. Jesus as I understand him would be more likely to ask us to see the world through the lens of compassion versus apathy, love versus indifference, wise stewardship versus foolish greed, selfishness versus otherliness ... which would flip our political script quite productively.