Read the Gospels and one thing quickly becomes apparent: Jesus looks like a hippy. He gave up his worldly possessions, traveled the country with his friends, talked endlessly about love, and peace, and forgiveness, and the end of the world. He criticized the authorities, broke the rules, hung out with poor people, and beat financial traders with a whip.
In short, Jesus looks nothing like a Christian politician.
Look at Christian politicians and one thing quickly becomes apparent: they are overwhelmingly right-wing. They are often wealthy. They talk a lot about war, and fear, and crime, and the end of the world. Their policies favor the rich and powerful, and when you do catch them hanging out with a prostitute they aint giving her a Bible lesson.
Of course, these views of Jesus and Christian politics are caricatures. Jesus would hardly have been into free-love, and plenty of Christian politics is about peace. Yet, these caricatures exist for good reason.
So why does Christian politics get so… unchristian?
It’s all about power.
To get power you need to make alliances. Making alliances forces groups to work together despite their differences. These differences lead to a lot of contradictions.
Typically, on the Left, socialist leaning economics have teamed up with social progressives – a platform of free health care and gay marriage. Meanwhile, on the Right, free-market economics teamed up with social conservatives (often Christians) – a platform of tax cuts and abortion bans.
These alliances can occur within one person’s head, yet they are still combinations of choice rather than necessity. Our own local teams tend to have such ingrained identities that it’s easy to forget that the teams can be arranged in different ways. Yet take a look at other times and places and you’ll soon find economic conservatives advocating gay marriage, and socialists promoting family values. Many key ‘Christian’ policies, are actually the result of alliances. Hence why these policies can end up contradicting Jesus.
Next, what should a Christian do with power? Jesus never gave policy advice. The political entity he cared about was the Kingdom of God – and that seems to involve a lot of stuff that’s pretty hard for a merely mortal government to do. Should the army “Turn the other cheek”? Should the justice system apply the principle of “He who is without sin cast the first stone”? These questions have been giving Christians headaches for centuries. Thankfully the Bible has so much more than just Jesus. A common answer is to forget about Jesus and ask someone from the Old Testament. What would Moses do? Turns out Moses was the kind of leader that Machiavelli admired. Hence why some Christians are more into war and executions, than peace and love.
Speaking of Machiavelli we have another problem. Power corrupts. At the very least power is ethically compromising. As Machiavelli pointed out, being a good person doesn’t necessarily make you a good ruler. Sometimes you have to kill people. Yet, even good people want the power to do good things. As a result Christians have swung back and forth between two extremes: total political disengagement, and theocratic power grabs. In the USA some Christians have been visibly hanging around the grabby end of the spectrum for a while, hence all the ethical dubiousness.
Lastly, while religion doesn’t always want to get into politics, politics always wants to get into religion. The source of all political power is belief – getting people to believe that you ought to be in charge. And no one does belief like religion. Everyone from the Divine Pharaohs, to the Divine Caesars, to the divinely mandated Emperors of China, to the divinely chosen kings of Europe, to “I love the Bible” Trump has decided to tap into the political power of religion. You don’t have to be religious to play this game, in fact it’s better if you’re not. Hence more hypocrisy. And with Christianity that hypocrisy is all the worse for one simple fact: Jesus’s main claim is that he is king, not you. Awkward.
Further Down the Rabbit-hole:
For an example of a Christian political agenda see the Christian Coalition’s site, here. Note the frequency of policies with no direct connection to Christianity that aren’t very “Jesusy” e.g. boosting the military.
For an example of different places leading to different policy combos that might be political suicide elsewhere, see a New Zealand conservative politician’s viral “Big gay rainbow” speech on YouTube Here. Watch him discuss how this works with being conservative and still getting elected in NZ, here (at 2.36). (In essence, NZ conservatives don’t need fundamentalist Christian allies. Also, due to NZ’s voting system political Christians find it easier to start new parties than fuse themselves to existing ones. Republican + Religious Right style alliances don’t happen in NZ.)
For an example of how the Bible’s political models don’t automatically lead you to meekness and sweetness, read about Machiavelli’s take on Moses as an ideal leader, including the role of religion in power, in “Moses and Machiavellism” by Steven Marx. Here.
© Under Obvious, 2017.