Jesus for President

An ongoing thing I wrestle with: If Jesus’ claims are supreme on my life, how political should I be? And given that I live in a Representative Democracy, what political decisions should I make.
One example of my attempts to come to terms with this is here
I picked up this phenemonal book: Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. They state elequently and convincingly this tension that I feel: on the one hand, many things Jesus said and did had profoundly political repurcussions. On the other hand, Jesus was and is larger than politics itself: he transcends easy distinctions like left vs right, Republican vs Democrat, conservative vs. liberal. I’m going to share a couple passages and then spend a couple paragraphs wondering what these passages mean to me.
The passages:
“But it wasn’t as if Jesus, in using such (politcally charged) language wanted Rome’s power or wanted to gain a foothold in the culture wars of his time. He didn’t want to climb Caeser’s throne. This political language didn’t harmonize with the contemporary church project of “reclaiming America for God.” Precisely the opposite: Jesus was urging his followers to be the unique, pecular, and set-apart people that began with Abraham. He didn’t pray for the world in order to make governments more religious; he called Israel to be the light of the world- to abandon the way of the world and cultivate an alternative society in the shell of the old, not merely to be a better version of the kingdom of this world.” (71)
“It’s extraordinary that when the Devil said all political power in the world belongs to him and he can give it to whomever he wishes, Jesus didn’t dispute the claim: he just flat out refused the offer. He knew well the bitter fruits of this world’s power. He saw governmental power not as a coveted position to run after but rather as the Devil’s playground. Jesus’ ancestors had suffered from the bloodshed and hunger and pain inflicted by Kings and empires. He knew how the powers had killed the prophets before him, and so he abondoned himself to the imperial cross. Instead of ascending the throne of power to establish Go’d society, he would descend into the world as a slave.” (86)

It’s tempting for me to ally myself with people who play politics in the direction I agree with. If this account is right– and it seems like it is– then I shouldn’t do this. My temptation is a distant echo of Jesus’ temptation itself: will I just flat out refuse the offer, too?
So often I don’t. In truth, I don’t even know if I know how. Should I vote? Should I formulate poltical opinions? Should I share my political opinions? Should Christians run for office at all? If we do, what sense does it make to leave our convictions behind?
There’s more questions than answers here… But maybe they are the right questions to be asking.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “Jesus for President”

  1. Try this link, Jeff. In particular, I love this paragraph.

    “For there are many political Jesuses. There is Jesus the pacifist (John Howard Yoder). There is Jesus the warrior-king (Fr. Alexander Webster). There is Jesus the laissez-faire capitalist (Michael Novak). There is Jesus the revolutionary socialist (Gustavo Gutierrez). There is Jesus who blesses imperial order (Eusebius of Caesarea, Dante Alighieri, etc.), and there is Jesus for whom empire is, at best, a scarcely redeemable outpost of the kingdom of darkness (St. Augustine). There is Jesus the Zionist (Edward Irving, most Neoconservatives). There is Jesus the anti-Semite, or at least, the militant anti-Zionist (Fr. Denis Fahey, Fr. Charles Coughlin, virtually the whole Arab world). There is Jesus the papal absolutist (Augustinus Triumphus, Joseph de Maistre, Opus Dei). There is Jesus the conciliarist (Nicholas of Cusa, Vatican II). There is Jesus for whom Rome remains the Whore of Babylon (the monks of Esphigmenou). There is Jesus the red-blooded American (Hollywood). There is Jesus the Slavophile (Dostoevsky). There is Jesus the apolitical liturgist (Fr. Alexander Schmemann). There is Jesus the trendy social reformer (contemporary Episcopalianism). There is Jesus the solitary individual (Kierkegaard). There is Jesus the personalist (Pope John Paul II). There is Jesus the environmentalist (Patriarch Bartholomew, Al Gore). There is Jesus the communal ontologist (Metropolitan John Zizioulas). There are many other political Jesuses besides those here mentioned. It seems to me that, while some of these political images of Jesus can co-exist with each other, not all of them can be simultaneously true.”

    Obviously I don’t have an answer for you. But all of those people above, I think, really believed that these were Jesus’s opinions. I don’t think they were deliberately distorting the Gospels. They read the Gospels and found a mirror. By an astonishing coincidence, Jesus believed all the same things they believed. (Hitler once cited Jesus’s scourging of the animal sellers and moneychangers as evidence that Jesus was a warrior who hated Jews.)

    I would also point out that it is taken for granted nowadays that, of course, God favors democracies. In medieval times, it was just as well taken for granted that God favored the Divine Right of Kings (and they did have Romans 13:1-7).


  2. Andrew, you are so well-read that I’m starting to suspect that you’re some sort of science-fictiony Internet-gets-sentience idea rather than a real person.
    Seriously, thanks for that insight. The post that you linked was quite interesting and the blog as a whole likes quite fascinating. I don’t know a whole lot about the orthodox church, but what I do know I find quite interesting.

    I wonder how it appears to skeptics to see so many different presentations of Jesus? In one sense, I could see how this could all add to the wieght of disbelief… Jesus as nothing more than a projection of what the author wanted to believe in the first place.

    If somebody took such a position, I think it’s worthwhile to note that the number of characterizations a person recieves seems to be in direct proportion to their cultural import. (Not that cultural import necessarily implies the truth of beliefs about Jesus) so with John Kennedy, we get Kennedy the last gunslinger/hawk/commie hater vs Kennedy the left winger; Kennedy the moral crusader vs Kennedy the play boy…

    I think answering the question of Jesus support of monarchy is really part of a wider class of problems.
    As a Christian, I’m associated with the beliefs of milenia of beliefs, many of which are quite despicable.
    On the one hand, to say that all of history and tradition are wrong is to quite narrowly define what it is to be a correct Christian. On the other hand, to support all the beliefs of Christians over the ages is to throw my lot in with a lot of foolishness (at best) and evil (at worst).
    The question of Jesus support of monarchy and democracy is one that I’d navigate in much the same way as I would other issues.
    As a participant in a representative democracy, though, there is a special urgency around some of these political issues. In some sense, it doesn’t matter whether I believe that monarchy is an effective form of government; it doesn’t matter what I think of trinity. There is a different kind of urgency to weighing an unjust war with whether the government should be doing more to slow or stop abortions, for example; because this calcululus, could determine who I vote for in the next presidential election, a real act with some real repurcussions.


  3. For what it’s worth, all the evidence on John Kennedy is actually of the last gunslinger/hawk/commie hater variety (and he was both a playboy and a moralist, i.e. a hypocrite, as we all are to some degree). The only reason why anybody thinks Jack Kennedy was a left-winger is because both of his brothers and most of the rest of his family became left-wingers after his death. Like a lot of the Democratic Party, they were transformed by Vietnam and, to some extent, by Jack’s assassination. (It is one of the ironies of history that a Communist Castro-sympathizer assassinated a fairly conservative President and the blame for this fell squarely on the American right, simply because it occurred in Dallas.) We can’t know whether JFK would have authorized the expansion of Vietnam as LBJ did, but we do have on record the opinions of the advisors of LBJ who did favor expansion. They were, to a man, Kennedy men.

    But Kennedy is easy. He died less than fifty years ago and he is very well documented. Jesus is much harder. From my perspective as a skeptic, I am not surprised that there is such a variety of opinions about what Jesus’s political beliefs were and it does nothing to impact my opinion about the truth of the Gospels. Confirmation bias is powerful. The fact that there are so many opinions says a lot about the human condition, but very little about the truth of Christianity.

    As for the war, I honestly believe that there will be more death and suffering among the Iraqis should we leave and stop (trying to) provide security than there will be if we stay. (There will, of course, be more American deaths if we stay.) I do concede the possibility that I’m mistaken about this. Perhaps the U.S. occupation is acting as a lightning rod and, if we left, things would settle down. Unfortunately, we can’t experiment and find out who’s right.

    I also agree that Iraq is almost certainly worse off over the last five years than it would have been under Hussein, but I would still balk at calling it an unjust war. Hussein was a tyrant, after all. Only a small minority of Iraqis were fervent supporters of Hussein; most people hated him. Certainly events have probably proven that we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, but we are where we are. We can’t go back to 2003 and not invade.


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