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Saturday, November 25, 2006

JESUS AND POLITICS

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'"
-Matthew 10:34-35

Was Jesus a Liberal? Was He a Conservative? If you read some columns or hear some people talk, they'll argue that Jesus must have been on their side politically, and then they will quote some portion of scripture or talk about good deeds He did. Take Jesse Jackson's column a while back that mentioned this:
Think about it: A conservative Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christ wasn’t a conservative. He fed the hungry simply because they were hungry. He didn’t require that they go to work first. He healed the sick, simply because they were sick. He didn’t push them into an insurance company, or let the drug companies gouge them on prices. Jesus was a liberal; Herod was the conservative.
Jesse Jackson is a more gifted speaker than writer, but his point is that Jesus couldn't have been Conservative because he cared for the hungry and sick. He goes on to point out every single good guy in history must have been a Liberal and every bad guy was a Conservative, naturally.

Others consider Jesus to be a Conservative, after all he drove out the consumerism from the church, told people to obey authorities and pay taxes, was strong on moral issues, and was strong on family values.

To answer this, we have to really understand what each movement means and stands for, which to do justice to would take two essays this size. The problem is that liberalism and conservatism are more complex than a simple continuum can express with Liberalism on one end and Conservatism on the other (moderate in the middle, naturally). That's the oversimplified childlike view of political discourse, and in reality it is far more complex. I will, however, attempt in brief to explain what modern Liberalism and Conservatism mean, and leave past versions and subtle variations to another time. So then, what is Liberal and what is Conservative?

LIBERALISM
This is typically referred to as the "left wing" of politics from the old English Parliament where one side of the house was more liberal and the other was more conservative. Everyone tended to sit next to their buddies and the place divided down the middle. On the left were the liberal politicians, on the right were more conservative ones.

Liberals today are less concerned with liberty than they are with license, but freedom of expression and activity is still a hallmark of the movement. As the years have gone on, the drumbeat for greater freedom has never ended, which is how there is a right to kill babies asserted by the left. The ideals of liberalism are primarily motivated by a desire for greater compassion, less judgment, more personal freedom, and a greater standard of living and economic freedom among all people.

Liberals support greater government activity, particularly federal government, to assist those who are downtrodden and in need. The position the left will tend to take is that the market is cold and amoral and that wealthy people are generally greedy and got their wealth either by having it handed to them from their parents or by crushing others beneath their feet as they climbed the ladder of success. Since the wealthy are not willing to part with their money to help the less fortunate, and the market will steamroll over people with unthinking and unfeeling momentum, it is up to government to assist people by forcing both to help out through taxes and regulation.

Liberals also are strong on environmental issues, viewing the world in its beauty and desiring that such beauty be maintained, even preserved from human damage and violation. A careful walk on a designated trail and light use with camping equipment is the most that many areas should have to suffer from in this viewpoint. Industry destroys while it earns greedy wealthy people money in this ideology, so it must be restrained if not shut down entirely.

Many modern Liberals believe that conflict and war is a failure of policy and diplomacy, that it is always the wrong choice unless in self defense, and further the aggrieved parties usually have a good case against whoever they are attacking in any case. The military is suspect simply because it's job is to kill people and destroy things, it needs to be restrained as much as possible and prevented from taking action because of these tendencies.

Liberalism tends to triumph the feminine over the masculine, as understood by the left. Female is equated with nurturing, comforting, and gentleness, with dialogue over action and tenderness over strength. Male is viewed as more crude, willing to take action without thought, and strength combined with violence. Males who eschew these tendencies are hailed as heroes, men who do not are attacked as "cowboys" and thugs.

Liberalism tends to view religion with suspicion, although many liberals are quite religious, in one form or another. It is not faith or spirituality that is the problem for a liberal, but dogmatism and inflexibility in faith. Love and peace, forgiveness and serving others are fine qualities, but when you get to sin, judgment, condemnation, and laws, then there's a problem for many.

Lastly, liberalism tends to view people by the group they belong to or the minority they claim. Instead of a united citizenry, liberalism tends to see fragmented hordes, each person in a niche that must be addressed and dealt with separately. Each of these groups has particular concerns and complaints, and those with the least power are viewed as the ones that ought be given the most attention, concern, and government assistance. For liberalism, the minority is of greater concern than the majority.

CONSERVATISM
The Right wing of the political continuum as people simplify it, Conservatives today are different than they have been in the past. Conservatism is not about choosing a time period and locking it down as if it was a golden age we all should return to. It is rather about conserving the good in the past without throwing it aside in the name of social progress. Conservatives believe a society can only be free if government is as small as feasible and intervenes as little as possible.

For Conservatism, small government is ideal not only because it adheres most closely to the intent of the founding fathers (conserving past ideals) but because it best serves the public. Big government is not only more prone to corruption, it takes away more money in taxes, is slower to accomplish its goals, attracts people more interested in the power and wealth it controls, and is unconstitutional from the Conservative perspective. A smaller government will be more responsive to the people, ideally, and less intrusive into citizens' lives.

To a Conservative, wealth is something earned by someone, even if it is passed down to subsequent generations. That money is theirs, it belongs to them just like a car that was purchased or given to a son. Further, that money is used by the wealthy in ways that benefit everyone else - None take money and sit on it without ever buying anything, few are stingy and miserly with their cash, they prefer to actually spend it to enjoy their wealth. When this money is spent, it is spent on goods and services that less wealthy people offer, thus giving it to those who need the money more. For a Conservative, this economic pattern is how the market benefits those in need as well as those who have much.

A Conservative sees the needy and poor as people who may require assistance to make a new start or to get on their feet and earn a living, but not as people who should be given handouts. The dictum "give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats the rest of his life" is a conservative concept; this ideology rejects the concept of welfare forever to people so they can simply live off the generosity or forced payments of others. Such a pattern is viewed as corrosive and destructive to society. Further the tendency of Conservatism is to consider it not the job of government to help such people but the job of families, churches, private organizations, and individual citizens.

For the Conservative, government's role is very narrow, and private roles are very broad. Government deals with defense, other nations, trade, and basic services like roads, police, fire, and so on. Government handles the things that individual citizens have neither time or ability to - things that groups of citizens would handle by setting up shared organizations to do anyway (like private police forces) and all should benefit from. Conservatism does not view people in groups but as a whole, as citizens rather than minority segments. The majority, rather than the minority, is the primary concern of the Conservative. Demands or the will of small groups must always be considered in the light of the whole of the citizenry, not based on their weakness or lack of say in government.

Conservatism embraces religion more easily than Liberalism because religion is strongly defined by what one may not do in addition to what one must do. Laws, concerns of sin, judgment, and condemnation are not uncomfortable topics to the Conservative because they are strong, ethical concerns and virtuous living is a high priority.

Conservatism is often considered to be the desire for the good old days not because of any will to return to them but rather because of the good things in the past that we lack or are losing today - a close family structure, the morality of the past, the strong religious ties of the people, and a government that was less intrusive and smaller.

Conservatism tends more toward masculinity, to strength, action, and the use of the military for its primary purpose. For the conservative, an enemy is someone negotiated with only to prevent us from having to use the military, not in the place of the military. War is horrible, but not the worst of horrors to the conservative, and military service is considered a high honor and viewed with great respect and pride. Military codes of honor, duty, service, and self-sacrifice are all virtues that Conservatives greatly appreciate. Feminine characteristics such as tenderness, nurturing, and a desire to discuss rather than act are viewed often as weak and even damaging to a cause where action is seen to be called for.

JESUS AND POLITICS
So was Jesus a Liberal or a conservative?

No.

He was neither, he was above and beyond politics, he didn't fit on the continuum. And He calls us all to be that way as well.

You see, both Conservatives and Liberals will go to church and confess God, but will reject the parts of religion that are uncomfortable or don't fit their previous ideology. Being identified by your political position (even Libertarian, Green party, etc) means that is your primary motivation and worldview, so any religious thoughts are subsumed to this position. Any truth or teaching from a religion that opposes or grates against the political position is downplayed or set aside.

The truth is, Jesus Christ was not on this earth to be a political leader, nor did he concern Himself with politics or earthly government. To what extent He spoke about or mentioned government, it was in terms of how to serve God, not what a proper Government is to be. Jesus' mission on earth had nothing to do with political movements, it was about redemption and revealing God. For Jesus Christ, the focus was not about what earthly government was best, it was about what heavenly future was best, and how one ought to live in the light of this future. I agree with Randall Balmer that Jesus was not a Republican - neither was he Democrat (the text of his essay, however, is of dubious value at best).

Because of this, both sides of the political spectrum can choose episodes, sayings, and quotations from scripture, cherrypicking verses, and state that this is how Jesus would vote. Jesus did say to feed the poor and care for the needy, and He did so by example. Jesus did reject sloth and called for virtuous living, and did so by example. Jesus was loving and compassionate and tender. Jesus was judgmental against wickedness and condemned sin. His mission was to save sinners, not indoctrinate in political positions.

Ideally, all people who love Jesus and worship Him ought to follow that pattern as well - work for God and His glory, not the Republican (or Democrat, or Falangist, or what have you) Party and it's victory. Serving and obeying God is about what God wants, not what a political ideology or party does. Insofar as a party does this, they should have your support. As far as they do not, they ought be rejected.

Jesus would want us to help the poor and needy, He called us to comfort the afflicted, visit the imprisoned, and through the rest of scripture to do and fight for justice, against injustice, and assist the orphan and the widow. Jesus also called us to afflict the comfortable, to live lives of blameless virtue and obedience to God, to fight evil, to seek justice against the wicked and to be willing to take up arms against the oppressor. Jesus calls us to do what He wants, not what any given political ideology teaches.

A perfect example of this is "family values." Conservatives will tend to extol these as what America needs to return to, that it is the answer to cultural malaise and rot in the country. The problem is this: what are "family values?" When the left mocked this concept they had a point, did this mean families who walked on the other side of the street to avoid facing a bum, families who held slaves, families which the wife was all but a slave? The problem with the term is that it presumes a certain kind of values and family, without stating it.

The kind of family meant was the core family that loved each other, rejected wild excess and tended toward Christian ethics. Without explaining this one is led to just guessing. Nobody's family was ever a paradise, nobody lived in Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkaid's world - and these artists knew it, they portrayed what they wanted the world to be like, the best of memories and ideals, not what they experienced (or in Kinkaid's example, experience). The term "values" is problematic at best, it merely means 'things held to be important and valued' which can mean transexual rights or black slave ownership, depending on who you ask.

Increasingly it seems like our culture divides and defines reality based upon political viewpoint rather than other issues. As a nation we're united by higher ideals than what party we're affiliated with, and one of those ideals was virtue and ethics based on Judeo-Christian heritage. If Conservatism means returning to that, I'm all for it. If Liberalism means embracing the love, compaasion, and generosity that Jesus taught, I'm all for it, too.

This is the first part in a two-part series; part two is here.
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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comparison between Liberal and Conservative is not objective; it is slanted in favor of the Conservative viewpoint.

2:01 PM, November 24, 2007  
Anonymous Christopher Taylor said...

That ought not be surprising, as I'm a conservative. What you should be wondeing, though, is whether or not my comparison is true and accurate.

12:54 PM, March 26, 2010  

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