How Would Jesus Vote:
A non-partisan examination of how Jesus as a U.S. citizen might cast his ballot
As the primary elections draw near for the 2016 presidential race many Christians find themselves considering their choice for who they would like to represent them and their country before the world. While it is not widely disputed that the population at large votes with their wallets, larger ethical issues loom for Christians who would hope to do what Jesus would do. Since Jesus lived in first century Israel under Roman occupation, it is impossible to draw a direct connection to how he might vote in the 2016 U.S. primary elections. Nonetheless, it is a question that many Christians grapple with as they peruse social media like Facebook full of memes that attempt to convince them that if they are followers of Jesus, they should vote (or feel) that Jesus supports a certain political party.
The founders of the United States made their view of the role of government clear in the Declaration of Independence: 1
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…
Government exists to secure “God-given” rights for citizens. What, precisely, those rights are can be and is subject to great debate and interpretation. Nonetheless, that the purpose of government is to secure those rights is not widely debated. It does so through the societally sanctioned use of force to obtain compliance with instituted laws (Pilon).2
Did Jesus promote worldly government?
The first century Jews lived under a dual governmental system; one which maintained the general traditions and customs of their heritage and a second which caused the people and their traditions to ultimately be subject to the Roman leadership ().3 Jesus taught often of the kingdom of God, and referenced in the Lord’s prayer that his followers should actively pray that the kingdom of God come and be established on earth as it is in heaven ().4 It was clear in his teachings that the kingdom reference was spiritual and was an internal governance of and by the Spirit of God ().5 Clearly if Jesus were to have been concerned with making the kingdom of God manifest on earth through earthly governmental channels he could have pursued the political channels that so many Jews – including his disciples – seemed to think he was pursuing ().6 Instead, he rebuffed or hid from those who would have sought to make him their earthly king () and admonished listeners to practice self-governance based on the leading of the Spirit ().7,8
While it is true that Jesus stated acceptance for both Hebraic law () and the Roman occupational law (), he and his parents are recorded as having God’s blessing in disobeying manmade authority in both realms ().9,10,11 Indeed, had Jesus been living in the United States today his behavior with the money changers in the temple () would have earned him the charge of disorderly conduct - at the minimum - and possibly assault and battery.12 His parents would have been turned over to Child Protective Services for neglect when they left him at the temple as a youth ().13 His attempts to evade the law () would be considered resisting arrest.14 He disregarded the prescribed penalty for the woman caught in adultery () and massively reinterpreted the law on divorce () and murder.15,16 Jesus was clearly not overly concerned with the laws of man; he was concerned with the laws and timing of God. He never sought to compel people to follow God’s laws, but exhorted them to submit themselves to God’s rule ().17
It has been argued for centuries that government is a “divine institution” derived from “divine authority”; therefore, it is the Christian duty to participate in the process and enforce morality ().18 This notion continues today in much of the Christian writings and political debate on such issues as homosexual marriage, war maneuverings, and social welfare programs. It has been argued that since Jesus did not actively oppose the Roman military (), and he stated that wars will continue until he returns () that he implicitly endorsed a nation’s right to engage in state sponsored wars.19,20 If such an argument can be accepted, Jesus, through his silence against government, might also be said to endorse the death penalty (crucifixion), gladiator games, and burdensome taxation. Jesus, however, did not seem to endorse man’s justice in any regard ().21 He instead taught a transcendent message of voluntary submission first to God, but extending to one’s earthly authorities and even one’s enemies ().22
Duty of the state? Or the individual?
Much of the current debate over helping the poor, for instance, comes down to not only how the poor are helped but who does society consider to be “the poor”. David Platt makes a fairly convincing argument that to not hold a deep conviction for helping the poor might indicate that a person who claimed to be a Christian never really had a faith.23 If society is organized as a socialist or communist state, then, are Christians absolved from personal responsibility to help others due to communal responsibility? Or was Jesus actually advocating a socialist form of government and wealth redistribution? Biblical examples of giving to others seem to be as much focused on removing the sense of pride, haughtiness, and false-security than on the actual benefit to the poor person ().24 Likewise, scripture provides ample admonitions against over-reliance on wealth ().25 Society is comprised of multitudes of individuals. By realigning the heart-attitudes of the individual, society as a whole would benefit.
Asking, “For whom would Jesus vote?” seems akin to asking the rhetorical question, “Which leprosy doctor would Jesus refer me to?” Can it be considered within any reasonable means that Jesus would participate in a process designed to secure his rights through the force of man? The earthly system of governance seeks to establish a kingdom of power and justice by way of the rule of imperfect man (who does what is right in his own eyes). Evidence of this can be seen quite clearly in the following passage from 1 Samuel 8:5-8 (NIV) where Israel approaches Samuel seeking to establish a king instead of the ordered anarchy of the judge system that God had ordained:
They said to him “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
It is evident that the very establishment of a man-made government by Israel was offensive to God. It distorted God’s intentions for right and wrong living through communion with him (e.g. Moses allowed divorce due to the hardness of their hearts – Matt 19:7-9) and provided a false sense of identity and security. If it is repulsive to God, could Jesus voluntarily take part in the flawed political process? Would he find himself implicitly endorsing the lesser of evils simply because he wished to establish an earthly kingdom by fiat? Or would he continue to do the same work regardless of who was in power? Are we to believe that God was displeased only because Israel chose a monarchy? Or would God have been happy had they chosen a Representative Republic or Socialistic democracy?
Though many on both the right and the left claim Jesus’ moral authority for their side, it appears instead that Jesus endorsed a system of personal responsibility guided by the God of the Ten Commandments. His teachings did not focus on obedience to communally imposed law, but upon individual obedience to principle. This political style would be most closely aligned with ordered anarchy if one will call anarchy a style of government. It is difficult to conclude that Jesus would even take part in the modern political process, much less gravitate to a particular side in it. Politics assert man’s morality and priorities. Jesus would instead focus his efforts on teaching and revealing the kingdom of God.
1. U.S. Declaration of Independence
2. Pilon, Roger. The Purpose and Limits of Government. Cato Institute, 1999.
3. Jesus Central, “Life of Jesus – First Century Context of Palestine (Israel),” http://www.jesuscentral.com/ji/historical-jesus/jesus-firstcenturycontext.php (accessed September 17, 2015).
4. Matt 6:9-13 (NKJV)
5. Luke 17:21, John 18:36
6. John 12:13
7. John 6:15, Matt 26:51-53
8. Luke 11:38-40
9. Matt 5:17-20
10. Mark 12:17, John 19:11
11. Matt 2:13-16, Luke 23:9, Matt 12:1, Mark 7:1-16, Mark 3:1-6
12. Matt 21:12-13
13. Luke 2:41-52
14. John 10:39
15. John 8:4-7
16. Matt 19:9
17. John 8:11
18. Politics and the Pulpit: An Essay on the Rights and Duties of the Christian Pulpit in Relation to Politics (Boston: American Tract Society, 1860)
19. Cliff Leitch,Christian Bible Reference, “What Does the Bible Say About War?” http://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_war.htm (accessed September 17, 2015)
20. Mark 13:7-8
21. Matt 5:25-26
22. Matt 5:38-48
23. David Platt, Counter-Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter-Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans, and Pornography (Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 57
24. Mark 10:21, Luke 19:2-8
25. Mark 10:25, Luke 12:21