Was Jesus Political?

Some make the claim that he was. They view his Sermon on the Mount as an overt political statement meant to rock the Roman world. Going the extra mile and turning the other cheek was pure political activism designed to reveal and subvert peacefully the Roman oppression of Palestine.

Others claim that Jesus was strictly apolitical- that he had no interest in the local or national politics of his day. His agenda was only on kingdom business which he revealed in that incredible sermon in Galilee.  Any word he spoke to politics was just the natural result of his kingdom engaging the kingdom of men.

Jesus himself deftly sidestepped getting caught up in the entanglements of a political discussion in Matthew 22:15-22.

So WWJD today? Would he be in the Tea Party movement? Would he be a panelist on MSNBC or a guest on the Glen Beck show? Would he be a Democrat or Republican?

Would he even have a political agenda?

Seems to me like these are urgent questions to ponder considering the increased political polarization in our country- even among those who are followers of Christ.

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30 Responses to Was Jesus Political?

  1. alsturgeon says:

    Jesus can’t be pigeonholed into neat labels. He was VERY political on one hand: my goodness, he declared himself a king. On the other hand, he was NOT political in a very important way: his kingdom was not a world-type of kingdom (“not of this world”).

    I agree that these are terrific questions worthy of significant dialogue.

  2. Cecil May Jr says:

    I addressed something similar to this in a recent Magnolia Messenger “Bible Questins Answered.” If anyone did not see it and would like to, I will e-mail it on request.

  3. Darin says:

    I’m not sure I see a lot of difference between the desire today and that of God’s people recorded in 1 Samuel 8. They were not satisfied with God’s rule and demanded a king.

    If you read the list of what he says this king will take it sounds a lot like what people complain about today.

    When will we learn.

  4. Scott McCown says:

    Jesus was “radical” in His generation because He did not take sides with any political or religious-political (i.e. Pharisee, Sadducee) party. He was steadfast to His mission and purpose of doing the will of God. There are times His views or statements may seem to align with one particular group or another, but that would be when those groups were in alignment with God.

    As far as tea-party mentality. I find it interesting that many Christian-minded people in the 1770’s disagreed with the idea of going to war. Jesus did not dump taxable goods or tax money into the sea, instead he caught a fish and gave tax money from the sea. But I digress . . .

  5. dannydodd says:

    Interesting viewpoints so far. Thanks for the input.

    Question for Al: As a “king” what was Jesus politics? What were the politics of his kingdom?

    Brother May’s article he mentioned can also been seen here on page 3: http://www.magnoliamessenger.com/Past%20Issues/files/2009-11.pdf

  6. Tony Black says:

    Jesus by his appearance is political. Why would God leave heaven and come to earth? Politic is Man’s relationship with man. All that Jesus taught was political. He die to save us from our sins. God bless.

  7. c3andp says:

    To give a biblical answer, I guess Jesus would give to government what what government’s and give to God what is God’s. With that, Jesus managed to be the person in whom both ends of political polarity (See Matthew and Simon the Zealot) could find unity.
    C3

  8. alsturgeon says:

    Not exactly sure what you mean when you say “politics” Danny, but I’ll give it a shot by throwing a few thoughts out there…

    * Citizenship is voluntary (i.e. open borders)
    * Leads by example
    * Loves his enemies
    * Destroys social barriers that separates people
    * Heals pain
    * Works interpersonally instead of systemically

    Still trying to understand it all, of course, but those are some of the fundamentals that stick out to me.

  9. Danny says:

    One of the problem we have in answering this is that we separate politics from religion, that was not done in the ancient world. Everything done in the political realm had religous implications and vice versa. A good kingdom was predicated upon a good king.
    Jesus came into the world and accepted the title “King of the Jews”… Herod heard that as a political statement. In Rome there was a “Son of God” (Augustus)preaching a “gospel” (the word they used) about his glorious empire. When Jesus comes as “Son of God” preaching a “gospel” that has huge political tones. When you ride in as a King on at Passover time while everyone shouts hosanna and waves the palm branches (like waving the flag of a rebel empire)with the Roman soldiers there looking on… that is very political.
    I think the balance is that (1) His kingdom was not “only” political, and (2) He refused to establish his kingdom by power and status. Also, when Satan offered the kingdoms of the world, Jesus said “No.” He did not want those kingdoms, He was building a new type of kingdom that could encompass the whole world.
    In Jewish mind when the Messiah/Christ comes (the term has reference to a king) he would rebuild or purify the temple and thus reestablish Israel. That’s why all the occupying kings wanted to put their mark on the temple. In that last week Jesus symbolically purifies or destroys the temple, then sits down with a meal to establish a kingdom (think of all those meals he ate with folks welcoming them into his presence).
    Jesus was definitely political… but like always his politics were on a different plain than ours. Like Peter we often get in mind the ways of men (power) and not the ways of God (loving service and sacrifice.).
    I suggest Mark Moore’s work on the “Politics of Jesus” (www.markmoore.org) and also the work of N.T. Wright on these matters.

  10. dannydodd says:

    Great input and thinking going on here.

    Danny’s suggestion that politics and religion had no such “seperation” policy that exists today is an exellent observation. Before Jesus ever arrived his coming was already politicized. His message penetrated the politics of his day- both Jewish and Roman. He was seen as a political (and religious) threat. But- as noted- he himself refused to be identified with any particular political views or parties.

    C3’s point about Jesus being able to unite political enemies speaks a major word to this to me. That is, the good news of the kingdom had (and still has) the ability to dismantle party politics and replace them with the values of the kingdom (some of which Al mentions as Jesus’ political views. I see them as kingdom values).

    So, we are back to the question- WWJD today? Where would he fall on our political spectrum? Would he be an activist for one side or the other? Would he pickett abortion clinics? Would he join Acorn? What do you think?

  11. jim says:

    He was not a citizen of this world. And, he asked for us to do better than the “politicians” of his day. We could learn alot from Jesus about how to treat others, regardless of the setting.

  12. alsturgeon says:

    You’ll still have to give me your personal definition of “politics” Danny. You differentiate between “political views” and “kingdom values” but I don’t know what you mean by the distinction.

    I’m completely with the “other” Danny’s post (hard to keep the Dannys straight here!). Reminiscent of J.H. Yoder’s seminal work in this field. I’d highly suggest Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus” for all interested in engaging this topic.

  13. lesjr says:

    I have no doubt Jesus would call abortion exactly what it is. As for other political “acts” that were violations of laws or Pharisaical stretching or manipulation for their own purposes, certainly Jesus would have called attention to it in some fashion. Is not “turning the other cheeck” or “going a second mile” a way of drawing attention to the political chicanry of the day? If people are politics and politics are people, most of us cannot escape… as to politics and goevernment behavior on a national level (religiously and secular), read the Minor prophets…

  14. kmcoker says:

    I’m sure that “turning the other cheek” and “going the second mile” are acts of non-violence that subvert the Roman power of the day.

    The tricky thing about the minor prophets, I’m finding, is that they bear a message to God’s people who happen to be at the time a nation-state. Our reading has to be careful in a time when that can no longer be said. So, we shouldn’t be too quick to read the national political scene in the US into the text of the prophets.

  15. fineyoungman says:

    That last post was from me not my wife. Sorry.

  16. lesjr says:

    Not reading our political scene into it specifically–

  17. dannydodd says:

    Time to fess up!

    One reason for my post is to help sort out my own “political journey”- so to speak.

    Earlier I blogged about my growing discomfort with all things political in our country and wondered if David Lipscomb’s approach was the best.

    I just continue to see the damage partisan politics is doing to our country- even overflowing into the church. I do not hear much real dialogue between people of differing political views. There does not seem to be much listening going on- just folks pushing their agendas and talking over other folks.

    Then I have heard Jesus evoked on both sides of the fence. Well, what would he really be doing and saying? While, none of us can know for sure- asking the questions I have asked in the post is a way of making the entie WWJD discussion real.

    Would he vote? Would he be a member of a political party? Would he march on Washington D.C.? Would he enage in political activism on any level? Would he make your political persausion a test of Christian orthodoxy? Would he be happy with how our political differences has sometimes divided his people- and what counsel would he give to us on that?

    By asking I just hope to make us think. To me, the eternal kingdom principles of Jesus transcend politics and nations and place-in-history. Being a citizen of his kingdom trumps citizenship in any other. The ability to live faithfully within this kingdom has never depended upon any form of temporary government.

    So, how worried should we be if our government is not to our liking? Should we even expect any government to abide by Christian principles? Are we called as children of God to work to change governments through political process or to work to change lives through being salt and light?

    Just aksing- for my benefit- that’s all. 🙂

    And thanks for all your help with it so far. It is proof that dialoguing really offers much.

  18. bigfry2003 says:

    I kinda doubt Christ would pay much attention to ‘government’ except where the inevitable crossed-paths came up (i.e. give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc.). That’s not to say He wouldn’t ‘take issue with the issues’ so to speak; rather I see Him dealing with it more in the lives of the individuals He came into contact with than being involved in, say the Tea, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitution, Green or whatever other parties you could come up with.

    Of course, we’re talking about the Christ here; He’d most likely do what He’d do and in the process upset the apple carts of both ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals/progressives’ alike.

  19. dannydodd says:

    I just read an article in the latest Christianity Today about the failures of the “historical Jesus” method of defining Christ. While it doesn’t relate to our blog conversation, one of its failures according to the author is that it tended to create Jesus in the image of the scholars in this field.

    Do we tend to do the same thing politically? Does our image of Jesus politics merely reflect our political leanings?

    BTW, our friend Bobby Ross, Jr. from the Christian Chronicle does some reporting in this issue of CT.

  20. D. Meadows says:

    I am reading with interest all the comments on your topic, bro. I am completely taken aback by the “politics” of the times. There is no more bi-partisan working together. Witness the health care reform bill. Do the Democrats have it right? If so, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. If the Republicans and tea-party goers are to be believed, our country is only a few years away from total devastation. I suspect we are actually somewhere in between. I don’t even want to affiliate myself with any party any more because no one seems to be reflecting the will of the people. I believe, as many of you have said, that Jesus would address the same sorts of problems that He did in His time – those that contradict God’s Will. I pray constantly that our leaders will look to God for the wisdom to lead us well and wisely. However, I really think there aren’t very many who seek God’s counsel. So I just continue to pray and rely on our Father to be in control. No matter what we do, He is constant. That is very comforting especially in today’s political climate. I don’t believe I really answered your question, Danny, but I just thought I would voice what I have been feeling for quite a while now. The older I get, the less the world makes sense to me.

  21. interesting discussion.

  22. I wonder what is meant by “political?” If by political you mean simply Democrat or Republican or Tea Party then perhaps the question is not sharp enough.

    If we return to the first century to hear what Jesus said in HIS context and Paul says about his Gospel then I fail to see how anyone can say Jesus or the Gospel was not political. If the Kingdom of God is the rival of all earthly kingdoms and will smash them and and grind them to bits as Daniel 2 makes clear … and it is “God’s” kingdom that is in view and it is God’s kingdom that destroys the rival human kingdoms in that passage. This suggests that there is a basic hostility and conflict between the kingdoms that make up the statue on one side and the little stone that destroys it on the other.

    The titles that are given to Jesus in the NT are in full currency in the Roman Empire. Caesar was “lord.” To claim that same title for Jesus was a political act. And on we can go. N. T. Wright has in many places brought this out (though not him alone). HEre is a link to a stimulating speech by Wright called “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire” …

    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Paul_Caesar_Empire.pdf

    The kingdom of God trumps all others. That includes all earthly loyalties.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  23. Al Sturgeon’s recommendation of Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus is on target too. Few works have challenged me to the core of my being as that fine work of scholarship.

  24. dannydodd says:

    Thanks for the inclusion of the link to Wright’s article Bobby. It is stimulating- as is your input to the discussion.

    It is apparent that I need to clarify the kind of answers I am seeking with this post.

    I do realize that the kingdom message embodied and presented by Christ (and Paul) was political in that, it completely countered the politics of the Roman empire,and also the Jewish political structure in Palestine. Indeed the kingdom message was scandalous and subversive. It hit at and revealed the ugly core of the power politics of the day- and the powers reacted in political ways- even using politics as a tool to crucify Christ.

    This is not, however, where I was trying to go with this post. Sorry about the confusion.

    Today, I keep hearing the name of Christ being attached to vastly different political ideals. I have heard some folks come very close to making political party affliation a matter of fellowship- calling upon the name of Jesus to do it. Party politics are as nasty and divisive as ever currently in our country- spilling over into the church.

    My question basically is this- what part would Jesus have in any of this if he were here today? Would he join one of our political parties and rally for their candidates? Would he be involved in any part of our political process?

    As I mentioned earlier this questions are flowing out of my own struggle here.

    Christ was about reconciliation. I just don’t see that spirit being demonstrated anywhere in the political arena today.

  25. alsturgeon says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Danny. That helps a lot.

    Realizing these are all just guesses, but…based on a lot of thinking along these lines, these are my conclusions at present (always subject to change):

    * I don’t think Jesus would join a political party. Nor do I think he would seek office.

    * I think he would pay his taxes and not complain about them being raised or lowered or whatever. Just wouldn’t be a concern of his.

    * I don’t know if he would vote or not. That being said, I don’t think it would be a major concern of his one way or another.

    * I think he would use the times when the government did something in line with (or directly opposed to) the values of his kingdom/politics as teaching opportunities. Refer to my little bulleted list in the thread above of the type of political values I believe (at this point in my quest to understand) are “his” values.

    * Finally, in his interactions with individuals, I think he might on occasion get “political” (i.e. stand up against power) to represent an oppressed individual person. But I don’t see him leading a “cause” movement or something like that. I think his “cause” was people, not labels.

    I hope these qualify as the type of direct answers you’re wanting to engage. Best I can do.

  26. alsturgeon says:

    Thanks to Bobby’s shout-out to Yoder.

    One of the smartest people I’ve ever met told me years ago when I was beginning a struggle with this very issue to read two books back to back: (1) Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus” and (2) Rauschenbusch’s “Theology of the Social Gospel.”

    It was excellent advice. Two very impressive, very different ways of approaching all this.

  27. dannydodd says:

    Thanks Al. I have not yet read Yoder, but plan to. If I recall, I think you may have been the first person to mention him to me several years ago, but since I have seen him referenced often.

    I tend to agree with many of your bullet points.

  28. SteveLavin says:

    So, we are back to the question- WWJD today? Where would he fall on our political spectrum? Would he be an activist for one side or the other? Would he pickett abortion clinics? Would he join Acorn? What do you think?

    Danny, it has been very interesting reading the comments. Here is my take…added to 4 bucks you might buy a cup of coffee. Jesus teaching were so radical that they had tremendous political implication. But was Jesus political? No…not if by political we mean political activism. For example, do I believe he would be pro-life? Would he vote pro-life? The answer to both, in my opinion, is yes. Do I envision Jesus leading pro-life rallies?…No. Jesus lived during a time of slavery and we have no record of him spending his energies trying to change hearts through the political process. And I do believe, with all my heart, Jesus was about changing hearts.

    I also believe we take the easy way out when attempting to advance spiritual issues through the political process. Discipleship is a personal call to change…not a license to push a value system down other people’s throats.

    Do I encourage disciples to vote their convictions? Absolutely! Do I see Jesus more in the roll of Dr. King or Mother Teresa? In myopinion, Mother Teresa comes closer.

    Finally, I actually believe we do harm to people by using government to advance our moral beliefs. Just look at government welfare. Sure, people are fed but they also learn to look to government for help and not the church. The result? A morally decaying society and a church less dim in a dark world because we abdicate our work to a secular society.

  29. bigfry2003 says:

    Danny, Jay Guin has an interesting post that’s related to this over at oneinjesus.info entitled “The Political Church: The Seditious Gospel”. I’m not smart enough to hyperlink, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself. lol

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