I published an e-book a few months ago titled, Rediscovering Jesus: Finding God’s Son Among Counterfeit Christs. In one of the chapters I discuss the “Jesuses who never lived.” Each one of these portraits are fictive creations that look something like Jesus, but serve far more often as his substitutes. Each one is fabricated according to the wants, desires, and felt needs of the individual. Here I discuss one such incarnation called, “Political Jesus.”
Careless and uncritical believers hijack the authority of Jesus in order to support any number of political viewpoints. The problem with using His teachings as evidence is that people often do not look to make a biblical case for the causes they support. Instead, they take hold of something in His teaching that lends support to their viewpoint. Sadly, this means that they often take things out of context. In each of the following cases, the figure of Jesus is recognizable in much the same way as a person’s reflection in a funhouse mirror: identifiable, but distorted.
Right-Wing Jesus campaigns against tax increases and believes in rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s only as long as Caesar is small. If the theory of evolution must be taught in schools, legislators should ensure that creationism and intelligent design be given equal time. He vigorously opposes judges who legislate from the bench. He also likes guns and thinks that anyone who doesn’t must be un-American—or unspiritual, because the two tend to look the same anyway. He wants politicians to put prayer and the Bible back in schools, and derides anyone who doesn’t properly understand the separation of church and state.
Left-Wing Jesus advocates going green, saving trees, and reducing humanity’s carbon footprint. He champions the cause of the poor, the downtrodden, and other victims of a shadowy entity known as “the system.” He argues that the solution for income inequality is to make sure the rich pay their fair share, which usually means that millionaires should give their wealth to the poor because they probably did something unfair or illegal to get it in the first place. This Jesus drives a hybrid car, drinks fair-trade coffee, and wages media campaigns against human rights abuses both foreign and domestic.
Then there’s Anarchist Jesus. He rebels against the status quo and blames things on “the system”—which isn’t quite the same system as the one Left-Wing Jesus talks about. He stockpiles guns, but not for the same reason that Right-Wing Jesus does. He takes every available opportunity to stick it to “the man,” who is usually represented by anyone wearing a suit and/or carrying a badge of some type. He has lots of conspiracy theories, believes in being self-sufficient, and lives off the grid.
In any one of His incarnations, Political Jesus is merely a creation that results from the marriage of New Testament teachings with one’s own political ideology. This is as predictable as it is unfortunate. It seems to stem from the desire to use Jesus as an authoritative source without actually considering what He has to say about any particular matter at hand. That people do this is no surprise; one of the great faults of humanity is the unfortunate tendency for us to cherry-pick our sources that help us make the strongest possible case for our point of view. This flaw is extended to how we use the Bible in supporting causes and perspectives we hold dear.
The relationship of the Christian to his or her government is challenging. The apostle Paul is clear that Christians should be obedient to human governments because their authority is derived from God (Rom. 13:1-7; cf. 1 Pet. 2:17). At the same time, Scripture teaches that we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). There are cases of civil disobedience in Scripture in times where believers had to choose whether to obey man or God (Ex. 1:17; 1 Sam. 14:45; 1 Ki. 18:1:3b-4). Regardless of our political viewpoints, however, it is clear that our loyalty must lie with God and His Word. This means respecting His authority enough not to simply use the Bible as a weapon to bludgeon someone else into accepting our viewpoint.
One criticism that non-Christians make about believers is that we are far too politically connected. This is a minefield for the church today. Some believe that Christians should be politically active – if we are salt and light, then why should we not use politics as one avenue to effect positive change in our society? Others argue that Christians should not be politically active at all – Jesus and his apostles changed the world through love, not by campaigning for public office. Others offer a middle position somewhere between the extremes. One thing we can say for certain, however, is that Jesus was concerned with telling others about his Father, and by affecting the lives of others through his relationships with them. And that’s a great place to start.