Jesus for President?
Looking for Christ in the Political Christians
I once saw an interview with a Texan who had gone into politics after years as a Christian minister. When asked what he thought of his career change, he said ruefully, “When you mix religion and politics, you just get politics.”
In the last presidential election, a woman at my church was handing out fliers. She explained that the fliers listed what candidates thought about “the Christian issues.” I asked, “You mean like fighting injustice and helping the poor?” In all seriousness, she replied: “No, I mean abortion and the gays!”
I’ve thought of this often as America careens through the latest election circus. Christianity is important to the branding and optics of conservative candidates, but it is often claimed by liberals too. Has the mix of politics and religion simply become politics? What are the issues that Christ wants us to focus on?
The word “Christian” roughly means “follower of Christ,” or as some have put it, “little Christ.” Let’s take a look at how the words of Jesus Christ might help us test our presidential candidates. There has never been an American president who did not profess to be a Christian, but are they truly little versions of Christ, following his commands and imitating his actions?
As a Christian father, I am trying to explain the political candidates to my kids. My daughter, age 8, seems to enjoy disliking Trump, while my 11-year-old son previously hated talk about politics but now asks a lot of questions about the presidential candidates. So, if I am teaching my kids to follow Jesus, then what candidates also following Jesus — if any?
Jesus and public displays of religion: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to God in secret…. When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so it will not be obvious to others you are fasting, but only to God.” (Matthew 6:5–6, 16–18)
- Does the candidate act as if outward religious ceremony is evidence of faith?
- Does the candidate brag about his or her religious activities?
- Do they shampoo with olive oil? What brand?
Jesus and the poor: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” And, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Matthew 19:21; Luke 14:13–14)
- How often does the candidate interact with poor or handicapped people?
- Is the candidate generous with his or her money to the poor and needy?
- Does the candidate support charity even for people who cannot repay it? Are there requirements for deserving the charity?
- Has the candidate claimed any tax write-offs for selling his or her possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor?
- How often do they give banquets? Can you and I get invited?
Jesus and judgment: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)
- Does the candidate act like someone who has been forgiven much by his or her Savior?
- Is the candidate merciful and forgiving to others?
- Is the candidate a judgmental person? Do they often condemn other people?
- What’s in their lap now?
Jesus and enemies: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other as well. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:27–30) Elsewhere, “If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a Roman soldier demands you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (Matthew 5:40–42)
- In what way does the candidate treat their personal enemies?
- How does the candidate plan to treat our nation’s enemies?
- Has the candidate ever lost a lawsuit? How did they handle it?
- How do you think the candidate would respond to living with a military occupation force from a foreign country?
- Is there a way to test the cheek-slapping thing with the candidate? Where do we sign up?
Jesus and humility: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord their authority over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Matthew 20:25–28)
- In what ways is the candidate a servant of the people in his/her life, instead of a ruler?
- Does the candidate think he or she is great, or are they humble?
- How does the candidate plan to serve the people of Congress? Or the people of America?
Jesus on anger and lust: “You have heard that, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to the same judgment as murder… You have heard that, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:21–22, 27–29)
- Is the candidate an angry or lustful person?
- Has the candidate expressed an opinion of people who are angry or lustful?
- Has the candidate ever committed murder or adultery?
- Is the candidate missing an eye?
As we go through the words of Christ, has our favored candidate fared badly? If so, should we take a serious look at another candidate? Or should we stop acting as if our candidate’s faith matters? What do you think?
A version of this article originally appeared at The Good Men Project.