How Would Jesus Navigate Politics Today?
Have you ever asked yourself, “How would Jesus navigate politics today?” Or maybe, “How would Jesus think through xxx political issue, and how would He engage others with what He thinks?”
As we wrestle with these questions, I think Jesus would want us to keep a few key things in mind:
1. Remember our primary identity and focus.We are encouraged to be engaged citizens. But there’s a very important reality check on our engagement in Philippians: “…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20)
In other words, our primary citizenship as Jesus followers is not here at all—it’s in heaven, and our Savior is not our favored political party or candidate but Jesus himself, who will one day return and fix this broken planet.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul clarifies our role even further: “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
The church is made up of people from every country and culture, and our biggest job is to represent the King of Kings well in our time here. That means helping people to connect to their Creator and make a difference in this world—to see people transformed through love, good works, and changed lives. It also means embodying a counter-cultural community of believers that is a model of what God’s kingdom is all about. That is our primary allegiance and primary mission.
People throughout history have gotten this all mixed up, thinking that their earthly nation was God’s favorite or somehow part of the kingdom of God as a political entity. I think Jesus wants us to avoid that, even in a nation like America that has a unique background and roots. America is still part of the kingdoms of this world, to which we as God’s people are sent as ambassadors. And the church is not aligned with any one nation or any one political party within a given nation.
For example, in the 300s, the Roman Empire embraced Christianity as its official religion. Several hundred years later, the empire was crumbling. When Rome was sacked in the 5th century, many were convinced that the world was ending. But Augustine, a key church leader of his day, wrote a powerful reminder in The City of God:
“The church belongs to the city of God. As a church, we also have a mission and a mandate, and it is not political. We believe that the ultimate solution to the problem of mankind is not political, but the Gospel—and that is what we are committed to as a church.”
2. When deciding what positions to take, allow our “faith filter” to come before our “political party filter.”As we consider our position about different political issues, we need to be nuanced and careful and humble in this process. If you were to try to guess how Jesus might vote on an issue, you could think that’s an easy answer… until you start digging into the Bible itself.
On the one hand, the Bible would suggest that God would be a political conservative:
- He is pro-business and demands work rather than welfare for those who can work. (1 Thessalonian 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-13)
- He sanctions capital punishment for murderers. (Exodus 21:12)
- He values the life of the unborn. (Jeremiah 1:5)
- He gives greater wealth to some more than others and calls that good. (1 Samuel 2:7; Ecclesiastes 5:19; Proverbs 10:22)
- And he upholds the family as the basic social structure for the church and world. (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1)
On the other hand, you can also read the Bible and come away convinced God would be politically liberal:
- He demands that governments care for the poor. (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; James 2:15-16)
- He calls for massive debt forgiveness. (Leviticus 25:25-30)
- He demands that we care for the environment. (Genesis 2:15; Psalms 24:1)
- He pronounces judgment on those who don’t pay fair wages. (Malachi 3:5)
- He rails against the powerful and wealthy when they abuse that privilege with no accountability. (Jeremiah 6:13)
- He is always for the immigrant. (Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 27:19)
- And he hates injustice of all kinds, including economic, racial, and gender injustices. (Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8)
The reality is it’s not so easy to know how Jesus would vote. The Bible talks about issues and upholds certain values and principles, but the specifics of how to live those things out is typically where Christians divide along political lines.
3. Find Common Ground.It’s ok that people have different strategies for addressing biblical concerns and principles. And it’s ok that these differences often follow political lines. We can still find common ground around the “what” even if we don’t fully agree on the “how.”
For example, biblically oriented Christians would all agree that God views poverty as a major concern, but they might disagree on how to best address it. Some might think bigger government is the best way to attack poverty, while others might emphasize the importance of the free market and of personal responsibility and personal generosity. Both perspectives agree on the “what” (that poverty is an issue) but are split on the “how” (what it means to live that out in a society). Regardless, we need to be ready and willing to unify around the bigger biblical principle wherever we can.
Jesus understood the importance of listening to one another and finding common ground. When He started the church, he chose among his 12 disciples a Zealot (a member of a very charged-up political party that hated Rome—sometimes to the point of violence) and a tax collector (who had chosen to side with and officially represent Rome).
These political opposites must have had lots of interesting conversations around the campfire at night. But Jesus made His choices on purpose, because He was building something bigger than politics. He was intent on creating a group where people could have stark political differences and still live in authentic community, united around a common Savior and a common mission.
4. Commit to unity inside the church and civility outside.How we arrive at our positions and how we represent Jesus to those who disagree are possibly even more important than what our specific political positions are. Within the church, there’s room for diversity but our commitment must be toward unity.
We find that challenge in Ephesians 4: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
As we dialogue with those outside the church, Titus 3:1-2 gives us another crucial challenge to follow: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”
That kind of dialogue in any arena is incredibly rare. But we are to honor our leaders, to be committed to the common good, and to avoid slander. (Slander is spreading things about people that are not true or that we don’t know are true.) We are also to be peaceable, considerate, and always gentle.
A Christ-follower friend, whose politics are very different than mine, said something that has challenged me a lot: “Even with those who are your most stark political opposites, listen to them long enough to answer the question, ‘Where are they right?’”
That’s humility and civility in dialogue. It can be hard, but it’s a powerful way to embody Jesus’ light in a sometimes-dark political environment.
5. Remember the limits of politics.Finally, as important it is to steward our vote well and to engage our culture, let’s remember what politics can and cannot do.
Imagine that we elected all the right people to the right offices—President, congress, governors, right down to the school board, city council members, and dog catcher. Let’s imagine that all these ideal office holders instituted all the right policies. Let’s imagine that we got all the propositions right. Every piece of legislation—from zoning laws to tax codes to immigration policy to crime bills—is just exactly the way you know it ought to be. Would that usher in the kingdom of God? Would the hearts of the parents be turned to their children? Would all marriages be models of faithful love? Would greed and pride be legislated out of existence? Would human beings now at last be able to master our impulses in areas of sexuality and anger and narcissism? Let’s get a little more personal. Would you finally become the woman or man you know you ought to be? (John Ortberg)
The ultimate answer to the problems of this world and to the human condition have little to do with political solutions. We are not to be disengaged politically. But we are to remember that ultimately, we’re here to represent something and Someone much bigger than a political stance.
Jesus alone can change the human heart, to transform lives, and to change communities. We can and will still have political differences. But as His church, let’s unite around the bigger mission of the One Who actually has the power to change the world.