I was talking to a Christian man recently when the subject of politics came up. I asked him how he casts his vote and he explained that he typically votes in a way that lines up with his stage of life. Which candidate offers me the most?
So I started thinking.
When I listen to the politicians, I realize that two sets of people dominate their consideration: the upper class and the middle class. I get it. Obama and Romney raise millions and millions of dollars, and the lion’s share comes from the upper class. The rich. The well-connected. The most fortunate. The movie stars and the CEOs. But if you want to get elected, it’s only happening via the middle class. Hence, the top priority: the average Joe. The typical Tammy. The friendly family. If you want a shot at the oval office you need the wallets of the upper and the votes of the middle.
Here’s my concern: Jesus.
Because although everybody was welcome, his words never really catered to the upper class and powerful. He was the champion of the poor. The destitute. The stranger. The orphan. The threatened.
This is the same guy who said to NOT throw parties for people who can pay you back. He’s the author of the same book that instructs us to warn those who are rich – not to wine and dine them. Yet Democrats and Republicans alike are fatally tied to the purse strings of the power brokers.
When the King of the universe came to earth and revealed the lens through which he watches (and judges) human history, he spoke like this:
“When the Son of Man comes … all the nations will be gathered before him … They will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-32, 44-46
What a sobering thought. God’s ways really aren’t our ways. His thoughts really aren’t our thoughts. Which is why our minds must be weaned off the rhetoric of network news and the American dream to be retrained in the opinions of heaven. Which is why I’m quite sure that disciples of Jesus should not use What’s in it for me? as a primary political question.
While I do not pretend to believe that Matthew 25 is the only test of our political priorities, it certainly needs to make it to the top of our list. Because if Jesus grades our politics like he grades the rest of our lives, the least of these is a big part of the final exam.
I hope you can see the problem. These people don’t have power. No cultural swag. They have no leverage. Sitcoms don’t push their agendas.
And yet Jesus is going to judge the nations on the least of these. Trafficked children. Widows. Displaced immigrants. The people endangered by hunger, thirst, and disease. Youth vulnerable to violence. Prisoners. The unborn.
Politicians prompt us to address our political points through the lens of self interest. Which candidate offers the most to me and mine? And whichever contestant can make the most convincing promises to the most people usually wins. But let’s be honest. The upper class loves less tax. The middle class loves tax credits. Students love cheap loans. Some love abortion as birth control. Gays love the thought of marriage.
Americans love what’s in it for me.
But Jesus loves people.
And disciples follow Jesus.
If you are a conservative Christian, please tell me you’re pro-life after the baby is born. Please tell me you’re serious about trying to keep young people in school, off the streets, out of jail, and off of death row. Pro-life better mean from the womb to the tomb. Please tell me you are chewing on the sobering connection between poverty and abortion. If you really want to save babies you simply cannot ignore the role of hopelessness and poverty among our youth. You have to do something with the fact that abortions rose under Reagan and Bush I and then declined under Clinton. Try to understand why your liberal brothers aren’t convinced that a Republican president will dramatically affect abortion rates. (To be fair, abortions declined even more under George W. Bush.)
If you are a liberal Christian, please tell me you actually want to help the needy in ways that actually help. For all of the talk of “helping” the poor have you really looked deeply into the policies and programs we claim to assist the needy in our country? Have you really done the work to distinguish between empowering charity and toxic charity? I’m stunned with how seldom we examine the outcomes of our so-called compassion programs. If we’re going to pass the Matthew 25 test we need to do more than throw people hand-outs; we have to lift people up. As far as the sanctity of life, I’ve been profoundly disappointed in the awkward silence of liberal Christians for the cause of the unborn. That’s not the only issue. I hear you. And slavery was not the only issue of the 1800s. But I’m always ashamed of the 19th-century Christians who seldom used their voices for the most needy when it was most needed.
The least of these.
This has profound implications for me as I consider the gravity of electing a man to political office. A president does not merely occupy a seat in a white building; he becomes a spokesperson who in some way represents the moral conscience of a nation. He is given a unique voice. He possesses influence. He has a sway that turns the soul of a nation in one direction or another. I have to ask myself how Mitt Romney might use his platform to speak into the soul of a nation in the next four years. I have to ask myself how Barack Obama has stewarded his voice over the last four.
The wise king of the book of Proverbs clearly grasped such a reality as he penned these words:
“Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 31:8-9, 14:34)
This means we might need to become much more serious about expanding our views and challenging our culture about who God calls the least of these. If ever we needed Christians to become less predictable and more prophetic, it’s now.
See more thoughts in part 2.
For more info on abortion rates click here.