As Christians, have you ever considered how Jesus would vote in a presidential election or what party He would join, if any? I have – and those thoughts haunt me every four years. The last thing I want to do is cast a vote that doesn’t align with His will.
Jesus wouldn’t just vote along party lines or based on a single issue, as so many Christians do today. It’s not that simple. A close study of the life of Jesus reveals that His views don’t confine Him or conform to one party or issue. To illustrate the point, it’s necessary to break the issues into the two that typically drive our allegiance to parties or candidates – Economics and Social Norms. Each of us is either deeply concerned about the economic direction or moral direction of our nation, and we tend to vote accordingly.
NOTE: There are several political parties and ideologies in America today, but for purposes of this discussion let’s focus on the primary two.
- Democrats think of themselves as = More Compassionate (more heart)
- Republicans think of Democrats as = More Controlling (more rules)
- Republicans think of themselves as = More Moral (more rules)
- Democrats think of Republicans as = More Judgmental (less heart)
Democrats are generally considered “economically legalistic” (or “liberal) meaning they entrust government with greater liberty to invoke regulations, programs and taxes. Republicans are considered “morally legalistic” (or “conservative”) meaning they cling to traditional social norms and oppose attempts to redefine them, whereas social “liberals” impose fewer rules or standards for right and wrong.
It’s possible to be an economic conservative and social liberal – with fewer rules on both fronts; in other words, smaller government and looser moral standards. It’s also possible to be an economic liberal and a social conservative – with more rules on both fronts; in other words, bigger government yet upholding a more strict moral standard. However, it seems few fall Americans fall into either of those combinations. Today, most Democrats are both economic and social liberals – giving government more liberty to act and citizens more latitude to live according to their own moral compasses. Republicans today are typically both economic and social conservatives – with greater restrictions on governments and citizens to act however they wish.
However, what if we define “economic liberal” not as asking the government to care for the poor, but as asking churches and Christians to do so? Suddenly we begin to get a glimpse of where Christ would likely land – an economic liberal and social conservative.
Was Jesus a Liberal?
Yes, but only in terms of economics – generously serving and caring for those in need of help and hope. (Matthew 20:28)
Clearly, Jesus was more about heart than rules. Jesus was first and foremost a servant. He led with compassion, healing and feeding everywhere He went. Jesus expected His followers to do the same, and the Church did for the better part of 1900 years.
However, the government has usurped (and/or churches abdicated) the front-line compassion role in America over the past century. Jesus warned us of the potential abuses when political leaders wield too much power, assuming responsibilities that His Church was intended to have. The government cannot provide hope, only help. At the same time, Jesus did not deny the authority of government in society. In fact, Jesus went so far as to subject himself to the legal system and pay taxes, because He is the One who put those rulers in place (John 19:11, Romans 13:1). Even when political leaders forget their intended roles as public servants, Jesus calls His followers to persist in serving others (Matthew 20:25-26). However, the perception prevails today that Democrats are more inclined than Republicans, churches or Christians to help struggling families.
Was Jesus a Conservative?
Yes, but only in terms of social norms – holding His followers to a standard of behavior consistent with His intentions and will for our lives.
However, again here, Jesus was more about heart than rules. Even the rules themselves were about heart for Him. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Love (heart) is the driver of the rules.
Jesus also spent his time with “sinners” because they were most in need of the “great Physician” (Mark 2:17). He didn’t condemn those “sinners”, but instead rebuked those who condemned them. In fact, Jesus was so much about heart that He felt it necessary to emphasize that He did not come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus was vocal about sin, but waited until He had demonstrated His love and compassion first before speaking out about it. That’s the proper sequence Jesus modeled for us. He knew society wouldn’t listen to what He had to say about morality unless they understood that He cared about them.
Fallout from Christians not Following Jesus’ Lead
The conclusion we’re drawing is that Jesus wouldn’t affiliate with a political party because he wasn’t fully liberal or conservative. He was socially conservative yet economically liberal.
Society largely associates Christians with the Republican party (and vice versa) and the prevailing view of churches and Christians is that they’re judgmental and not compassionate – more about rules than heart. Therefore, the Republican party is deemed “guilty” by association. The reason the Republican party is struggling so severely today is that “social conservative” side of the party came to dominate the “economic liberal” side. Christians and churches have talked too much and not done enough, choosing words over actions. Failing to follow Jesus’ example has cost the Republican party and Christians dearly.
Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter during the first roughly 150 years of U.S. history, and society generally thought that Christians cared. As churches and Christians have pulled away from compassion and focused more on moral issues, they’ve gravitated to the Republican party and shifted the party toward moral legalism. Many have become single issue voters, whether it’s economic (welfare) or social (gay marriage). Jesus wouldn’t vote for one party or one issue so why are Christians doing that?
Ironically, the more Christians have become disenfranchised (because of their failure to act before speaking), the louder they’ve yelled about where the country is headed. However, rather than turning up the volume on the megaphone, Christians and the Republican party should be fighting the culture war using love (heart) as the chosen weapon – i.e. a “ground war” of compassion. Continuing to drop verbal bombs, fighting an “air war” (rules) will only cause fewer and fewer to listen.
Further, why would Christians expect those who don’t believe in Christ to obey Christian laws? A post-Christian nation isn’t going to subject itself to Biblical rules. Therefore, our first task as Christians is to show we care, then society will care what we know.
Now, all this doesn’t necessarily mean Republicans actually have less “heart” than Democrats. Democrats legislate more government assistance to poor families but studies are mixed about whether Republicans or Democrats donate more personally to charitable causes that help those less fortunate. Republicans give a higher overall percentage of their income to non-profits, but that includes donations to churches (and we shouldn’t include tithes and offerings in measuring “heart” since the average church today spends less than 2% of its budget helping those outside its own “4 walls”).
Should Christians be Liberals or Conservatives?
Disciples of Jesus Christ are Christians – not Republicans or Democrats. What’s important is that we each examine ourselves and make sure we’re not more about rules than heart. Are we morally legalistic or genuinely driven by concern for the eternal fate of non-believers? Let’s ask ourselves how we feel about “sinners”. Is our concern for whether others obey Christian rules based in love and concern for their salvation, or in self-righteousness? I’m sure most of us believe our political stances are grounded in love, yet somehow that’s not the message coming across to society today.
If churches and Christians want America to return to being socially conservative, they must return to being economic liberals, not leaving the responsibility for caring for poor, helpless, lost and hopeless to the government. Until then, the socially liberal agenda of Democrats will continue to prevail because society aligns more closely with the economically liberal agenda of Democrats – associating them with compassion. Being socially conservative is a good thing, but Republicans and Christians must dispel the notion that’s what they’re all about. Christians must prove they truly love the sinner and only hate the sin.
It’s Your Turn
It’s not about what party we join. It’s not about what we say. It’s about what we do. Will you #CastAnEternalVote during this final week before the election?