How can people who claim to be followers of Jesus be political conservatives?
By Mike Lux
The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.
What there is: quote after quote about compassion for the poor. In Jesus' very first sermon of his ministry, the place where he launched his public career, he stated the reason he had come: to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to help the oppressed go free, and that he was here to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord--which in Jewish tradition meant the year that poor debtors were forgiven their debts to bankers and the wealthy. In Luke 6, Jesus says the poor and hungry will be blessed, and the rich will be cursed. He urges his followers to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. The one time he really focuses on God's judgment and who goes to heaven is in Matthew 25, where he says those who go to heaven will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave shelter to the hungry, and welcomed the stranger--and those who don't make it were the ones who refused to help the poor and oppressed.
And he was a really serious class warrior, too--he wasn't just into helping the poor; he didn't seem to like rich folks very much. In Matthew 6, he focuses on the love of money as a major problem. In Luke 11, he berates a wealthy lawyer for burdening the poor. In Luke 12, he says that the wealthy who store up treasure are cursed by God. In Luke 14, he says if we throw a party, we should invite all poor people and no rich people, and suggests that the wealthy already turned down their invitation to God's feast, and that it is the poor who will get into heaven (a theme repeated multiple times). He says that the rich people will have a harder time getting to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. He chases the wealthy bankers and merchants from the Temple.
I have never heard a conservative Christian quote any of these verses--not once, and I have been in a lot of discussions with Christian conservatives, and heard a lot of their speeches and sermons. The one verse they always quote (and I mean always--I have never talked to a conservative Christian about economics and not heard them quote this verse) is the one time in which Jesus says that "the poor will always be with us." The reason they love this quote so much is that they interpret that line to mean that in spite of everything else Jesus said about the poor, that since the poor will always be with us, we don't need to worry about trying to help them. Apparently since the poor will always be with us, we can go ahead and screw them. But Jesus making a prediction that there will always be oppressive societies doesn't mean he wanted us to join the oppressors. By clinging desperately to that one verse in the Bible, and ignoring all the others about the poor and the rich, Christian conservatives show themselves to be hypocrites, plain and simple.
The Jesus of the New Testament spent his public career preaching about the nature of God and our relationship to God, but also about how we should deal with each other. He repeatedly blessed mercy, gentleness, peacemaking, community, and taking care of each other. He lifted up the poor and oppressed, and spoke poorly of the wealthy and powerful. If anyone in modern society talked like he did, you can bet your bottom dollar that conservatives would condemn that person as a class warrior, a socialist. Jesus may not have been primarily concerned with politics, but for what politics he did have, it is virtually impossible to argue that he was anything but a progressive thinker.
Conservatives constantly claim that America is a Christian nation. In fact, that all of Western civilization is based on Judeo-Christian principles. Only problem is that 2,000 years of Western leaders have misread and misinterpreted the Bible. Why? To make themselves rich and powerful.
Thus there were Christians who thought it was their right to dominate the world. Who thought they could claim ownership of anything and anybody. Who thought God gave them the planet to use as they wished.
The world in general and indigenous people in particular have suffered because of this Christian arrogance. Much of it is based on this Biblical passage: "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" (Matthew 10:34). Ignoring a thousand references to caring and compassion, conservative Christians glorify this one atypical and unrepresentative line. Considering how many wars we've fought, it may be the single most damaging line in world history.
Blue Corn Comics and Newspaper Rock exist to promote the idea of a multicultural perspective. In other words, that there are other ways to look at life besides the mainstream/American/Western/Christian way. So deconstructing the conservative Christian worldview is part of my mission.
The Native American perspective is the one I've chosen to focus on, but many cultures around the world have similar philosophies. The key point is the centrality of the Golden Rule. It's the idea of helping your fellow humans...the notion that "it takes a village" to survive and grow. This is something that Jesus and Indians understood but conservative Christians somehow don't get. It's what America needs to start righting such wrongs as war, poverty, and climate change.
For more on the subject, see A Shining City on a Hill: What Americans Believe and America's Cultural Mindset.