During a recent sermon, I spent time talking about how we are prone to using labels to dehumanize people and disregard their opinions, perspectives, and feelings. Though I didn’t fully venture into a political discussion, politics is where this is perhaps most apparent. If someone labels themselves as a Republican, calling someone “liberal” can be a way of dismissing them without fully considering their perspective. Likewise, if someone is a Democrat, calling someone a “right-winger” lumps them together with a host of assumptions which may or may not match their beliefs, but which nevertheless makes it easy to dismiss not only their political ideas and beliefs, but even their basic humanity.
I have been labeled during my pastoral work. When a person on either side of a debate decides that they don’t like my perspective, I have been given various politically charged labels. Over the years I have been assigned the label of “liberal,” but I have also been assigned the label “conservative.” Both have been used as a way of embracing me (he’s a liberal/conservative like me) or dismissing me (he’s just a fool on the other side!).
We have envisioned politics as a line. On the left of the line are liberals, while on the right of the line are conservatives. And as you move away from the center, the ideologies and politics of both right and left become increasingly radical.
For fun – put your finger on the place in the line where you would find yourself. Do you have conservative or liberal political ideologies? Are you close to the center? Are you far right or left? Take a moment and think about where you fit on that line.
Many Christians are quick to recognize that Jesus was very political. In fact, he frequently managed to upset the politics and powers of his day. Jesus frequently spoke of the Kingdom of God, which has its own politics and ideologies. But I wonder – if you look at the line above, on which side would you place the politics of Jesus? Is he on the right? If so, how far on the right? Is he on the left? How far on the left? Is Jesus in the dead center, not leaning politically one way or the other?
My guess is that most of us would place Jesus in just about the same place where you located yourself. Maybe he’s slightly to the right or left of you, but he’s not likely very far. I wonder – if we find Jesus more or less the same place we find ourselves, is that because we’re striving to be like Jesus? Or is that because we have made Jesus into an idol, who we have shaped with our own hands? Is that because we have taken the name of God in vain, and used him to justify our politics rather than shape them?
The political line that I mapped out above is one way of imagining the political spectrum, and I think it matches the way most Americans imagine politics, due to our bi-partisan system. But it certainly isn’t the only way. And if we are going to try to locate the politics of Jesus on a graph, we’re going to need to rethink the way it looks.
In Jesus’ day, there was a wide range of political ideologies. Many came from within Jewish factions – some which were supported by Rome, others which were not. Competing ideologies could be found among Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, and again between Jews and Samaritans and Greeks. An effort could be made to place them on the liberal-conservative line, but it would be imperfect at best. And somehow, Jesus managed to upset everyone. Jesus’ own politics were different from everyone else’s politics.
So where can we locate the politics of Jesus? Jesus’ politics are shaped, in their entirety, according to the politics of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not looking at the world from the perspective of the right or the left, but from the perspective of Heaven.
I want to propose an admittedly imperfect diagram that I hope might help us to wrap our minds around this concept. While we borrow the liberal-conservative line used earlier, I want to add another dimension.
If we want to locate Jesus, we’re not going to locate him by looking left or right. We’re going to have to look up. We’ll have to ask, “What does the Kingdom of Heaven have to say about issues such as these?”
We can’t get closer to Jesus by moving further left or further right, or more toward the center. If we want to get closer to the politics of Jesus, we’re going to have to abandon the line. We’re going to have to let go of partisan politics completely, abandon the logic of “left and right,” and work to move our hearts toward heaven rather than earth.We can’t get closer to Jesus by moving further left or further right, or more toward the center. If we want to get closer to the politics of Jesus… we’re going to have to let go of partisan politics completely.
What do the politics of Jesus look like? How do they differ from the liberal-conservative line? The difference isn’t just in how one thinks about issues, it is how one envisions God, human history (past and future), and human relationships.
In a few days, I’ll publish a follow-up to this article. But until then, I’ll summarize the politics of Jesus in a single word: Love.