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If Jesus Ran for President

First in a Series exploring the relationship between one’s theological framework, religious practice and political viewpoint …

A PDF version to print or read is here.


Jesus, a cleric and a politician walk into a bar …

If that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, consider the 3-ring circus of political debates and punditry already well underway 14 months before our next national presidential election.

The leading candidate of one of the major parties is asked if he has ever repented and asked God for forgiveness. With his slippery reply he proudly boasts he always tries to never make a mistake, requiring forgiveness.

Another candidate – when asked if he would have invaded Iraq like his brother did – said hey, no one’s perfect; or hasn’t been for the last 2,000 years; intimating Jesus would have made a great candidate.

One of the other candidates vying for their party’s nomination is a Baptist minister who is just as fundamentalist in his religious views as he is conservative in his political views; offering to do jail time on behalf of the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples as an expression of religious freedom.

And a stock answer from numerous other candidates is that their positions on everything from abortion, to same-sex unions or “traditional marriage,” or “religious freedoms” are all “informed by their faith.”

Internationally, if you think religion and politics don’t meddle in each other’s business, try assessing the recent battle over the Iran Nuclear agreement, devoid of the influences of Iran’s Ayatollah; or one form of Zionism backing Netanyahu’s coalition government in Israel.

“How we think about religion — even if we are skeptics or atheists — will spell itself out in how we think about society,” observes philosophy professor, David Galston. “In other words, our theology and politics are inextricably linked. The difference of course is that politicians get to enact their thinking as policy.”

If that is the case, should one consider a candidate’s religious bent when assessing the way they might make their political decisions? Absolutely!

Making the Case:


Such an assertion is based on a two-fold premise:

First, we are all unavoidably political animals. We are all citizens of a human collective (gr., ‘polis,’ city). But secondly, some of us would suggest, we are also spiritual beings; where the physical, cognitive, and emotional components of what it all means to be human hold open what I like to call that “crack in the door” to the unfathomable or infinite unknown of something other, something more, some larger whole of which we are all an integral part.

Rational empiricists can theorize that such a larger unknown is comprised of everything we simply have not yet discovered or verified. There are others who still want to revere such an unknown as holy or divine mystery. And then there are others of us who simply acknowledge what seems obvious to us; that as inescapably finite beings we simply don’t know everything, so the door remains open. While some choose to credit certain revelatory encounters in our lives to be so restorative or redemptive that we acknowledge they are more than we could conjure up for ourselves, or even imagine.

Consequently, things like meaning beyond measure, or ultimate concern, take on what has normatively been called theological significance. As a non-theist, however, I would use the term– derived from the Greek word for god, ‘theos,’ — in this larger sense. Consequently, it seems reasonable to explore the question of a synchronicity between one’s theological framework and one’s religious bent. One’s political persuasion will inevitably then follow close behind.

Applying Theology to our Religious and Political Viewpoints


Religious expression is the application of theological thinking to a particular practice; just as one’s political philosophy might find expression in one’s affiliation with a particular political party. Every religion has its particular traditions and trappings, customs and specified belief systems. And every political party will have formulated their party platform. But one’s theological and political perspectives go deeper.

In the earlier mentioned example, when Donald Trump was asked if he’d ever asked God for forgiveness, he first prefaced his answer saying he always tries to avoid making a mistake; so asking for forgiveness isn’t necessary. But then he went on to give an example of when he “eats the little cracker, and takes a sip of wine,” he supposed that was a penitential act. There appeared to be little theological depth behind his religious practice; as if, for him, they were one and the same thing. Some might suggest the same could be said of his political philosophy. There is a striking similarity.

If all this sounds too, well, philosophical, consider the political and theological context of Jesus’ own time and place.

Jesus: Theologian, Politician or Religious Sectarian?


When one presidential candidate was asked if he believed a Muslim should occupy the Oval Office, he emphatically replied, “No.” Setting aside any civics lesson on the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, one suspects there could be a religious bias from a particular theological perspective afoot.

In a wider, global context, when a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, Michael Oren, recently asked the question: “If Jesus were alive today, living in the Holy Land, where would you go looking for him?”

He then answered his own question, saying “Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist would today be considered Jewish settlers in Bethlehem,“ and adding, “We are on a holy mission to ensure the Jewish state remains strong and beloved.”

A contrary point of view, however, could contend Jesus was not a Jewish settler, but a rabbi who spoke out for human rights on behalf of an oppressed people living in the legendary place of his birth; and in what is now the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  The two viewpoints are not only a prime example of the mix of politics and religion with a theological perspective. It is nothing new, as well.

Ancient Jewish scriptures, in fact, contain within them both a divine-sanctioned claim to a holy land, and a prophetic tradition that always advocates for justice on behalf of “the orphan, the widow, the alien in your midst;” with the reminder, again and again, that “you were once aliens yourself.” (Exodus 22:21)

This is the religious tradition out of which Jesus the Galilean sage preached and taught. It is also the political context in which the historical Jesus found himself embroiled and at odds with both the religious hierarchy and political powers of his own day. In a very real sense, his was simultaneously both a counter-religious and counter-political message, from a deeper and broader theological perspective.

His was simultaneously both a counter-religious and counter-political message, but from a deeper and broader theological perspective.

As such, if Jesus ran for president, there’s little chance in hell he’d get elected. But from what we can surmise of his message — preserved within a living tradition that emerged in those pre-Christian days following his magnificent defeat – there is found the essence of a theological worldview that extends beyond any particularities of religious sectarianism; and is profoundly worth considering in our present day political forays.

It is that broader and deeper theological perspective to be explored next in Part II of this series: If Jesus Addressed a Joint Session of Congress.

© 2015 by John William Bennison, Rel.D.
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