How would Jesus vote? It’s a question I’ve been considering. After recording my initial thoughts on the matter last week, I attended a fascinating three-person dialogue, in which three individuals from different faith backgrounds and political persuasions explained their own conclusions.
First up was retired Presbyterian pastor John Sloop. He began by summarizing every Christian’s primary responsibilities: to fulfill the Great Commission (spreading the Gospel) and keep the greatest commandments (loving God and neighbor). He reminded us of the pattern of Christianity: Christ transforms his followers, and those followers, in living according to God’s commands, have always transformed their culture.
Dr. Sloop explained that because “politics” is really just about tending to our “polity,” or city, caring about politics is an essential aspect of loving our neighbors. And voting is one of many ways that Christians in America can act as “salt” and “light” in their world, as Jesus intended.
In addressing the original question, “How would Jesus vote?” Sloop concluded that Jesus would “vote his conscience.” He would, for instance, only support candidates committed to protecting human life from conception, protecting religious freedom, and acknowledging marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
Next, Dr. Harriet “Betsy” Hayes, an Episcopalian college professor, explained how her convictions have led her to the “progressive” end of the political spectrum. Dr. Hayes’ driving conviction is that “God loves everyone – no exceptions,” and that as people of “radical love,” Christians should vote for policies of “radical inclusion.” For her, this means supporting candidates who advocate for government programs to end systemic poverty and recognize health care as a basic human right, among others.
Dr. Hayes emphasized that what she believes to be most essential about Christians’ involvement in politics is “how we treat each other.” It was refreshing to hear her acknowledge that her Republican family members are deeply committed to many of the same issues that motivate her, like caring for the poor, conserving creation and spreading the Gospel.
The third panelist was John Swartz, a Mennonite pastor and writer. Mr. Swartz believes that voting should be a low priority for the Christian. He recounted the occasion when Jesus’ family found him preaching in the temple as a child, and Jesus told them he was doing his “Father’s business.” According to Swartz, the “Father’s business” does not leave much time or energy for political engagement. In his view, the Christian’s calling is to remain focused on the kingdom of heaven and avoid the “distraction” of politics.
At one point Swartz opined that when people’s hearts are changed by the Gospel of Christ, society, too, will be changed. But what would become of a society in which everyone whose “heart is changed” withdraws from the political process, leaving our cities, states, and nation to be ruled by those whose hearts remain “unchanged?”
I can’t reconcile Swartz’s isolationist view with my calling to be “salt” and “light,” which I believe is broader than my duty to share my faith with others. If I abdicate my right to vote for candidates who champion policies that promote a good and just society, how can I say I am doing all I can do to love my neighbor?
The real choice, I think, for Christians who recognize that our vote is a priceless resource for us to steward, is between the Sloop view (that policy issues like life, religious freedom, and marriage are paramount) and the Hayes view (that “inclusion” and caring for the poor are most important).
I believe the key to choosing wisely lies within the answer to a question I posed to Dr. Hayes: “What is the proper role of government in society?”
She didn’t have a solid answer. Now, in her defense, she had not anticipated my question. But my point is that we must consider it in order to make wise decisions at the ballot box. It’s impossible to choose between a hammer and a saw unless you know which task you must accomplish.
Is the government’s purpose to care for the poor and provide for basic human needs? I say no. I say that is our job, as families, the church, and voluntary, privately run organizations.
I believe, as America’s Founders did, that the primary role of government in a free, self-governing society is to protect human life, secure our natural rights and administer justice. So let’s choose candidates who will perform those functions faithfully. Let’s not delegate to Caesar the duties that our ours.