Dear Church: Was Jesus Political? – Rev. Steve Otte

Dear Church is a semi-regular blog featuring pastors and other church leaders. Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA. This entry by Rev. Steve Otte, Pastor at Grace, Covina. 

On November 6 we all have an opportunity (and obligation in my opinion) to exercise our civic duty. It’s time to vote! Some of you take this responsibility very seriously, while others of you lost or never had interest in politics or voting. As Election Day approaches, I thought I’d offer a Christian perspective to politics and voting.

Over the years I’ve heard some people say that politics and religion don’t mix. There are many ways to interpret that statement. The idea of separation of Church and State is often given as a reason why politics and religion should be like oil and water. I think this is a misinterpretation of the 1st Amendment, but I don’t want to get sidetracked with interpreting Constitutional Law, so I’ll leave that one alone. Others think we should mix faith and politics because faith is a personal matter or personal relationship with God that has nothing to do with the public sphere of government. The first part of that statement is true, but it is only a partial truth because our faith should be lived out in a public way. This is what I’d like to focus on in this newsletter article.

Was Jesus political? That really depends on how you define ‘political’ and even with an agreed upon definition it is still a complicated question. One of the problems is that Jesus 1st century context was radically different politically than our 21st century context, so it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges. But, Jesus’ public ministry was critical of those in authority, both the Jewish religious leadership and the Roman Empire. His problem with them was a matter of justice and ethics, something that is relatable to our western democracy. The incarnation gave proof that the Kingdom of God was near and He encouraged everyone who had ears to hear to live according to the ethics of God’s Kingdom and not the ethics of the earthly authorities. This is at the center of the conflict between Jesus and those who made and enforced public and religious policy.

Jesus didn’t speak out against unjust government or religion to influence people to elect those eligible for office because neither the Roman Empire nor the Jewish religious system operated as our democracy. But, being a disciple of Jesus necessarily means we should give priority to the ethics and values of the Kingdom of God over the societal and cultural norms and ethics. This means that we should also strive for a just world like Jesus did, and exercising our right to vote gives us an opportunity to have an impact.

The ethics of the Kingdom of God and a moral compass informed and guided by our faith should take precedent over party affiliations, personal biases, and emotion. Unfortunately this isn’t a simple black and white guide for how we navigate the complicated issues and political offices that will be on the ballot, because our political system isn’t based on our Christian world-view. But, I believe thinking about whom or what issues deserve our vote from the lens of our faith is part of what it means for us to be salt and light in the world we live in. I encourage you all to vote and I encourage you all to vote not strictly as a Democrat, Republican, Green Party or other political ideology.

I encourage all of you who vote to do so with your understanding of what Jesus taught us about the Kingdom He ushered in and proclaimed as God’s will.

Dear Church Archive 

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