Was Jesus a Liberal Democrat?

My featured picture is a propaganda piece where a crucified Jesus is superimposed over a picture of a victorious Sandinista rebel, a sample of how Marxism has tried to use Jesus to advance their campaign to win the world by equating Jesus with the struggle of Marxism. (Our daughter poked fun at the Marxists by giving this picture the caption, “We got him!”)

Lots of folks today are trying to convince us that Jesus is, if not a Marxist, then at least a socialist or a partisan Democrat. We hear it all the time from the folks at Red Letter Christians (https://www.redletterchristians.org/), who insist that Jesus teaches their political point of view. Increasingly, we hear Jesus cited as our Biblical authority for illegal immigration, universal health care, and government spending as the way to show compassion for the poor. If you disagree, you are opposing Jesus.

My perspective: When I was in college 40 years ago, I myself believed that government spending was the answer to such problems. I believed that Republicans were automatically evil, because I said so. It took me many years to unlearn that. In those years, Communism fell (we’d never seen that happen before), and “voodoo economics” proved not to be voodoo after all.

So my thinking has changed. Some of my thinking can be found in pieces I have posted such as “Compassion at Gunpoint?” (https://pres-outlook.org/2011/06/compassion-at-gunpoint/) and “The Immigrant in Hebrew Law” (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/tomhobson/2017/11/immigrant-hebrew-law/). The point I wish to make today is that we can share Jesus’ passion about poverty, refugees, and health care, yet hold differing views on how to fulfill Jesus’ call to us in these areas, without invoking Jesus’ endorsement of our views.

We are told that the issue is love, and that Jesus is all about love. But love must be defined. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” (John 14:15) Jesus identifies a whole list of sins that come from the heart that defile a person, including greed, murder, deception, fornication, adultery, and aselgeia, a word for sexual offenses beyond fornication and adultery (Mark 7:21-22 – see my “Aselgeia in Mark 7:22,” https://www.bsw.org/filologia-neotestamentaria/vol-21-2008/-7936-963-941-955-947-949-953-945-in-mark-7-22/523/).

It's sad how, for the sake of partisan solutions on poverty and immigration, many evangelical Christians are also willing to support infanticide, sexual lawlessness, and even the transgender agenda. This is not the historical Jesus, but an idol. The historical Jesus would have had a meltdown at the thought of being associated with such moral positions.

Can we can agree on Jesus’ imperatives to care for the poor, the sick, and the immigrant, without claiming that Jesus endorses our fallible human solutions to these needs? Yes, let’s have the debate about how to effectively carry out Jesus’ imperatives, but let’s quit identifying Jesus with either side’s humanly fallible solutions.

Jesus is not a capitalist.  Jesus has sharp words for “mammon,” an innocent word for “wealth” in the writings of the rabbis, which becomes a downright evil power in the mouth of Jesus. But that does not make Jesus a socialist.

The closest that Jesus comes to socialism is where he says, “Whoever does not forsake all their possessions cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) I know of no socialist who has done what Jesus says: not Bernie Sanders, not AOC, not millennials on their I-phones, not the dictator of Venezuela. The early church came the closest to putting Jesus’ words into action, but even they found it hard to sustain the “all possessions in common” model this side of heaven.

But whatever he was, Jesus was not a Marxist. Marxism is not about the poor. It is about power. It is about replacing one oppressor with another (in the words of the Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”). The poor are just a useful means to that end. So is Jesus: a symbol who sometimes serves as a useful tool. But Jesus will not allow himself to be used as a Marxist tool. Or anybody else’s tool.