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  • Writer's pictureRev. Christopher Tweel

Politician Jesus


In a recent conversation with some folks it came to light that there were a small cadre that believed Jesus wasn't "political."

Defining this as true or not largely depends on our definition of "political" which is anything but a given standard, so, instead let's unpack the things that Jesus did do in regard to the political life of that time.


We know several things offhand without doing much research or digging in too deeply to particular verses from the 4 Gospels. These are things we can all remember from the stories we learned early in our entry to the Christian narrative.

First, we have the story of John the Baptist. Obviously a follower of Christ, and probably someone who could be counted as an early disciple in the loosest meaning of that phrase, and yet, was he political? Of course. One of the first accounts we have of John is that he condemned the moral relative actions of a political figure. Herod. This wasn't simply a condemnation of a diseased action, it was also commentary on the way in which the Jewish leadership was moving in a different political direction, that is, toward the politics of the Romans. Marriage wasn't an act of lust, it was a political statement and many Roman governors married family as a means of consolidating power and property.

In Luke 3:4, John admonishes the police force of the day to be content with their salaries and not to arrest people unjustly, that is, not to detain people on trumped up charges or engage in profiling.

Let's look at Christ himself though, surely there aren't that many instances of Jesus's action on the political field, otherwise, how could folks have gotten this image of who Christ was so perversely wrong?

After stories of healing and a lot of hours preaching about the way life should be, Jesus warns his people that they will be brought up in court at church and in the civil courts of the day because of what they believe (Matthew 10:17-20). And that they would be asked to testify falsely, and to instead wait for the words that would come from the Holy Spirit. This sounds like Jesus had an understanding that everything he was teaching was going to have political ramifications. So should still we occasionally suffer those same kinds of results today if we are truly following Jesus Christ.

Jesus speaks out to representatives of the tax code and about the tax laws, making political mandates from his pulpits.

Jesus casts demons out into the bodies of pigs who destroy themselves, an interpretive move that messes with the local economy of a Gentile land. It's the 1st century equivalent of dumping tea in the harbor to protest a government's position. Jesus' position is clear, he is hear to heal at the expense of the state if need be.

Even though the councils of the day told the early believers that were not allowed to speak, they civilly disobeyed the law in order to fulfill their obligation and call to testify. (Acts 4:18-21)

Peter and Paul were imprisoned by the government, because their words had political effect. The Roman government was lenient with theological differences in the Empire, but the Christian leaders were political activists every bit as much as they were spiritual ones, and so time in civil penitentiaries was authorized.


Even Jesus' answer to the question most meant to trap him, was a political move made by a spiritual majority. The established community of faith sought to trap Jesus by asking, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?"

Jesus responds, "Give the things that belong to Caesar to Caesar and the things that belong to God, to God."

Jesus' answer is often misunderstood much to our incredible loss.

This is not a separation of powers but an incredibly wily and theologically explosive response. Ask yourself -- "What belongs to God?" Well, everything right? And that would have been the answer of the first century Jew as well. Y

et, you could hear this and think the opposite if you were not a believer. In one stroke Jesus declares the world be used to serve the purposes of God, while appearing to respect the civil leadership. In this way Jesus is truly asking a deeper question: "Who do you really believe to be the owner, the originator of all things?"

Who do we believe owns all things?

My focus will always be on owning the fact that all creation belongs only to God. If my actions are interpreted as political, then so be it. I must follow the life of Christ. Working against lies that are spread to destroy others. Standing in opposition of hate and misogyny and racism and fear. Speaking truth to the powers of our world as led by the Holy Spirit. Working to give voice to those who have been marginalized. Lifting up the broken across every strata of race and economy. To give water, shelter, food, and comfort to the people who have been pushed aside and incarcerated by the world. These things are inexorably tied to the beautiful freedom we have been gifted through the sacrifice and new covenant of Jesus Christ. They cannot be separated.

The Bible, and especially Jesus and his followers, have always been political. To imagine that the church is not meant to speak out against anti-Christian policies is ludicrous. To cite the separation of church and state to that end is a misunderstanding about what that measure intended to do; it was meant to protect churches from interference by the state, and to insure that there would never be a state religion that ruled the democracy of the nation. It was not intended to muzzle the church from influencing capitol hill. Much the opposite, it paves the way for churches and Christians to speak out against tyranny and injustice. The only thing we shouldn't do is endorse candidates directly, or become the mouthpiece of a political movement, as opposed to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

When we say that we don't want the church, or our pastors, to be "political" not only are we betraying our deep misunderstanding of the Gospel that Jesus brought, but we are also betraying our own discomfort with the idea that Christianity and our theological beliefs might actually require deep change in our hearts and a movement of action in our daily lives. We live in a political universe and while we can and should frame that universe with the understanding of the Grace of Jesus Christ and our effort to bring the Kingdom work of God to bear, we cannot escape the places where our theology is required to live out in every moment of our lives outside the church building. Too much is at stake for us to willfully use our privileged to separate our lives and stay silent while our elected officials persecute and demean God's children.

Even when we talk about being uncomfortable with pastors or congregants who pursue "social justice" we are co-opting the language of the secular and applying it to our faith life unfairly. There is no Christian concept of "social justice," there is only God's Justice. The habits of people who believe in "social justice" are the habits of Christ in the Gospels. In the secular world these actions are based on the understanding (by definition) of human rights, and the way that opportunities and privileges are distributed with equity. Jesus Christ was constantly on the side of the outcast, the broken, the marginalized and fought the established church and political hierarchies on their behalf. Giving voice to those who had no voice and creating a church that at its founding distributed it wealth equally with the consequences of death for those who tried to withhold or seek their own wealth and standing.

That is who Jesus Christ is and who the church was intended to be. There can be no doubt. If we want to use the concept of "social justice," Jesus Christ was the originator of this concept and its most profound activist.


The fact is that when we call preachers or other Christians "political" we are revealing our own discomfort with people who appear to lean too far into the habits of Christ and cause us to analyze our own action, or lack of action, in a way that frustrates us. To make "social justice" a bad turn of phrase that dismisses people is to dismiss the heart of Christ's real action on earth that was a part of the Salvation message and work that was done for all humankind.

To recoil from the "political" work of Christ and to downplay the work of "social justice" people is to dangerously pay homage to our own inner fear and lack of bravery in a time of tribulation and fear, when what we most direly need are people who can fully own their past and step out in witness to the Good Work of Christ in the world for every person. To do anything less is to fail as a follower of Christ, and destroy the integrity of the church as a force of God's Will on earth. This more than anything else is at the root of the national malaise and frustration with the hurtful nature of the church that has become the common vernacular.

We can do better. We are called to do better. Working so that all people can have a place at God's table in safety and love isn't a political action, it's the purpose of our lives as humans created by God. It's the vellum of the covenant that God reminds us of every time we share communion. It's who we are meant to be.

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