Joel Elliott Mooneyhan
On Jesus, Politics, & Ministry: Part One
Since election season in 2016 ramped up and our new President was sworn in earlier this year and everything since then, it’s been interesting to observe people’s reactions and discussions about politics, both online and in person. As a person of faith, it is even more interesting to see how fellow Christians express their views, everyone appealing to the same Bible and the same Jesus to make points on both sides of a given issue. But rather than realizing that what this means is that Jesus is not in anyone’s pocket, people tend to think it means “Jesus is in our pocket and those other people don’t understand who Jesus really is.”
The best way I have heard this expressed is that we all tend to imagine that the people who Jesus cares about the most are the people who the people we dislike, dislike. If it takes a minute to get your head around that, that’s okay. It took me a minute, too.
In other words, we imagine our Ideological Adversaries, and we imagine the people who (we think) they do not care about, or the people who (we think) they actively oppress, and we think, “Jesus cares about THOSE people,” i.e., the Victims of Our Adversaries' Prejudice.
A few things in response.
First of all, anytime you imagine that everyone in a particular political party, or everyone who voted a particular way, must also share all the same opinions about a given issue, then you are actually projecting your own prejudice onto them. Not all Republicans oppose gay marriage. Not all Democrats are pro-abortion. Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump is an alt-right homophobe, and not everyone who voted for Hillary Clinton is a left-wing feminazi. When you throw blanket statements around about people who disagree with you, and lump everyone in with the most extremes of a side just to validate your assumptions, then you are guilty of the same presumption that you indict others for. It is entirely possible that people who disagree with you might do so with the same intelligence and conviction with which you hold your opinions. Whom a person votes for might reveal a great deal about what they value, but so too do your own political stances, and maybe both you and the other person have equally valid (or equally invalid) reasons for voting the way you do. I digress.
There is a tendency for Christians to invoke Jesus as a way to validate one’s opinion with others of the faith who may have a different outlook on the world. “Jesus cared about (pick a group), and that’s why I care about them.”
Good for you. You know the problem with that, aside from being sanctimonious? Jesus didn’t care about one group. In fact, he didn’t really seem to deal with “groups.” He cared about “humanity.” After all, God incarnate would naturally care about the whole of those who bear his image. He didn’t care about one group over and against another.
Jesus was seen to have cared for a rich man who extorted money from people and people with no money at all; a woman caught in adultery and a man who was righteous from birth; a soldier of a foreign occupying army and a woman from an ethnic underclass. The list can go on and on. The point is, if Jesus were here, it is likely that while he would take the part of someone or something you care deeply about, he would also take the part of someone who you, this week, have turned your nose up at, or who you have thought poorly of, or who you have flat out overlooked. No one is excluded from Christ’s love and no one is exempt from Christ’s conviction.
Jesus would love a poor immigrant as much as he would love a Wall Street Banker. Jesus would love a person drunk out of his mind on Saturday as much as he would love a person leading worship on Sunday. He’d love everyone who voted for Donald Trump and he’d love everyone who voted for Hillary Clinton, and he’d love both of them as well.
At the same time, he’d probably have some harsh words for people. He’d have harsh words for those who do put conditions on the definition or the sanctity of life, he’d have harsh words for people who do not believe in good stewardship of the planet, he’d have harsh words for those who neglect the poor, the hungry, and the homeless, and he’d have harsh words for people who refuse to recognize that there are people who with money, food and nice houses who need ministry just as badly. He’d have harsh words to say to Donald Trump and he’d have harsh words to say to Barack Obama and he’d have harsh words to say to George W. Bush ad he’d have harsh words to say to Bill Clinton. He’d have harsh words to say to me.
But you know what else? He’d also love me. And he’d love the people who I don’t love like I should. And he’d invite me to love them rather than to use his name to bully them or demean them or insult them or make them out to be heretics or bullies or People Who Just Don’t Understand What Jesus Was About. Because if that’s what I think of them, then maybe I don’t understand Jesus any better than I imagine they do.
Jesus absolutely cares about that one group or that one issue that you are so passionate about. But he also cares about people who you never give a second thought to, and you may or may not be as right on that issue as you think. No one is in greater or worse need of ministry simply because of your perception of their place in society. And there is always a possibility that you have figured something wrong. We all need love, we all need grace. Best thing about that, is Jesus extended love and grace to everyone, you and me included.
It’d be pretty cool if we got on board.