Is Jesus a liberal Democrat? Really?

"Jesus is a liberal Democrat."

So says Steven Colbert, the wise-cracking comedian who gives a regular dose of God to a generation that is largely absent from the pews, mostly by revealing the hypocrisy of Christian conservatives.  In last evening's show, he takes aim at his favorite target, Bill O'Reilly.

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Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
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Of course, Bill O'Reilly is low-hanging fruit.  Picking apart O'Reilly's theology is about as easy as getting a cold by walking through a childcare center in January.  The two lines that Colbert highlights from O'Reilly's piece – about Jesus not advocating any kind of service to the poor that is self-destructive, and the "God helps those who help themselves" quote – could be identified as theologically fraudulent by any Christian who has even a basic grasp of their catechism and Bible.   So I'm not sure that Colbert's rant here is very significant, except perhaps for the rather public smackdown of Bill O'Reilly's odd theology that it represents.

But there is something else that bothers me.  Yes, Colbert rightly highlights that many of those who would claim this country to be Christian seem to give little credence to the social dimensions and demands of the Gospel.  But those who champion Colbert as some sort of political genious and social prophet for our times seem to miss a very important dynamic in this whole equation – what can the government realistically do, and what should it do?  Just because Jesus fed the five thousand and told his followers to give their cloak and go the extra mile, should we expect such actions always to be taken by our government?  I'm not sure that the words of scripture necessary relate in a 1:1 correlation to the mission and tasks of government … do they? 

Jesus is not a liberal Democrat.  But neither is he a conservative Republican.  Any attempts to squeeze him into one of our 21st century political boxes is pure idolotry.

I'm a pastor, and in my line of work the words of scripture do apply in much more of a 1:1 correlation than they do in government.  Yet, in my congregation, how often do we send the poor away, to the government, to find assistance, because we don't think we have the means to help?  We who are committed to the words of scripture and the Way of Christ often feel that we cannot do what our Lord commands us to do, because of limited resources or priorities that might place paying the electric bill or the pastor's salary, or buying the youth group's foosball table, above feeding the hungry or giving money to the poor.  So if our churches, with crosses on our steeples and Gospel words on our lips, cannot do what they are commanded to do in relationship to the poor, why do we expect any more from the government?

Not everything that is good and holy and just can be accomplished by the government, just as the church cannot do everything that it is called to do by God.  So while it is fun to point out the speck of holy hypocrisy in our neighbor's eye, have we figured out what to do with the log that is in ours?  When we're done scratching at – or scratching out – our eyes, perhaps then we can figure out, however imperfectly, how to work together to do to the things our Lord calls us to do.

And yes, as if you couldn't tell from this post, I'm still trying to figure out a satisfying political philosophy …

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

15 thoughts on “Is Jesus a liberal Democrat? Really?

  1. Some suggest that the government wouldn’t have to do so many social service projects because if Christians were doing what the Bible commands (and perhaps we can add Jews to this, since much of this IS Old Testament), then there wouldn’t be so many needs out there. There is at least some small bit of truth in this. Of course, if we were to follow those Biblical mandates, we would have to give at least the Biblical 10% to the church to make this all possible.
    Then there is the verse in Luke about the Worker deserves his wage. So, how about Christian business people foregoing some of the profits and paying the workers more, so that they can spend more in the economy?
    Or giving away our extra coats?
    Lots of Bible verses we can base our economics on….and most don’t fit with our typical capitalist economic traditions.

  2. “And yes, as if you couldn’t tell from this post, I’m still trying to figure out a satisfying political philosophy …”
    … and you could maybe stand to lighten up a little. 🙂

  3. My interpretation & application of Colbert’s rant is that it’s less about legislation and more about an attitude shift. I, for one, am tired of people using the label of Christianity to do things that Jesus appears to renounce in Scripture. For me, it’s not about applying political labels, it’s about calling “b.s.” on the people who are smearing the social gospel as “communist”. If a comedian and satirist wants to use his national stage to offer a different perspective of what it means to be Christian, I’m all for it. I wasn’t as interested in him taking on O’Reilly (or Jon Stewart’s tirade against Gretchen Carlson last week)…I was more interested in his articulation of many “Christian” attitudes about the poor and needy.

  4. Hi Chris: I dislike cheap political point-scoring and agree with the thrust of this post–Jesus doesn’t fit into our contemporary political categories.
    On the other hand, I don’t think we can just throw up our hands and say that it’s a mystery whether the government can have a role in reducing poverty. Countries in Western Europe have roughly half the poverty rate of the USA (less in some cases). It’s no secret that a different mix of government policies can have very different results. We could (presumably) do it too if we wanted to. But our priorities seem to be fighting pointless wars and giving tax cuts to the already ultra-wealthy.
    While I definitely agree that Christians should be more willing to give away their money, no country I know of has substantially reduced poverty by relying only on private charity.

  5. Chris: I like what you seem to be getting at here, and it is something that has been on my mind as well lately, and it is this: we, as the church, have largely ceded some of our responsibilities in ministry to secular organizations (private social services and government). We may feel good about funding them, but those groups have no interest in preaching the gospel. On the other side of it, when the church preaches the gospel, but does not care for peoples’ physical needs as well, the gospel appears hollow. I would suggest more grassroot attempts at the congregational level to help deal with the issues in our community, rather than cede or responsiblility to another social service organization, government, or even denominational hierarchy. I think that is the only way that we can be sure that needs are being met and the gospel is being faithfully preached.

  6. “Is not this the kind of fasting I choose: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and bring the poor into your home?” – (Isaiah 58) I understand fasting to equate with worship, so if we don’t do the above, it seems to me that we are not really worshipping. And if what we do on Sunday is not worship, what’s the point? I think Isaiah is challenging us to WORSHIP every day by walking the walk.

  7. Hi Chris:
    You’re right to point out the idolatry of both sides, and I think you raise some of the key questions.
    When I read the O’Reilly column (before I saw the Colbert spoof), I groaned in pain at the excesses of such a theology of glory which would claim that Jesus was not self-sacrificial. But there’s also another sort of theology of glory on the other side, which presumes that salvation– or something very close to it– can be brought about by political solutions.
    Humility, unfortunately, is a virtue which is too often lacking in political discourse. What would a politics marked by the theology of the cross look like? I’m with you: I wish I knew.

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  10. I think that is the only way that we can be sure that needs are being met and the gospel is being faithfully preached. These all are really one of the wonderful blog i like it so much.

  11. If this is a Lutheran blog, how is it that so few of you know anything about the Bible?
    Most of you, I am certain, believe that Jesus is God. He could have cured everyone in the world with a snap of His fingers, and fed everyone as well. He chose not to. He did point out that war would continue with us and so would poverty.
    Many of our Lord’s illustrations (parables) were based upon free enterprise. A strong man protecting his home and possessions; an employer setting the wages for the work he wanted done (which wages were, in the illustration) extremely unequal.
    I would hope that here, those understand when Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” that He was not thinking about Jimmy Carter (or any other president) going to the Middle East to make Israel sign some phony peace treaty. True peace is peace with God, provided by our Lord’s death on the cross, and a peacemaker is someone who brings the gospel to us.
    Not long ago, I exchanged some writings with someone trying to claim that Jesus is a liberal. I recorded this discussion here:

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