2008-01-25 / Columnists

The Progressive

Jesus and Politics
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

The practice of Christian wisdom consists,

beloved, not in an eloquent ability to preach

or in the desire for fame and glory, but in that

sincere and willing humility in which our lord

Jesus Christ himself chose

St. Leo the Great 452ce (Pope)

In recent days both political parties and their presidential candidates appear to be using religious belief and their commitment to Christian orthodoxy as a reason for selecting them when we vote in November. It is true that religious beliefs play a role in formulating our political viewpoints. At the same time, believers in Christ's divinity do not need to mix religious doctrine into the political scene. It distorts Christ's message and makes for a dangerous political practice. Many of us do not subscribe to the belief that Christ was/is divine. All of us can subscribe to his message of peace and brotherhood.

Christ's message, however, does have a political component. He was the man who had the most powerful influence in history. Much good and evil has been done in his name. His life reminds us of the necessity of examining our own lives. He once said "Amen I say to you unless you change and become child like, you will not even step into the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 18 1-3). We all need to realize the innocence of a child in ourselves to achieve happiness. When children play, love, hate, run, attempt behaving like an adult, they do it with passion. They live life to the fullest concentrating on the present, not the past or future.

Why do we lose our passion?

Why do we lose our sense of possibility of now?

Many on the political religious right are committed to returning to traditional values, especially regarding sexual mores. It is also interesting to note that Jesus in his teachings did not mention sexual matters often and was more concerned with the nature of forgiveness, non-violence, and non-judgmental behavior. Does anyone remember his remark regarding the throwing of stones?

If this missive appears to be a sermon on Christ's teachings, please understand his teachings do have an impact on the political processes. Many political movements were a result of his teachings. Abolition of slavery, civil rights, prohibition, some aspects of the labor movement, and the campaign to restrict abortions and capital punishment are examples of movements influenced by Christian activism. You may not agree with all the movements but we cannot negate the influence of belief on people.

While Christ's message should and does influence our political viewpoints, we cannot, as Americans, consider our beliefs to be the only viewpoints that should be expressed in the political forum. We cannot and must not demand a candidate to be Christian or follow certain Christian doctrine. I do not expect American political candidates to swear allegiance to Rome, believe in the virgin birth or in the trinity, or not be divorced. Why do we have debate regarding Mormonism? Why is it important to know if a Roman Catholic candidate is eligible to partake in the Communion service? Why does a candidate need to profess belief in Christ's divinity? Why is it important to know if one candidate was instructed by a parent to be a Moslem? This has no role in American politics.

Christ did have a lesson for all men. Muslims consider him a prophet. Gandhi was influenced by his life. Those lessons are simple and profound and most of us, both believer and not, subscribe to them. We acknowledge we should feed the hungry, give clothing to the less privileged, and visit the sick and those in prison. To treat others, as we would like to be treated is the universal belief of all religions and many philosophies.

Tony Benn is a British socialist who is also a believer in Christ. He feels Christ was a man who came with a revolutionary political message. But he also states Christ did not give us instructions regarding taxation rates, political districting, economic policies, or whether to filibuster or adjourn. The teachings of Christ give us a broad outline regarding the issues of war and peace and social justice.

Christ's message was for all of us to participate in a great objective, for example, to help eradicate poverty or need, or to help find a cure for a disease. We need to seek leaders who assist us on our journey to become people who do treat others, including the expectant unwed mother, the undocumented worker, the worker who desires dignity and a safe workplace, a boy who must balance his love of country with the fact that the nation's leaders are waging an unjustified war, as ourselves. This is the challenge for all of us.

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