Jesus would make a bad president

Jesus would make a bad president. It’s hard to imagine Jesus wearing a “God Bless Rome” t-shirt and promoting his campaign with stickers and buttons and a hundred-million-dollar campaign. And he would be considerably uncomfortable as the commander-in-chief of the largest military in the world. Nevertheless, he was political. All of his titles granted him political authority. [But] His politics aspired to something different from state power. [Jesus for President, p. 86]

I’m making my way through section two of the Jesus for President, a summary of the life and ministry of Jesus juxtaposed with Ceasar and the politics of the Roman Empire. The first couple of pages outline some of the gospel language that has become so familiar to us via mutliple readings of the text, and how in their original context they were powefully subversive. Gospel, Empire, Christ, Ekklesia, Parousia, Lord, Saviour – all of these terms had significant political meaning throughout the Roman Empire, and Jesus picks them up and turns them upside down, introducing up a new [yet old] way of being, urging his followers to be the unique, peculiar and set-apart people that began with Abraham. [p. 71]

Here are some other timbits that I enjoyed from this section:

– We all believe that Jesus’ message was one of forgiveness and freedom, but typically we use this language in relation to sin. However, these terms were also used by Jesus in regards to economics, ie: forgiveness and debts and freedom for slaves in accordance with the Jubilee economics of the O.T. Another example of redefining gospel language to uncover its very real significance in the here and now.

– In the the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refuses to give in to black and white thinking and presents ‘Option 3’. Turn the other cheek, walk a second mile, get naked and give away all your clothes – Jesus is presenting culturally radical alternatives that endorse neither passivity nor violence, neither submission nor assault and neither fight nor flight. The Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes just don’t seem like the best tools to lead an empire or a superpower. Jesus’ truth is that if you want to save your life, you will lose it. It’s a whole new way to view the age-old quest for success in the world. [p. 95]

I am enjoying the book, taking my time with it to soak it in and because things are busy around here. I hope the blog reader is enjoying posts on the book, and feel free to drop a comment if you want to discuss any of these points.

  1. Jesus would make a bad president, but that’s only because He’s the King of Kings. He isn’t into Democracy, He’s a Monarchist!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rob.

    I’m not sure I would call Jesus a monarchist, really. Perhaps you’re missing the point a little bit.

    ie: His politics aspired to something different from state power.

  3. I think I understand what Rob is saying and yet also what Ian is saying. The reality is that many churches in America see Democracy as a “biblical method” for running a country, a church, or an organization. When in fact the majority was usually wrong in the Scriptures (kind of ironic isn’t it). Ian is right in that the understanding of power that Jesus speaks should shame many an American “Christian” who thinks the kingdom will grow as long as we win the White House and can use power to legislate the Kingdom.

    Nice blog, glad I ran across it.


  4. i think rob was kidding.

    jesus would make a bad president because he would stop giving breaks to major corporations and actually give a haagen-dazs about people on the margins of society. i wonder how the budget would be reworked if jesus were president.

    oh well, i’d still consider voting for him.

  5. thanks for the comments.

    i think to ask whether or not Jesus would make a good president and if you would vote for him is essentially the wrong question. it’s too bad that is the title of the book, really. it kind of confuses things.

    as has been quoted on this blog before, the kingdom of God is at its best on the margins of society, far from the White House, Parliament Hill etc.

    • Mike
    • April 2nd, 2008

    Amish for homeland security. I liked the part about turning the cheek. And the story about the soldier and Wal-Mart. good book.

  6. (I thought being a King makes you a Monarchist…) :\

    Actually Jt*, I wasn’t kidding. See, there’s this debate that goes on every now and then: is Jesus a Democrat or a Republican? The answer of course is neither, because he’s a King (Monarchist). When He comes back again in glory, He won’t be taking sides, He’ll be taking over! (Remember the OT story: “Are you on our side or their side?” Answer: “I’m on MY side.”)

    But yes, Ian, I agree with you: “His politics aspired to something different from state power,” which is why He barely interacted with the state of Rome. He wasn’t trying to change politics, He was trying to change hearts.

  7. Rob
    I disagree- he was changing hearts and politics, paving the way for the church as the alternative polis- isn’t that what ekklesia was all about?

    • JT
    • April 3rd, 2008

    rob i disagree that christ will be taking over when he returns. i think, maybe, it’s more accurate to say christ has ALREADY taken over. everything has ALREADY changed. and he didn’t merely change hearts or politics, rather, he changed everything.

    chris: i like talking about the church as an alternative community, demonstrating the way of Jesus and bringing about new creation in so doing. good point!

  8. @ Rob – I’m still not comfortable with calling Jesus a Monarchist. I would say that while he did not cozy up to the state like many western Christians today, he totally interacted with Rome in that he provided a subversive alternative. Like Chris said, he was not just about changing hearts, but also changing the way we interact with the world around us, including our politics, economics etc.

    @ JT – I would say we currently live in the tension between the now and the not yet. [thank you, Thompson]. Clearly things have not already fully changed, but we, like you said, are to ‘demonstrating the way of Jesus and bringing about new creation in so doing.’ Well said.

  9. I wonder if we’re getting into a semantics battle here. I should have been more specific. When I say politics I’m refering to a state. Everything I read about Jesus says He wasn’t really concerned with the state, He was more interested in changing people (individuals) from the inside out. In fact, Judas betrayed Him because He DIDN’T set up a new kingdom in the form of a state. The church is supposed to be a community in the world that interacts with the greater world community. Which is why…

    Chris – an “alternative” polis? Makes it sound like a commune, or the Amish. I’m thinking more along the lines of a concurrent polis. Still in the world, not of it. Christendom (i.e. the Holy Roman Empire) proved that if humans (even Christians) lead a theocratic state, we will get it wrong eventually. Which brings me to…

    JT – “…he changed everything.” excellent way to put it. Love it. Except, like Ian says, He’s still not quite ALL here yet, hence the tension.


    Ian – from Webster: monarchy: “undivided rule or absolute sovereignty by a single person” hmmm… šŸ™‚

  10. @ Rob – I think Jesus said and did many things that demonstrated that he was concerned with matters of state and politics. He was for sure interested in changing hearts, but he was also, in my estimation, interested in changing political and societal systems. He redefined what it means to have power. I echo Chris in saying he did come to offer an alternative polis, causing us to rethink and reshape everything. I agree with you in saying that we have definitely got it wrong, and I think we need to read the gospels deeper than to seek an answer as to how we can get to heaven when we die.

    Gotta go.

    Love the discussion.

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