‘President Christ’ Just Doesn’t Sound Right

‘President Christ’ Just Doesn’t Sound Right

During a CNN republican presidential primary debate in 2007, a question was put to Mike Huckabee via YouTube: “The death penalty.  What would Jesus do?”  After a lengthy response regarding his own use of the death penalty as the Governor of Arkansas, the moderator refocused Huckabee on the original question asking again, “What would Jesus do?”

The anti-death penalty advocate might say, “Aha!”
The pro-death penalty advocate might say, “Fry ‘em.”
Huckabee replied, “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office.”

While this may be an entertaining, self-deprecating answer, I think it really speaks to the (im)plausibility of mixing politics and Christianity.  Below are a few of my own questions as well as my attempts to answer them.  If you think you have a better response, let me know in the comments.

1. Could Christianity function as a political system?
Christianity was, very intentionally, not a political answer to an earthly problem.  First-century Jews (as well as contemporary Jews) were looking for the Messianic Age, in which they would be brought back from diaspora to live under the spiritual and political protection of the Mashiach in the Holy Land.  Seeing as Jesus did not exactly promise deliverance from occupiers (but did claim to be the Son of God), he could not have been accepted as one bringing the consolation of Israel for which Simeon awaited.  So they killed him.  While there are certainly laws within Christianity concerning behavior, they are of a spiritual nature as are the consequences.  This is also unlike Islam, which not only has laws, but earthly punishments, taxes, political structure and a judicial system.

2. Could a politician be successful if his policies perfectly reflected Christianity? (i.e. Could Jesus be elected?)
Until recently, no serious Republican would run for President while holding a completely pro-life stance – the three exceptions (incest, rape, life of the mother) were always cited lest the candidate alienate too many potential voters.  It could be said that whether the candidate actually believed in the exceptions or not was irrelevant, since the likelihood of any bill threatening them was next to nothing; sacrificing principle for a chance to make an effective change elsewhere.  Certainly, Jesus would not sell out his principles for the sake of being elected, which is one of the reasons I doubt that he would be elected at all (not to say that voters only elect sell-outs, just those without principles).  I suppose it stands to reason that if Jesus couldn’t be elected, a politician who was exactly like him wouldn’t win the presidency, either.  The balance then lies in the candidate who can step away from WWJD just enough to get elected.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a President with a system of morally perfect policies.  But there are enough people out there desiring minimal personal responsibility who would keep someone advocating for total personal responsibility out of office.

3. If Jesus were unelectable, is it because of the two-party system?
With each party claiming the moral high-ground, there’s a lot of skepticism about politicians claiming the mantle of righteousness.  Democrats see Republicans saying, “Jesus said we’ll always have the poor – so why try to eliminate poverty?” Meanwhile, Republicans see Democrats claiming Christ’s command, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” as carte blanche for taxation and government control.

Because each party can be found lacking in certain moral areas (that’s not to say that the other party possesses that quality), I can’t imagine Christ being a ‘party man’ in the first place.  He would have to be considered some sort of maverick, but even still, Republican and Democrat party leaders very often appeal to the same two-edged sword of government regulation.

I believe that Christ’s only chance would be to run as an Independent, using the government to incentivize charity instead of forcing it or ignoring a lack of it.  Taxes for Medicare are removed and donations to the Medicare fund are 100% deductible.  How’s that for a campaign promise?

4. If Jesus did run for president, from which political party would he draw the most votes?

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As it is, nobody is perfect – especially, it seems, in politics.  Many candidates make morally or ethically-conflicting decisions for a their own political expediency and it is often believed that participating in ‘necessary evils’ are the only way to the top – or as Rick Santorum put it, “politics is a team sport.

13 Comments

  1. I think Jesus was not trying to establish a political system in a direct sense, but I think He did intend to found the Kingdom of God which, through the Church and her members, would establish political systems, and carry them out in a distinctly and faithfully Christian manner. I think there have been faithful Christian politicians (Sts. Elizabeth of Hungary and Louis of France), but one of the shortcomings of our republican-democratic system is that leaders must appeal to the everyman, and the everyman is a nominal Christian at best. In a perfectly catechized society, it might work (in fact, in a society with elected leaders, catechesis is a political duty of parents, not merely a religious one). However, in our current state, faithful Christians are not elected, and I think it’s partly the fault of the two-party system, but mostly the fault of bad catechesis as a society.

  2. Jesus would vote for Ron Paul

  3. When faced with the only capital case He was ever called to comment upon, our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ gave the qualifications for the executioners. See John 8.

    • “…for the executioners” of that particular case.

      (with all due respect to you, Fr. Basil)

      • Two questions, clarification:

        1. How many other capital cases was Jesus called upon to adjudicate?

        2. How many times must Jesus say or do something for it to be definitive?

  4. Dear Fr.,

    If Christ’s judgment in that case were definitive in the sense that He thereby abolished capital punishment [since no man is sinless], why did the apostles not understand this and teach us that capital punishment had been abolished? Not even the apostle that wrote the incident into his gospel narrative?

    • For the same reason the apostles didn’t understand and teach that slavery had been abolished. The apostles didn’t have everything perfectly right (Paul, for instance, clearly thought that Christ’s return was immediately immanent, as in within his lifetime). It takes time to fully digest the teachings of a God become man, and it is not surprising that it was not a major part of the immediate program.

      • A more significant question is, “If Christ’s judgment in that case were definitive in the sense that He thereby abolished capital punishment, why has this NEVER been the Teaching of the Church?”

        And no: The opinion of a priest (assuming that this is not someone merely posing as a priest) does not constitute Church Teaching. There *are* authoritative documents which give the Church’s Teaching, and although they express a strong preference for an absolute minimum number of executions, they *do not* state that the death penalty is inherently unjust (which would be inconsistent with both Scripture and Tradition) and carefully avoid an absolute, universal condemnation.

        • Because a penalty is allowed does not mean it need be imposed. Even earthly judges frequently have discretion about minimum punishments.

          My ecclesiastical status has nothing to do with my answer. If it matters to you, monks in the Eastern Christian tradition are always addressed as “Father,” the same way Eastern nuns are addressed as “Mother.”

          In fact, historically, monks were called “Father” before priests were. There are letters from Bp. John Carroll addressing his priests as “Mr.”.

  5. I’ll leave the heavy “what-if’s” to the theologians; all I know for sure is Obama is no friend to Pro Life Christians.

    Vote him out!

    Eric P.

  6. Andrew Sciba writes: “While there are certainly laws within Christianity concerning behavior, they are of a spiritual nature as are the consequences. This is also unlike Islam, which not only has laws, but earthly punishments, taxes, political structure and a judicial system.”

    What? My history reading tells me of more than a thousand years of Church control over people’s lives, complete with ‘laws, earthly punishments, taxes [tithes], political structure and a judicial system’. Most of that time it was the Roman Catholic Church involved; the Reformation changed very little in that regard. (‘Calvin ruled Geneva’ the standard histories tell us; Michael Servetus was executed at his order for religious offenses. John Bunyan was hounded for decades by the Established Church- C of E.)

    Now, the Bible- if taken as “Christianity”- does indeed limit itself to spiritual consequences. Jesus saw the Church/State combination coming and prayed to Jehovah to help his disciples avoid joining it: “These things Jesus spoke: and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: ‘… Now this is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent … I pray for them. I pray not for the world, but for them whom you have given me: because they are yours … the world has hated them: because they are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from evil.’” John 17, Douay

    • Certainly, Earthly rulers have tried to create a theocracy from Christianity – that doesn’t mean that’s how the religion was designed. My point is that these things like taxes and such are not built within Christianity the way they are Islam.

  7. I can just imagine a conversation 3,000 years ago between a handful of Jewish men having a conversation about what kind of ruler the Messiah would be after his return.

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