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?
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.“