Presidential Candidates Arguing Over Who Is a Better Christian Now
Despite the fact that the U.S. debt is over $15 trillion and growing, none of the major presidential candidates seem to be interested in addressing it. This unsustainable debt crisis is the only meaningful issue facing the nation, so naturally everyone would prefer to talk about something else, such as whether or not the candidates are Christian enough. Fair enough, let’s have at it.
President Barack Obama opened this can of worms at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month when he said his policies are motivated in part by his Christian faith. This led Rick Santorum, who is somehow a legitimate contender for the GOP presidential nomination, to criticize Obama’s agenda as not being based on the Bible. For our story this week, let’s have a look at a few Bible passages and see if we can guess which of these two jokers Jesus might have voted for.
The story so far…
A lot of conservatives got their American-flag-embroidered panties in a twist when Obama basically said Jesus would want him to raise taxes on the rich. Conservatives/Republicans have somehow anointed themselves as Christ’s favored political party, so it really got under their skins when Obama laid this nuanced theological interpretation on them:
And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.
But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain.
It wasn’t long before the GOP’s most prominent non-Mormon candidate cried blasphemy. Rick Santorum, a man so painfully socially conservative that he would probably support a constitutional amendment legalizing the hunting of homosexuals for sport, argued that Obama’s agenda is “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”
As is customary, Santorum walked back his comments shortly after making them. But the cat was out of the bag and Santorum’s incautious phrasing put the issue of Obama’s Christian faith front and center. Based on the voting patterns of the last couple of decades, it’s not exactly a secret that Republicans and those who vote Republican think of themselves as better Christians than Democrats and liberals.
This isn’t really a subjective issue. The Bible is a very popular book with numerous translations, so it’s easy to refer to it if we have questions about which American political party Jesus would have supported. Jesus obviously wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but let’s pretend Christ is an eligible American voter. Based on the Bible, what agenda would he be more likely to support?
Let’s first have a look at the quote Obama cited – “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” That’s from Luke 12, and the context isn’t really about taxation or inequality. Here’s the whole passage:
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
What the hell does any of that mean? The only thing I got out of reading that whole thing is Jesus doesn’t seem to have any problems with beating servants. Maybe that wasn’t the best passage for Obama to cite in defense of social justice.
But there are plenty of others that he might have. There are more than a few instances in the Bible where Jesus appears to be friendly to the Obama agenda. Contra Santorum, here are a few things we know about Jesus from a simple reading of the Bible.
Jesus said rich people don’t go to heaven
This is the most obvious example, but it never gets old. In three of the Gospels—Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25—Jesus makes his infamous proclamation that it would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Why Obama didn’t use that quote instead is beyond me, there could be no clearer support for tax hikes on the rich. Just before the camel/needle quote, Jesus tells some rich guy he has to sell everything he has and give to the poor if he wants to have treasures in heaven. What Bible is Rick Santorum reading?
Jesus said taxation is consistent with God’s law
Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25 all contain the “render unto Caesar” story, in which Jesus says paying taxes is permissible because Caesar’s likeness appears on coins. Jesus doesn’t say anything about the limits of Caesar’s power to levy taxes. In fact, Jesus seems to think Caesar’s authority to tax is fairly extensive. By Jesus’ standard, since Obama is the head of state and is technically responsible for printing money, it all belongs to him.
Jesus was a friend of tax collectors
There are several passages in the Bible where Jesus and his followers are depicted as fraternizing with tax collectors, for which they are criticized by the Pharisees. Tax collectors are consistently portrayed as on the side of righteousness. At one point, in Luke 3:13-14, tax collectors ask John the Baptist for guidance, and he tells them “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Modern day tax collectors are authorized to collect quite a lot, and their duties are clearly endorsed by the Bible.
Jesus was hostile to bankers
Jesus driving the “money changers” out of the temple is another memorable scene. It is unclear what right Jesus had to go into some temple and throw people out, since the Bible never mentions that Jesus had any actual claim to that property—in fact, Jesus appears to be homeless throughout the Gospels. Nevertheless, his obvious contempt for bankers and willingness to throw people out of some place that he doesn’t own puts him in line with the Occupy Wall Street folks.
It’s hard to believe we still elect candidates based on how well their agendas reflect Christian theology, but apparently we do. In that case, a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals Jesus to be sympathetic to tax collectors, openly disdainful of the rich, and dubious at best on property rights. It’s plain to see that Jesus would be receptive to Democrat policies. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms about Obama’s agenda, but it’s hard to argue that it isn’t based on the Bible.
On the other hand, Jesus had pretty conservative views about the sanctity of marriage. In Mark 10:11-12, Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Maybe Santorum and Jesus have some things in common after all.