“Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure but it sure does ruin the ice cream”, my friend Tony Campolo likes to say.
Yet this election, like many before, there is an unpleasantly nutty taste and many politicians have their finger on the blender.
Don’t get me wrong – as a Christian leader who has studied the Bible since I came to faith, it’s clear that central to the Christian tradition is a story of how well faith leaders and politicians work together.
But what’s strangely forgotten around election time is the important detail that faith leaders and politicians worked well together to organise the killing of Jesus.
Um, as you can imagine, no small concern for those of us who love Jesus.
In the election season many pollies are out on street corners showing off their “Christian” credentials. Yet I can think of a number of reasons why most pollies would want nothing to do with Jesus as he is described in the Bible.
1. No one would vote for Jesus.
Seriously. Firstly He’s one of those boat people. Well, at least one of those “donkey people”.
According to the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel his family were refugees who in the middle of the night had to flee and seek asylum.
He’s also a Middle Eastern man. Oh, and he’s not Christian. (Yep, he’s Jewish) He was involved in repeated seditious civil-disobedience and the religious right of his day repeatedly accused him of partying too hard and with all the wrong people.
Politicians and religious leaders today still find it convenient to scapegoat, alienate and demonise all the people Jesus loved hanging out with.
He was so poor he was sometimes homeless, with no place to lay his head.
Given this, it’s more than likely not only would we not vote for Jesus, both major parties would send him to Nauru or Papua New Guinea.
2. No one would vote for Christ’s election platform.
So what were the policies Jesus and his party ran on, all the way to… uh, the cross?
Can you imagine a foreign policy based on “love your enemies”? A foreign aid budget based on “love your neighbour as yourself”?
What would happen to our military spending with Jesus’ policy of “do not violently resist an evil person”?
What if real action on our unprecedented and irreversible ecological crisis was animated by “God so loved the world…”?
Or an asylum seeker policy based on Jesus’ words “Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me”? Talk about a bleeding heart! Jesus’ teachings and his example would have many saying he’s more out there than the Greens.
No wonder pollies and religious leaders were keen to knock him off.
Some (many of them Christian), will be quick to retort, “but Jarrod, we admire how you try to take Jesus seriously, but Christ taught a spiritual Gospel.”
But the spirituality of the early church put Christ’s “policies of love” into practice. Central to the early Christians living of Jesus’ politics of grace was the belief that it had to be voluntary.
Receiving and living God’s love could never be enforced on others because it would then cease being Jesus-like. Why? Well, surprisingly comedian Bill Maher sums it up well:
“Non violence was kinda Jesus’ trademark. Kinda his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales.”
After the resurrection the early Christians organised their communities around the nonviolent-love seen at Calvary that they believed conquered death. Think that’s ridiculous?
You’re not alone. Many, Christians throughout history would agree with you. You don’t have to be a church historian or know the names of Constantine, or Charlemagne, to know that much of Christian history looks nothing like Christ.
It might shock some to find out that in the first century the pagan emperor Caligula was getting it on with his horse, who incidentally he wanted to be part of the senate.
Yet the early Christians didn’t form “The Palestinian Christian Lobby Against Equine Senators and Bestiality”. They just rolled up their sleeves and got busy living God’s love in the power of Spirit, especially amongst the poor.
What does all this mean for me, engaging in a democratic system in 2013?
Well, I’m not looking for salvation from getting in a cardboard box and ticking boxes once every three years or so.
This is not just a horrible understanding of faith, it’s an anaemic way of deepening democracy. Voting is not my voice – letting my life speak is my voice.
Voting is just saying one thing in one place on one day. If that’s democracy, we are all stuffed. So have your say, but don’t silence yourself by outsourcing your power to politicians.
Regardless of the result come Sunday, I’m still going to daily seek to live the politics of God’s love, especially for “the least of these”.
So maybe some helpful things to remind Christian friends who are voting (instead of being fined):
1. Don’t vote for yourself
Use your vote for the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the common good.
2. “Christian” doesn’t equal “Christ-like”
Don’t think voting for a party or politician calling themselves “Christian” equals “Christ-like”. The KKK claim to be a Christian organisation. Awkward.
An easy question is: Who are seeking the common good, especially for “the least of these” in a way that looks like an approximation of love? (Yep, it’s hard.)
3. This isn’t America (know our preferential voting system).
Understand Australia’s Westminster-federalist-preferential-voting-hybrid system enough to know you don’t waste your vote when voting for a minor party. This short video is a helpful two minute run down.
4. Don’t vote for parties or personalities – vote for policies
This isn’t football. Don’t just choose a team. This isn’t Australian Idol.
Don’t just choose personalities. Find out about real polices that will help build the common good for the least fortunate. ABC’s Vote Compass is the best tool I’ve seen to work out who best represents you on issues you care about. (You can even just click “neutral” on issues you don’t care about and forward to ones you do).
There’s nothing like prayer to bring us to a humble place of clarity that sometimes the best we can do is “love our crooked neighbour with our crooked selves” as Dr. Cornel West likes to say. And talking humility…
6. Don’t be a jerk
Sunday, this is all over. You have mates and family who even when prioritising the common good, will think there’s a different way to do it than you. So don’t be a jerk. We need to work together and demonising those you disagree with isn’t a sign you are right, it’s just a sign you are being a jerk.
So may our ice-cream be sweet, and please God, let us grow something good for the most vulnerable out of this stinking manure.