Jesus: Conservative or Liberal?

Originally published on James and Dave’s Bible Page

In recent years, a popular slogan in the Christian world has been “WWJD?” or “What Would Jesus Do?” This poses a deep, probing question to all believers as we live to daily pattern our lives after the example of the Master. In every situation, Jesus always reflected His Father’s perfect wisdom, mercy and justice. In this election year, we have an opportunity to look at this from some unique angles. A new question could be posed: “HWJV?” or “How Would Jesus Vote?”

In today’s world, it is very easy to allow our perception of Jesus to be skewed by our ideology, attempting to define Him in light of our preconceived views. As a Christian whose political views generally lean to the conservative side, I still must recognize that both conservativism and liberalism are man-made philosophies, both having their respective limitations in regards to biblical truth. As Christian sociologist Tony Campolo astutely points out:

Republicans may dress Jesus in a Brooks Brothers suit while Democrats put Him in the denim work clothes of union workers…There is no better way for a political party to establish the legitimacy of its political point of view than to declare that Jesus is one of its members. This remaking of Jesus is not just some kind of harmless campaign technique…The Bible calls it idolatry! (see Romans 1:22-23, 25) (1)

I sincerely hope my intentions in writing this message will not be misunderstood. Jesus was not a political figure, and I am not attempting to present Him in that manner. Nonetheless, the Bible does tell us that civil government is to be an instrument of God in bringing order to society (see Romans 13), and in order for it to accomplish this, it is important that it be modeled after the message and example of Jesus.
Obviously, the political climate in which Jesus lived was vastly different from our own. To apply modern labels such as “conservative” or “liberal” to a person who lived on earth 2000 years ago is spurious to say the least. In fact, there were numerous political parties and factions in Jesus’ day, yet there is no evidence that He ever joined any of them.

Modern Christianity is sometimes criticized for attempting to tie the Gospel to a right wing political ideology. Unfortunately, some of this criticism is justifiable. As we will see, having a consistently Biblical world view will not always fit neatly into “left wing” or “right wing” categories. As we obey the Bible’s call to confront sin and moral decay, will we include confronting such sins as denying justice to the poor (Isaiah 10:1-3; Ezekiel 18:12; 22:29 ), exploiting the poor for material gain (Amos 6:1-7), and defrauding workers of their wages (Malachi 3:5)? While we rightfully speak out on behalf on the millions of children who die in abortion mills each year, should we not speak out just as loudly for the millions of children who die from malnutrition? These are not a matter of political ideology. They are matters of faithfulness to God’s Word.

On the other hand, many of those on the political left fall into the same error. While rightfully emphasizing Jesus’ call for justice to the poor and oppressed, liberals often tend to downplay His teachings on morality and holiness. This involves several fallacious leaps in logic. Some of the more common assertions include:

1. Jesus did not specifically refer to moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality, therefore He must have been indifferent, if not approving of them.
2. Jesus taught us to be peacemakers and to “turn the other cheek”, therefore He was a milquetoast pacifist who advocated peace at any cost and never condoned force or confrontation.
3. Jesus taught compassion for the poor, therefore He was militantly opposed to money, lived as a homeless beggar and indiscriminately condemned anyone who was wealthy.

As we shall see, all of these statements are in total contrast to the Biblical Jesus. In order to understand the world through Jesus’ eyes, we must first understand the world view He followed: Jesus was a devout, Torah observant Jew who believed and cherished the Old Testament and its ordinances. Although much so called “modern scholarship” has attempted to divorce Him from this, everything Jesus taught was based on, and consistent with, the 4000 years of Old Testament teaching that paved the way for Him (Matthew 5:17).

In light of this, Jesus would have wholeheartedly affirmed the Law’s decree that homosexuality is indeed a horrendous sin (Leviticus 18:22). In perfect harmony with God’s Law, Jesus taught that the only legitimate sexual activity is between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage (Mark 10:6-9). Similarly, He would have echoed the words of the Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, who said that God formed them in their mothers’ wombs (Isaiah 44:2, 24; 49:1-5, Jeremiah 1:5). Compare this to the commandment to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing” (Proverbs 31:8, NLT). In light of this, the notion that Jesus would have advocated abortion is blasphemous.

Modern society has often painted Jesus as a very “soft,” even effeminate persona. It is certainly true that Jesus teaches us to be followers of peace and to turn the other cheek when we are reviled or insulted (Matthew 5:9, 38-39). However, being a peacemaker is not necessarily the same as being a pacifist. Keep in mind that this is the same Jesus who specifically instructed His followers to buy a sword ( Luke 22:36). In one of His parables, He portrays Himself as a landowner who imposes the death penalty on an unjust servant ( Luke 19:12-27). When He encountered a Roman military leader (Matthew 8:5-10), Jesus did not rebuke him in the least for his military occupation. Instead, He commends the soldier for his great faith, a faith so strong and pure that it put all of Israel to shame. In all of these areas, Jesus’ teachings would be considered quite conservative by modern terms (2).

However, this hardly makes Jesus a right wing Republican. We cannot ignore the fact that a core element of Jesus’ teachings was compassion for the needy. Although we will discuss this in more detail later in this series, Jesus strongly taught that with material blessing comes responsibility, and that our use of it was an indicator of the genuineness of our faith: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21). One of these responsibilities is that we give generously to the poor and needy (Matthew 5:42; Luke 3:11; 14:12-14) . These wonderful teachings have inspired the founding of countless charities, hospitals and homeless shelters. In fact, we ignore them at our own peril: “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire…For I was hungry, and ye fed me not…In as much as you did not do it for the least of these, you did it not for me…” (Matthew 25:41-46).

Unfortunately, this solemn warning is totally ignored by many conservatives. Even in raising legitimate concerns over abuse in the welfare system, these concerns are often wrapped in rhetoric that is hardly consistent with the character of Jesus. An example would be the following from popular conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh:

The poor and lower classes in this country have gotten a free ride since the Great Depression when it became noble to be poor…The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples…I don’t have compassion for the poor…Encourage them to be economically equal members of this society, rather than a collection of sycophants sidling up to the pig and looking for the biggest nipple they can find (3).

It is often said that “Rush is Right,” and on many issues, he may very well be. However, he would also do well to heed the solemn warning of Proverbs 17:5: “Whosoever mocks the poor insults his Maker…”

Does this mean that Jesus would advocate the socialistic, class warfare approach of the political left? Not at all. Remember our thesis: Anything Jesus taught was totally consistent with the Laws which God had already established, including the Laws against theft, envy and covetousness (Exodus 20:15, 17). These things are soul-destroying sins in their own right (1Corinthians 6:10; Ephesians 5:5). As we will see, the biblical world view requires us to look at these complex issues in a different light.

It has been said that if a person were drowning, a conservative would throw a rope half way out, and say “OK, I’ve done my part, now you have to swim the rest of the way.” On the other hand, a liberal would throw the line all the way out, but then drop his end. Either way, the man likely drowns. This is what sets the Bible apart from conventional viewpoints. It is about helping the whole person, not just distributing handouts. Unless charity is done in conjunction with the Gospel, we are simply giving the person a full stomach, then sending them out on their way to a hopeless future.

In Part 2 of our study, we will examine in detail Jesus’ teachings on money and the poor, looking at several facets of His life and message which are often overlooked in discussing these issues. Then, in Part 3, we will discuss how this applies to us today by looking at the concept of biblical charity and how these timeless principles offer the only true hope to the world’s poor. In the meantime, let us always remember the stirring words of the Prophet Amos: “…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24, RSV).

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