Christianity seems to be alive and well in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Most of the candidates, including Donald Trump profess to be Christians. Some are Roman Catholics some Evangelicals and some are mainstream Protestants. They have each talked about their faith repeatedly and tell us that faith has helped form their values and helped to make them who they are.
Who was Jesus and what were his teachings and values? The first thing that most people know but seem to forget is that Jesus was a Jew. He was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died as a Jew. He was a practicing Jew who was familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and often made reference to them. He was in a long line of prophets, healers and teachers who called the Jewish people to a deeper faith in the one true God. He believed that God was his father, his ABBA, a term that could be translated as daddy. It meant intimacy with God. His mission was to bring his people to a life filled with the Spirit of God and transformed by the power of God's Unconditional Love.
He believed in the Law of Moses but knew that it was not an end in itself but rather a way to God. At times he challenged the Law in the name of love and service. He knew that God was not a harsh judge who watched every move we make and every failure and sin we may commit. He saw that the way to God was first in accepting God's powerful love and then sharing it with others, not just those like us but everyone. This is most clear in the parable of the Prodigal Son in which a father forgives his wayward son who has left the family, squandered his inheritance and led a tragic life. He returns and the father does not punish him or condemn him but embraces him. Keeping the Law is important and so are good deeds but we are saved in the all forgiving crazy love of God our Father. I wonder how many of our presidential candidates really believe that. I hope they all do.
Jesus came to preach to his own people but he was not exclusionary. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a hated heretic who is the only one who stops to heal a wounded Jew. He talks to a much married and possibly prostitute Samaritan woman and asks her for a drink of water. At first she is doubtful but then she believes and becomes one of the very first people to recognize him for who he really was. He did not ever let the Law become something that kept people out but went beyond the Law to heal them and offer them compassion and acceptance.
Throughout history many leaders who start out to serve the people become dominators. Jesus was always a true servant. He came to serve, not to be served. He was never a fear monger, gaining power through fear. He said that love casts out fear and that reality was not so much to be feared as to be loving and gracious. Jesus was truly a man of the people, especially the poor and oppressed. Many of his parables spoke of the injustice to workers and the need for the powerful to be fair to those in their employ. Jesus was not a political revolutionary. He was a non-violent voice for healing and justice for all those who were suffering. He was also a man of the Spirit. He believed that the Spirit of God was in him and he wanted to share it with everyone, especially those that were considered outcasts. This was a radical change in the culture of the time which had set up a rigid system of who was to be considered holy or righteous. Jesus challenged the religious and social structures of his day not with the power of force but rather the power of love and compassion.
So, which of the presidential candidates are not just professing loyalty to Jesus but are acting in his way?
- Who is on the side of the outcasts, the poor, the strangers and immigrants?
- Who lives and acts in a loving and compassionate way to friends and strangers and even advisaries?
- Who has a positive view of reality not a fearful forbidding one?
- Who is a true servant of the people not a dominator?
- Who actually has a history of living his or her faith in deeds not just words?
- Who has been and continues to be a healer not a divider?
- Who speaks the truth, not just when it is convenient?
Let's stop for a moment. The obvious answer is that no one has all these qualities because no one is Jesus. No one is perfect or acts in the Spirit of Jesus always. But how closely do all of these candidates really follow the teachings and example of Jesus? Is this even a fair question of someone running to be the President of the United States of America? It is if the candidates say they are Christians and that Jesus is a main source of their values and a guide for their lives.
When was the last time you heard someone from the media ask these questions of those who profess to be Christians? Maybe it is time for all of us to start asking these challenging questions as we prepare to exercise our right and responsibility to vote.