Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jesus for President

Review of a book by Shane Claiborn, Chris Haw, and Friends

A little over 300 pages long (including appendix), this book covers salvation history from the Garden of Eden to the present. The history is, of course, made with very broad strokes. What is fascinating about the presentation of the history is how the authors constantly use events such as Israel's demand for a king (in I Samuel) to comment on current events.

The authors remind us that when the people of Israel asked for a king, God warned them that any human king would be no better than the Pharaoh. The ideal is that God is the only king we need.

It seems to me that this is the primary point of this book: we project onto our leaders all the hopes and dreams that can only be realistically fulfilled by God. We try to legislate a better society and better people, when this only be effected by changing the individual heart of each person.

This doesn't mean we don't vote. We choose a candidate we believe will do the most good and the least harm. But we fool ourselves if we believe any candidate will be able to do everything s/he promises. The only person who could deliver on all his promises was Jesus; and he promised nothing more than suffering and servanthood.

Look, the U.S. Constitution has a system of checks and balances which intends to prevent any one person or group of people from gaining absolute power. The only way any person could fulfill all his/her political promises is if that person were a dictator or emperor. There is a reason many have described the current administration as "the imperial presidency," and we are no experiencing the negative fall-out from its actions.

Human politics can only go so far. People obey laws as a duty to the social contract, or from fear of punishment. Typically, such laws do not change the human heart. The Law of Love, Jesus' platform, is written on the human heart.

Jesus, as Claiborn and his co-authors point out, would be a poor candidate in the traditional sense. Jesus would be "soft on defense": no where in the Gospels does Jesus take up a sword (the gun of his day). When asked whether to oppose Rome (by means of refusing to pay taxes), he rejected the question. For Jesus the point was not whether to oppose Rome or to support a new human leader, but to submit oneself to God.

Jesus would take a new view of welfare that might shock both Democrats and Republicans. Jesus did not judge the poor — as an itinerant preacher he was among them. Instead, Jesus fed those who were hungry. In the early church, pre-300 C.E., the norm was for the community to hold all property in common and share according to each member's need. What the U.S. has done, over time, is to cede the Christian responsibility to care for "the least of these" to the state; the results have been mixed, to say the least.

This is a thought-provoking book, with new readings of scripture (the Christian testament in particular) which I found enlightening. I recommend it to all who seek an expression of Christian life founded on practice rather than dogma.

No comments: