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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

January 15, 2012

Jesus for president

In the middle of the primary season, I heard a radio story about top evangelical social conservative leaders getting together in Texas to settle on which candidate to endorse. Romney was out, for all sorts of reasons both spoken and unspoken, and each of the remaining candidates had some sort of issue(s) that made them undesirable to the representatives of the large evangelical political/media organizations like Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Family Research Council.

So they got together to decide which of the other candidates they were going to endorse.
I am not a fan of these guys and their organizations. But this is not an essay about that. It’s about something one of them said about why they were holding the meeting.
Brian Fisher, director of issue analysis at the American Family Association, said this:

"Well, there is no perfect candidate—Jesus Christ is not on the ballot in any of the primary elections—so that means social conservatives have to do triage."

It was an off-the-cuff remark, probably meant to be clever and sound-bite worthy and to remind people he represented a Christian organization. But if you think about what Fisher said and why… and then you think hard about who Jesus is, how he lived and what he taught… and what his followers are supposed to do with his life and legacy…

… all I could do in the moment was say to my car radio, “Wow—just wow.”

You know, I could use this space to argue out for you all the ways Fisher’s remark was off-base and gives a skewed, if not utterly false, impression of Jesus and the Christian faith. But in our current political climate you might brand me as being from the left and dismiss what I said, and that could be the end of that.

Instead, I invite you to read about Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I mean, really read the four gospels. Take some notes on how Jesus lived, and what he thought of power, political and otherwise. Write down your impressions of the major things Jesus taught about how he wanted us to live. Pay particular attention to these things:

  • What temptations did Jesus have in his life, and how did he handle them?
  • How did he deal with people who had political and religious authority?
  • What were his political aspirations?
  • How did he treat the sins of people who considered themselves “upstanding citizens”?
  • How did he treat the sins of other kinds of people?
  • What did Jesus have to say to people who had wealth and power?
  • What were some of his key points regarding how people should treat each other?

When you’ve done this, consider Brian Fisher’s remark again. Would Jesus run for president? If he did, would the organizations who met in Texas endorse him—or would they find flaws in his platform?

And here, I think, is the fundamental problem Christians have when they wade into politics and try to become an influential force. We always need to start with Jesus’ platform, and what he would endorse. Instead, we usually see people coming up with their platform and trying to shoehorn Jesus into it.

That’s not following Jesus. That’s asserting our own beliefs and pretending they fit with what Jesus is all about and hoping nobody notices.

In a more general way, too often ordinary Christians look to our leaders to tell us who Jesus was and what he advocated, rather than discover these things ourselves by going to the biblical sources. If we’ve spent our lives following our local pastor or some famous leader on radio or TV, but we’ve never made the effort to see for ourselves what the Bible says, then we get what we deserve. If we follow someone who is faithful in how they present Jesus, we have—quite honestly—lucked out. But if the people we follow are flawed human being like ourselves, who give into the temptation to spin Jesus so he seems to advocate their own positions, and we follow them blindly, then shame on us.
Actually, more than shame on us. We become participants in perpetuating movements and advocating positions that may have a veneer of appearing Christian, but have little to do with who Jesus is and what he taught.

There’s a lot of that in American Christianity today. And it’s a prime reason why so many people end up rejecting Christ. The tragedy is, the Jesus they are rejecting isn’t really Jesus at all. It’s a false image of Jesus that’s been spun to advocate for people’s own positions and predilections. This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. The real Jesus doesn’t get a chance for evaluation, because what’s being said in the name of the made-up Jesus drowns him out.

I’m sad when folks reject the real Jesus. I’m much sadder when people don’t get the chance to see what he’s about, and reject the fake one.

Go to the gospels. Read them and think about them, and see for yourself who the real Jesus is. Then advocate for him rather than for the various fake versions out there.


When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

—John 6:15