There are many prominent voices in America calling on us to recognize that it is a Christian nation, founded on faith and the teachings of the Bible. It would be difficult for anyone to run for national office without some kind of self-professed faith or at least a declared respect for the Judeo-Christian tradition. The 43rd president of the United States is on record as saying Jesus is his favorite philosopher. His predecessor attended church regularly, as has been the case for most presidents; the only recent exception being Ronald Reagan, who imitated his hero Calvin Coolidge by attending services only rarely. Now I know that many people are fearful of a theocratic state, and would like to keep religious sensibilities out of public affairs; but many others are just as fearful of an atheistic secular state, and would like the acknowledgement of God to prevail in classrooms, courthouses and other public places. I myself am an unabashed Christian. My proposal is a simple one: to examine, in light of Holy Scripture itself, what a truly Christian nation would look like. Would Jesus be a Republican? A Democrat? A Socialist? A Libertarian? A Green? An Independent, perhaps? If He were Secretary of State, how would He pursue foreign policy? Can we imagine him as Secretary of Defense? What would Jesus do if he were President?
More importantly, can we find in the recorded teachings of the Man from Nazareth an approach to public policy that could work?
I am convinced that in the pages of the New Testament, especially in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, there is to be found a coherent strategy for conflict resolution at all levels. It is astoundingly simple, and so radical that it is rarely tried even at the level of individual personal relationships. Jesus provides an ethic for approaching conflict that surpasses every religious ethic or teaching that came before him.
It is not, by the way, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is certainly cited, with approval, by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James, with great frequency in the New Testament; but it is not uniquely Christian. It comes from Leviticus chapter 18, verse 19, and represents what we should regard as the highest pre-Christian ethic. It is the encapsulation of what the Old Testament Law was really about.
Another candidate for the uniquely Christian ethic might be Jesus’ succinct summary of all previous religious teaching (“the Law and the Prophets”) which is often referred to as the Golden Rule: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do that for them.” But those who would rather not afford Christianity a superior place among the world’s religious traditions are often quick to point out that this also is not unique: it was cited by Jewish rabbis previous to Jesus, and can be found in various forms in the teachings of other religions such as Buddhism – though more often in negative form, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” No, if there is something unique in Christian ethical teaching, it lies elsewhere. But it is not hidden, or obscure. It is just so radical that it tends to get ignored.
Love your enemies
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” — Jesus
“Do not resist an evil person, but if someone hits you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” — Jesus
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” — James (citing the Old Testament book of Proverbs)
“While we were still enemies, Christ died for us” — Paul
"He left us an example, that we should follow his steps." — Peter
What would foreign policy look like if it was modeled on these Christian teachings? Can any nation call itself Christian which rejects these as not applicable, irrelevant, hopelessly idealistic, or naïve? How can any national leader admire a philosopher who comes up with this kind of wisdom?
I ask you.
Much, much more to come.