During the late 1990s, an interesting fad spread across a large swathe of Christian teenagers in this country. All over the country, young people (and some older folk too!) were donning wristbands with the letters W.W.J.D? printed or sewn into their fabric. The letters, as you may remember, stood for the phrase “What would Jesus do?”. Presumably, the wristbands were intended as physical reminders to those who wore them to think before action, and consider in their thinking what Jesus might have done in a similar situation and attempt to emulate his example. This had two major benefits: (1) More consideration was given to Jesus’ life and ministry by some people, and to the principles by which he taught and acted, and (2) People were encouraged to consider their own Christian values in more areas of their lives than previously, and specifically in areas outside the church.
The fad — as they all do — passed, the wristband returned to the status of niche fashion accessory, but for many people the principle of considering what Jesus would do remained an important guide to making ethical decisions. So, that leads me to consider the obvious question of the moment: How would Jesus vote?
Christians of all persuasions tend to convince themselves that Jesus would have supported their own political beliefs. Socialists point to Jesus’ preference for the poor and the marginalised. Conservatives highlight the importance of personal responsibility and accountability in Jesus’ teaching. Libertarians draw attention to Jesus challenging the role and power of the state. Anarchists might note that Jesus himself played no part in a governmental system to support his own ministry.
Despite the propensity for Christians to point to Jesus’ example as support for their own Christian views, there are, I believe, two things which we Christians ought to be able to agree on when it comes to discussing politics, and they concern the nature of God.
Firstly, God doesn’t just belong in church. If we proclaim that Jesus is the Lord of all things, then God belongs in all the aspects of life about which we make decisions: finance, education, healthcare, social welfare and so on. Christians often fall into the trap of consumer politics, allowing the question which dominates their thinking to be: “what in this policy will benefit me personally?” rather than “how is God served best by this policy?”. If God is compartmentalised, and only affects areas of religious activity, then we have no one but ourselves to blame if the world ends up looking worse as a result.
Secondly, God doesn’t just belong to Christians. We like to imagine that the purpose of God is to make life better for those who believe in him, and to be a supernatural advocate for the church in daily life. As a result, Christians who engage in the political process often only do so as a means of pursuing a specific Christian agenda. But God cares about the good and wellbeing of his whole creation, and every person in it. It isn’t good enough for Christians to be vocal only when an issue arises which concerns faith of the church, and to remain silent on other matters. Christian engagement in politics should reflect God’s care for the whole of creation, and should be more than organising hustings or campaigning on hot-topic issues.
It would be presumptuous and probably heretical to suggest how Jesus would have voted. No political system is perfect. No politician is perfect. None can provide the redemption which God alone can provide. But Jesus had compassion on all people, regardless of wealth, stature, religious belief, health, or any other social marker. His life and ministry were about bringing justice, peace and joy. He engaged with his community and cared for the vulnerable. If our politicians did the same, they would serve us well. If we helped them by living lives by that example, they would serve us better. Much like those wristbands, politics ought to force us to face the questions of how we can emulate Jesus more faithfully, and where we can serve him more fruitfully.
Whoever you vote for, whoever ends up representing this constituency after the election, whether you agree with them or not, they still need Christians to pray for them and work with them to bring about a nation which better serves God.