Jesus for President 2012

Shane Claibourne and Chris Haw on why we need a new political imagination.

It was way back in 2004 that the spark for the Jesus for President campaign was born—by a bunch of post-evangelical Christians trying to figure out how to engage the political circus that happens every 4 years. It started as a little Bible study looking at the politics of Jesus and the social dimensions of the Gospels.

Four years later, in 2008, Jesus for President became a book and a national tour. In the summer of 2008, we travelled through nearly every state in the US in a bus that ran off waste veggie oil, hosting packed out rallies in different cities each night. It was a conscious decision not to have a fancy tour bus like the candidates but to sport an old diesel school bus converted to run off veggie oil we gathered along the way. After all, we wanted to practice what we were preaching… like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” So our freedom ride smelled like French Fries. Jesus for President 2008 made the news – from Fox News, to Al Jazeera, to a headline story on CNN.

Jesus for President. Amish for Homeland Security. We had some good ideas for serious change in America.

As Christians, we became convinced that the issues—things like immigration and health care, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor—these things matter to God. We see over 2000 verses in Scripture that talk about how we care for the poor and marginalized. And too much of the Christianity we grew up with was so heavenly minded that it was no earthly good. So the issues matter to us.

No party feels like home. No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.

But, we were, and still are, political refugees in post-religious-right America. No party feels like home. No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Federal budget cuts have begun to look like the anti-thesis of the beatitudes where Jesus blesses the poor and hungry rather than the rich and wealthy. You get the sense that if Mary proclaimed her famous “Magnificat” in Luke’s Gospel today—where “God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty””—she’d be accused of promoting class warfare. As one theologian said, “Our money says in God we trust …but our economy looks like the seven deadly sins.”

What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?

There just isn’t much talk in the debates about caring for the poor and loving enemies, the stuff Jesus was on fire about. It’s hard to imagine a candidate with a consistent ethic of life, a candidate who is pro-life from the womb to the tomb. Many of us have grown tired of death, and share a faith that speaks of resurrection and proclaims the triumph of life over death and love over hatred. We want life—fewer abortions, an end to the death penalty, hospitality to immigrants, an end to extreme poverty …fewer bombs and wars and other ugly things.

Is it asking too much to hope that every person could have “this day their daily bread” rather than the current economic patterns that ensure that masses of people live in poverty so that a handful of people could live as they wish?

So here we are, in 2012. This new bloc of vote-eligible Christians still does not have a home. They are political misfits, setting records in polls for dissatisfaction with politicians. The Tea Party just didn’t feel right—something about it seemed harsh or or weird. Many of us liked their zeal, but not their politics. Then there is Cornel West’s “democratic socialism” which makes sense to some of us; but there just has to be more. We are pretty sure the average third party candidate doesn’t stand a chance until campaign finance reform is front and center, and we figure Nader must be tired of losing. Many folks have dropped out altogether; some have even put out new books on the old idea of Christian anarchism, evoking the traditional philosophy that Christians should not participate in the political systems of this world—encouraging folks NOT to vote at all.

But we’ve got something a little different in mind …

We are convinced that we have to engage, rather than disengage. After all, Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the real stuff of his world—day laborers and unjust judges, widows and orphans, strangers and immigrants, abused women and exploited workers, redistribution of wealth and reconciliation with enemies. So the real question is not “do we engage?” but “how do we engage?”

We need a new political imagination.

So we think it’s time to declare once again in 2012—“Jesus for President”.

It was the early Christians who were jailed and executed for insurrection, charged with this in the New Testament: “These people who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here. … They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus!” (Acts 17:6–7)

In a world where pledging allegiance to Rome meant declaring, “Caesar is Lord,” substituting Jesus for Caesar offered a new political orientation. Every time the early Christians proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord,” they were also saying “Caesar is not.” It was deeply and subversively political. It was just as strange to say “Jesus is my Lord” 2000 years ago as it would be to declare him Commander in Chief today. It was an invitation to a new political imagination, centered around the person, teaching and peculiar politics of Christ.

This political orientation invites every political leader and worldly power to conform to the norms of the upside-down Kingdom of God where the poor are blessed, the last come first, the hungry are filled, and the mighty are cast down from their thrones. It means aligning ourselves with the prophets who speak of beating our weapons into farm tools, rather than conforming to the patterns of violence and the business of war.

When Jesus spoke of the “Kingdom” of God he used the word “Empire” and the empire he spoke about was not just something we hope for when we die. It was something we are to bring “on earth as it is in heaven.” It was about bringing God’s reign to earth.

Joining the politics of Jesus is about joining God’s redemptive plan to save the world. It is about allegiance, hope and a new Kingdom.

So we are indeed hopeful people in 2012. Not because we have found a candidate that fulfills our deepest hopes, but because we have learned how to hope differently. Our hope does not lie in Romney or Obama, or even America. As the old hymn goes: Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus… all other ground is sinking sand. And there is a lot of sinking sand these days.

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We are tired of empty rhetoric and stale debates. We want a pro-life politic that looks like Mother Teresa. We want a radical new way of doing business that does not have 5% of the world owning half the world’s stuff. We have the audacity to believe that America can do better than spending 20,000 dollars every second on militarism, as the country goes broke.

We want a new dream. The old one is bankrupt.

And we have found a new dream—a new dream for America, and a new dream for the world. A new empire is breaking into this troubled world. It’s not just about who sits in an office, but how every moment, every action, even the super-small and non-governmental ones, makes redemptive love present. Every person is an actor on this stage.

So, we may vote on November 6. But we will also vote today, and tomorrow, and the next day. We are convinced that change is not confined to one day every four years. Change happens every day. We vote with our lives. And we are convinced that voting for a new President may be little more than damage control. For Presidents and Caesars do not save the world. But there is a God who can.

Enough donkeys and elephants. Long live the Lamb.



Utsava commented…

"We want lifefewer abortions, an end to the death penalty" Seems oddly reversed to me. I want fewer death penalties and an end to abortion.

Robin horn


Robin horn commented…

Interesting debate. i can see what you are trying to say. The difficulty is you don't see Jesus ever speaking against the Roman political Empire which was far more evil and nasty. The only thing I see Jesus attacking was the religious hypocrites of his day. People always use that verse in Acts 17: 6-7 but we always quote it totally out of context. Ii wasn't because the disciples were openly challenging the Roman Empire or polities. What were they doing. They were healing the sick and casting out demons and ended up disrupting peoples economic lively hoods made from selling idols and soothsaying. There is an interesting book called 'Why did the early church grow so fast in the Roman Empire by an an historian called McDonald whose not a believer. His conclusion was not what you expect. he said it was because they could cast out demons and all the pagan worshipers knew believers in this Jesus had a greater authority and power than they did. Now that's radical. Remember Paul in Ephesus did unusual miracles and the pagans and idol worshipers and those involved in the occult came and burnt all their occult books. The only time Paul didn't see real change was when he went to Athens and tried to debate with the philosophers. The Kingdom coming is a power encounter with the devils kingdom which binds people with sickness, disease, and addictions, depression and mental illnesses and worshiping of idols Start setting those people free and you will see a radical revolution


Matt Battershell commented…

Here is the issue: Jesus is not on the ballot today but He can lead us to use WISDOM to vote in RIGHTEOUSNESS. "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people." Prov. 14:34.

While we play spiritual 'christianeze' our nation is redefining marriage, pressuring churches to buy contraceptives AGAINST THEIR DOCTRINE and using our tax money to systematically destroy God's finest masterpiece in the once innocent womb of a woman.

Would Jesus be happy at our lethargic, anemic response to blatant evil rampant in our culture? NO! What about when Obama's voting record is for PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION? Does Jesus care about this?

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart" - Jer. 1:5


"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mothers womb... Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Ps. 139:13,16Let's be Christian and be the light of our world and VOTE for righteousness, uphold the sanctity of life and the sacrament of marriage.These articles prove to me you forget the words of our great leaders: "The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue,
morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone,
that renders us invincible." Patrick Henry [1]"The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ
and His apostles This is genuine Christianity and to this we owe our
free constitutions of government." Noah Webster [2]

"The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a
baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the
Holy Ghost. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious there can
be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost." John Adams [3]

So in this I end: our founders fought for Christ, religious freedom and shed blood for a Nation built upon precepts of freedom and truth outlined in Scripture. How ignorant and foolish of us to cast this foundation off and shrug our shoulder in the name of Christianity.

God is watching how we use this opportunity to exalt our nation in Righteousness.
NOTES:1. Patrick Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches, William Wirt Henry, editor (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1891), Vol. II, p. 592, to Archibald Blair on January 8, 1799.2. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie and Peck, 1832), p. 300, 578.3. Letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush, from Quincy, Massachusetts,
dated December 21, 1809, from the original in our possession.


Mtministries commented…

Nice attempt to reinvent Jesus and His message. He was way more than some hipster poet promoting world peace, Robin Hood and coexistence. Jesus will not be pigeon-holed into a social welfare Messiah. I agree with Chris above that real change should come from grass root (Christians) who care about the social ills and needs of our society. Government is not the answer. Stop trying to make it Christian and put a suit on Jesus. Jesus cared for everyone (ex. Luke, Paul) not just the poor and and the underprivileged. Why do we always have to demonize success, position or influence? There is as much materialism among the poor and middle class as there is among the rich. Why are we afraid to call out lazy people for becoming dependent on the gov't? Is hard work not a scriptural value too?
We seem to always get our cues from this image of a soft-skinned, soft-spoken social worker Rabbi, while ignoring that same Rabbi's passion for righteousness and salvation. We also conveniently ignore the Jesus of the 2nd coming. Jesus' government IS coming. Be patient. Until then, be faithful with the Gospel you have been given. Why not focus on electing a candidate (either democrat or republican, doesn't matter) who can lead our nation, protect it's people and provide jobs? Stop looking to Washington to solve our problems and "provide" for us. If we spent a 10th of our time focusing on loving others with the gospel, how much of these things would take care of themselves?



James commented…

Why would you advocate for "fewer abortions an end to the death penalty"? Why not an end to legalized abortion and an end to the death penalty? I can't make sense of the inconsistent pro-life logic.

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