Jesus in the Public Square

It’s no secret that Christians, especially the evangelical right, have invested much energy into moving political decisions in the direction they want them to go. For


instance, historian Andrew Bacevich examines the Christian influence on America’s growing fascination to military might and concludes, “Were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this deeply and genuinely religious country becomes inconceivable.” Many other political issues could receive a similar evaluation. Even when evangelicals lose a political battle, there’s no denying that many of them died fighting.

How invested should Jesus-followers be in the politics of the nations? The question defies an easy answer, since the Bible itself offers diverse perspectives.

On the one hand, Jesus displays a stunning indifference to political matters of his day. The Roman Empire, which ruled over Jesus’ land, engaged in and promoted innumerable sins that ran against the ethical grain of Jesus’ worldview. Abortion was regularly practiced and even encouraged by philosophers as the morally right thing to do. Yet Jesus never preached against the Roman policy on abortion. Same-sex eroticism was widely practiced, accepted, and promoted in Jesus’ time, yet he never mentions it. Jesus stood against murder, vengeance, violence, and trusting in military might to rule the world. And he certainly did make this very clear in his teaching. Still, his unswerving ethical sermons were never aimed at bending Roman legislation in the direction he wanted it to go. Jesus’ only political speeches—and there were only a small few—fostered submission to the state and not cheating Rome out of her taxes.

Jesus was a public and political figure. But not in the sense that many of his followers are today.

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