It's mildly entertaining, but nonetheless welcome, to see media talking heads debate what Jesus would do in politics.
On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., recently scolded Christians for celebrating Jesus at Christmastime while opposing an extension of unemployment insurance benefits for another year:
To McDermott—whether speaking as an insider or an outsider to the religion, I don't know—devotion to Jesus requires using the welfare state to support the unemployed in a way that arguably increases the time that people spend in unemployment.
Bill O'Reilly took him to task in a column titled "Keep Christ in Unemployment." O'Reilly wrote, "There comes a time when compassion can cause disaster. If you open your home to scores of homeless folks, you will not have a home for long. There is a capacity problem for every noble intent." Giving that destroys the giver's capacity to give while at the same time failing to help the needy in any meaningful way is not biblical love, but well-intentioned folly.
But O'Reilly was especially provocative with his closing comment: "The Lord helps those who help themselves. Does he not?" You won't find that in Proverbs or anywhere else in the Bible, but there is an element of truth in Ben Franklin's words. God has set us in a world that is rich with potential, and told us to "have dominion" over it.
But in our prosperity Jesus tells us to have a charitable heart for those in need. Stephen Colbert reminded us of this as he mocked O'Reilly for his reflections (warning: blasphemous humor):
Irreverent jesting aside, Colbert's routine is a real conversation starter. He affirms the deity of Christ and the sacrificial nature of His work on the cross. You don't see a lot of that on Comedy Central. And he is right that Christians should give sacrificially. But the example of Christ's redeeming love was not an exhortation to acts of fruitless or even counter-productive self-destruction, whether as states or as individuals.
Here is O'Reilly's response on The O'Reilly Factor:
They're talking about the government's role in helping the poor, and even the technicalities of how best to deliver services, but behind it all is the question of how Jesus would have us order our politics.
No one asks about the politics of Muhammad. They are perfectly plain in the Sharia Law of Islam and the autocracies of the Middle East. Nor are the politics of Moses in doubt. The Law he gave Israel contained not only moral and ceremonial elements, but also a complete civil law.
But Jesus is remarkably different. While having fundamentally transformed the world—and continuing to transform it—He did not come with a primarily political agenda. But what He did and what He taught (and what His apostles and prophets taught) has profound implications for political life as they do for all of life.
But it is maddeningly frustrating, especially for a political theorist, that He did not give us a specific form of government and a civil law for redeemed life under the New Covenant. Would Jesus be a Democrat or a Republican? Or would He be leading the Tea Party? Would He be American at all?
Aha! That reveals the answer, doesn't it? Jesus does not belong to this or that nation, much less to a political party (Joshua 5:13-14). Rather, He calls every nation, party, and person to belong to Him, kiss Him, and conform to His righteousness (Psalm 2:7-12).
In my judgment, the principles of the Republican Party conform more perfectly to biblical teachings than the politics of the Democratic Party do. But because all the kingdoms of men in this fallen world come far short of the Kingdom of God, every party and platform has a justice gap that calls for critical biblical assessment. That gap is sometimes wider and sometimes narrower. But you can be sure it is always there.
With new battle lines on Capitol Hill, with the Republican presidential primaries kicking into gear, and with the nation as in need of God's blessing as it ever has been, this is a welcome conversation.