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 (Jesus for President) and a national tour. In the summer of 2008, we travelled through nearly every state in the U.S. 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 more than 2,000 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.
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 antithesis 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 wasn'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 racist, 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 Ralph 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” 2,000 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, but 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 Mitt Romney or Barack 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.
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 percent of the world owning half the world’s stuff. We have the audacity to believe that America can do better than spending $20,000 every second on militarism, as the country goes broke.
We want a new dream – the old American dream 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 today. But we will also vote 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.
Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw are the authors of Jesus for President, which Publisher’s Weekly has declared “the must-read election-year book for American Christians.” Haw’s newest book From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart and Claiborne’s Red Letter Revolution both release next month.