Jesus did not establish bureaucratic institutions, weekly social gatherings, or houses of religious entertainment. He started a movement that demands that rather than spending our time establishing ever more luxurious churches, we must strive to establish God's kingdom of love and justice on earth as in heaven. The gospel he lived and died for summons us to treat all people and their needs as holy. This means instituting policies that fairly, equitably, and lovingly respond to the suffering and want of all of humanity.
Yes, respond lovingly, because Jesus' entire gospel is based upon love. But note well that the love he taught is not mere sentimentality; it is actively working to secure for one's neighbor what one wants for oneself. That is the difference between the politics of Jesus and the politics of politicians: Jesus' way acknowledges God as "our" God, meaning that all are children of God, and thus the needs of all are holy. It is this standard that separates the politics of Jesus from the politics of politicians.
In the politics of Jesus, then, every policy and policy proposal must be judged by Jesus' yardstick of love and justice. We must ask: Do our social programs treat the people's needs as holy? Do our tax laws? Do our health care policies treat as holy all in need of coverage? Do our foreign policies treat all people as children of the same Creator? Or do we treat those outside our borders as children of a lesser god and, therefore, worthy of only inferior chances in life?
Treating the people and their needs as holy should be the perspective of everyone who purports to be a lover of God and humanity, but it must certainly be the perspective of every religious and political leader who claims to follow Jesus. In the politics of Jesus, there can be no "politicians" in the sense of "professional" politicians, whose dedication is to power and self-aggrandizement rather than to principles. There must only be servant leaders, just as the son of God came not to be served, but to serve.
The goal of Jesus' movement, ministry, and politics is a new creation: a political order that truly serves the good of all in equal measure. Those who strive to practice Jesus' politics must always keep that as the focus of our prayers and our compassion, the focus of our love and our most faithful social action. It is not optional; it is required of every follower of Jesus. He declared as much in terms that left no doubt: "Whoever is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30). That is to say, if you do not work for, or in some real way support, the establishment of God's kingdom of love and justice, then your silence and inactivity ultimately serve the forces of injustice.
It will not be easy. It seems that every aspect of today's political culture militates against the gospel's call for truth, honesty, and sincere service in the public square. But this is as Jesus foretold it: "I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; ... you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them" (Matthew 10:16, 18 [RSV]). This means that in every political setting the true followers of Jesus will be called forth to speak truth to power and to find power in the truth. Even as many strut about proudly wearing their faith like crowns, the true followers of Jesus must hold dear his cross of self-sacrificial love.
All of this requires more than simply bearing Jesus' name. These things we must do if at the sunset of our lives we are to be counted among those who truly tried to love our neighbors as ourselves by living the politics of he who died so others might live.
Obery M. Hendricks Jr., Ph.D., is a professor of biblical interpretation at New York Theological Seminary and author of The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of the Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted.