Rick Santorum – The Jesus Candidate

Just when you think the theological foolishness of the presidential election is on the wane, another public figure claims a unique relationship to God.  We already know that God called Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry to run for president, and has a special relationship to them, despite their poor electoral showings.  We also know that Pat Robertson has been given a special revelation about the identity of the next president, though he’s keeping it a secret.  Now, fresh from his surprising tie in the Iowa Caucuses, Rick Santorum is offering to be the “Jesus candidate.”

In response to a questioner who stated that we don’t need a Jesus candidate but someone concerned about the economy, Santorum asserted:  “My answer to that was, we always need a Jesus candidate. We need someone who believes in something more than themselves and not just the economy.… When we say, ‘God bless America,’ do we mean it or do we just say it?”   In another setting, Santorum claimed,  “I said we always need a Jesus candidate.  I don’t mean necessarily that we always need a Christian, but we need someone who believes in something more than themselves.”

As I reflected on the audacity of Santorum’s comment, I was reminded of Jesus’ saying, recorded in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  There is a lot of “Lord, Lord,” in the political realm these days.  While the liberals are often accused of being politically correct to a fault, conservative politicians are “theologically” or “ethically correct” to the extreme in their clarity about what God wants for our nation and identification of their politics with God’s will.  Pat Robertson is clear that President Obama’s attempt to maintain a social safety net, expand rights for the GLBT community, and seek health care for all Americans is contrary to God’s will.  Santorum is equally clear that authentic Christians who believe something more than themselves will oppose anything that supports same sex marriage, gay rights, and the availability of abortion.  Implicitly, given his rhetoric in other contexts, Santorum suggests that Jesus would have no objection to torture of suspected terrorists or cutting off funds to unemployed people and single parents, raising families (the working poor).  Of course, Jesus would fight tooth and nail for his right to bear arms!

Now as suggested in my piece regarding God’s clear declaring to Pat Robertson about the identity of the next president, no one can fully fathom the thoughts of God, nor can anyone assume that revelation comes to humans directly and without the impact of our social location, biases, and belief systems. It is equally clear to me that the quest for a Jesus candidate or the suggestion that a particular person might be the Jesus candidate is hubris, overweening pride, bounding on idolatry.  I do not doubt Rick Santorum’s faith, but I question whether his politics are as aligned with God’s realm and values as he implies: Jesus said that nations would be judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and gave water to the thirsty, something that sounds surprisingly like the “social gospel” denounced by conservatives. (Matthew 25) Further, economic justice was at the heart of the prophetic writings.  Inequality, mortgage foreclosures, poverty, and starvation are affronts to God.  You have to recall that the prophets were not merely speaking to lone individuals but to national and economic leaders, to the powerful and well-to-do.  The prophetic voice always asks for social and political change, not just individual change of heart.  The prophets are veering perilously close to the “socialism” decried by the Tea Party.

Now, my issue with Santorum is his claim that he or someone else is the ideal “Jesus candidate.”  This implies other candidates – whether Romney or Obama – are less Christian and less faithful than he is.  It also suggests that if you don’t somehow trumpet your faith and become the “Tim Tebow of religious politics” you are not a faithful Christian and are self-interested and unable to look beyond themselves.  It would seem to me that those who trumpet property rights, lower taxes, and gun ownership as essential to the American Way may be guilty of what Santorum denounces – inability to believe in something more than themselves – despite their claim to be orthodox Christians.

As Jim Wallis noted, God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Nor can Jesus be hijacked for political purposes.  Jesus is bigger than our political schemes, be they right or left.  The Jesus of the scriptures was a friend of sinners, expanding the circle of love to include groups typically at odds: the infirm, immoral, oppressors, and tax collectors.  All belonged to God’s circle of love and all also fell short of God’s call to transforming love.

Once again, let us have a politics of humility, not idolatry. Let us, recognize our limits and fallibility, and claim to be people of faith, without making a show of our orthodoxy, piety, or alignment with God’s purposes.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious LivingPhilippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church to be released in January. But, above all, he seeks to share good news in ways that transform lives and heal the planet.  He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).

  • disgusted

    Another example of Satan using the name of Jesus to spread his demonic hatemongering bigotry!

  • joni

    You know the only time religion becomes an issue is when we go through this election process, when Obama doesn’t add to his turkey day wish, or if some crazy guy has the desire to build up his nuclear weapons.

    I want to tell our allies these politician­s do not represent all Americans. The majority of us are smart caring people. We lend a hand without asking who they believe in first. Our war ship just helped out an Iranian vessel that was in trouble … that’s who we are! Not zealots

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