As election day draws near, I have been asking myself, “Who would Jesus vote for?” I have many friends who are convinced that the Christian faith requires them to vote Republican. And while I respect their convictions, I cannot agree. I think that if Jesus were registered to vote in the 2012 United States Presidential election, he would vote for Barack Obama; and so will I.
Many of my conservative Christian friends want a smaller government with lower taxes. They think that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are right to present taxation as an illegitimate government seizure of an individual’s hard earned wealth. But, Jesus did not seem to share this view. When the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap him by asking whether it is appropriate to pay taxes to Caesar, he did not respond with indignation to the very concept of taxation. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Mt. 22:21). Through the many generations since—whatever form of government they found themselves under—Christians have remembered these words and understood them to support the legitimacy of government and its right to collect taxes. Following closely in Jesus’ footsteps, and perhaps mindful of his words, the apostles Paul told the Christians in Rome that the governing authority “is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13: 4). Government is a gift from God that serves the good of the people and it should be respected and supported by Christians.
Certainly we may debate the proper level of taxation and the appropriate strategy for taxation, but we cannot doubt that government is a good gift of God and that collecting taxes to support its mission is not only morally reasonable but morally necessary. Looking at our current circumstances, I cannot support the idea of lowering taxes on anyone—particularly the wealthy. Everyone acknowledges that we have an enormous national debt. Its cause is two-fold. At the close of Bill Clinton’s presidency, our nation was running budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. But self-indulgent tax cuts that went largely to the wealthiest among us and two wars paid for on credit have placed us in our current budgetary bind. The wars are finally winding down and the temporary tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest among us, should too. We need to increase the revenue of the government so that it can meet its obligations. This means increasing, not decreasing taxes. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus said. I agree. So I will be voting for Barack Obama.
But, when we talk about taxes, we must also discuss how the funds that are collected will be used. This brings us back to Jesus’ response to the question about taxes. Theologians have argued for millennia about Jesus’ statement. Some have interpreted Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians as promoting simple deference to the ruling authorities. “Pay the taxes they demand and don’t ask any questions.” But this sort of passive political subservience is far from Jesus’ intent. He asks the Pharisees and Herodians show him the coin used to pay the tax and asks, “Whose image is on this coin?” “The Emperor’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s ”(Mt. 22:21). Our money may belong to the state and bear the image of our earthly rulers, but our hearts belong to God whose image we bear and whose imprint should be evident in all our actions—including our political actions. We not only have responsibilities to the United States, which includes paying taxes, but we also have the obligation to conform our citizenship and, therefore, our government, to the extent that we are able, toward God’s purposes.
Towards the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes clear to his followers what he expects of them. As one of his final teachings before his crucifixion, he tells of the day when the Son of Man will come in his glory. On that day, “all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from the other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:32). To some he will say, “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt. 25:34-36). In surprise, the righteous will wonder when they did any of these things for their Lord. But, he explains, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt. 25: 40). The rest will be condemned to “eternal fire.” And when they make excuses saying they never saw him in such conditions, he says, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mt 25: 45).
As I look at the policies being proposed by the presidential candidates, I cannot help but think of these fundamental criteria for bearing God’s image and being a part of God’s family. Mitt Romney and the Republicans seem unwilling to spend money on anything except the military. And while national defense is an important part of any government’s responsibility, I do not see it among Jesus’ top priorities for faithfulness to God’s kingdom. The United States currently spends more on its military than the next fifteen top military nations combined. We do not need to spend more on the military! I see President Obama’s priorities, particularly his signature accomplishment of national healthcare reform, as more consistent with our true citizenship—in heaven (Ephesians 2:19). In the last few days, FEMA’s response to the devastation has embodied the “good” that government can and should be doing for people. President Obama has taken FEMA and its role seriously, after President George W. Bush treated it as a tool for political patronage. While he is quiet about it these days, during the Republican Primaries Romney expressed a desire to dismantle FEMA, leaving emergency response to the states or, even better from his perspective, the private sector.
Giving to “God the things that are God’s” requires promoting a government that serves the good of the people, by lifting up lowly, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, giving education to the ignorant, and welcoming strangers and foreigners. the ignorant are educated. From FEMA to the Affordable Care Act, to immigration reform, education reform, and tax reform, I believe that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party promote national policies that reflect our responsibility to give God the things that are God’s as well as Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
I will vote for Barack Obama in the United States’ Presidential election of 2012 because I think that is how Jesus would vote. Barack Obama is not the savior of the world or even of the United States. But I think his policies are more faithful to our savior, Jesus Christ, who said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20: 25-28).
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