Jesus was a leftie – why Christians should vote Greens
Christians often ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do?” This week, however, Christians in Australia must also ask themselves “How Would Jesus Vote?”
Ever since American pastor Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, it has been commonplace for many Christian communities – particularly American evangelicals – to assume that right-wing parties have Jesus’ endorsement. While this doesn’t apply to Christians the world over, it’s nevertheless rare to find Christian communities that identify with the left side of politics.
In next week’s Australian federal election, voters can choose from at least two overtly Christian parties (Australian Christians and the Christian Democratic Party) and at least three more with Christian links (Family First, Rise Up Australia, and the Democratic Labour Party). Each of these tickets holds conservative values, and is preferencing The Greens towards the bottom of their ballot, below both Labor and the Coalition.
This is an unusual trend, given that Christianity itself can be considered quite a progressive movement. Jesus, the figurehead of the religion, was a deeply political man with leftist values. I’m certainly not the first person to have held this view (as a regulation “Jesus left-wing” Google search will reveal). Mikhail Gorbachev once labelled Jesus “the first socialist”, while New Statesman writer Mehdi Hasan noted that Jesus had “all the personal traits of a modern revolutionary”.
Before I expand on this argument, I do acknowledge that it’s possible to justify Christianity as a conservative value system. The first five books of the Bible, among other things, describe a society that think only about themselves, operate under strict hierarchies, and does not treat everybody with equal rights. (edit: This in no way encompasses the entirety of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – but passages from this section are frequently hand-picked to justify right-wing views). More generally, the Bible reflects conservative views on relationships, sex, and God’s sovereignty.
With that said, if you ask a devout Christian what matters most to them, they’ll introduce you to their friend Jesus. That’s not to say the Old Testament means nothing to them, but it is Jesus’ teachings and death – not a set of archaic laws – that defines their character, values, and beliefs. This is a Christian norm that seems to transcend most denominational boundaries.
The four Gospel accounts in the New Testament make Jesus’ political, economic, and social views pretty clear. While politics is rarely mentioned in these books, readers can nevertheless draw informed assumptions as to where Jesus would sit on a left-to-right spectrum.
It’s important to first emphasise that Jesus was anything but conservative. During his three-year ministry, his radical philosophies angered most of Jerusalem, including government authorities and Jewish teachers. His values were progressive, his sermons were anti-establishment, and his teachings inspired what was initially a fringe movement. Contrary to local traditions, he worked on Saturdays, and didn’t wash his hands before eating. To add fuel to the fire, he felt no hesitation verbally attacking esteemed religious leaders, accusing them of hypocrisy, insincerity, and arrogance. He was a rebel with a cause. And this is what got him killed.
Jesus behaved in this way primarily to fulfil his divine mandate, which was “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. If this sounds like something ripped out of a civil-rights textbook, it’s because Jesus very much inspired Martin Luther King Jnr, one of the most progressive campaigners of the twentieth century. Before Falwell and his evangelicals arrived on the American scene, King Jnr’s rhetoric for racial equality in the 1950s and 60s frequently invoked Jesus. In doing so, he highlighted the political implications of Jesus’ message of equality, peace, freedom, and generosity.
When it came to economics, Jesus advocated for a simple non-capitalist lifestyle, one dictated not by possessions and wealth but integrity and loyalty (to God). He attacked those who were wealthy and gluttonous, and condemned behaviour that was competitive and vengeful. He once famously preached that “you cannot serve both God and Money”. At another point in his teaching, he told a man the only way he could inherit eternal life was if sold all of his possessions and gave to the poor.
This endorsement of generosity ran consistently throughout Jesus’ teaching and behaviour. Not only did Jesus encourage others to dine with the weakest members of society – “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” – but he practiced what he preached. Jesus’ selective group of allies did not include any diplomats or academics. Rather he befriended tax cheats, prostitutes (allegedly), and boat people (i.e. fishermen). Such an unprejudiced attitude is epitomised in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus told his followers to treat people from different backgrounds like neighbours – with compassion and little regard for social norms.
It doesn’t take much creativity to work out what kinds of people Jesus would associate with in 21st century Australia. He’d be the one serving food at homeless shelters, welcoming refugees at the border, and making conversations with minority groups. Rather than spending time with priests and politicians, he’d be associating with the most vulnerable groups in society: indigenous Australians, homosexuals, single-mother families, and drug users. He’d be serving others, rather than serving himself.
There are a number of moral issues on the political agenda this election, which invite Australians to consider minority interests rather those of their own. The asylum-seeker debate is the most obvious example, as well as marriage equality, the national disability scheme, and Australia’s foreign-aid spending. Less debated in the public sphere, but nevertheless relevant, are issues concerning the treatment and respect of Aboriginals, the level of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, and the age-old ethical pickles of euthanasia and abortion.
The greatest moral issue of this election, however, is what Kevin Rudd once called the “greatest moral challenge of our time”: climate change. It’s not so much the depletion of this planet itself that should concern Australians, but the death sentences this generation and its leaders are subsequently passing onto those who don’t deserve it.
The greatest victims of climate change will be our children, and the millions of people who live in underdeveloped countries. Low-lying islands and nations that rely on agricultural production are least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, yet will suffer most. Likewise, people who have not yet been born will be forced to live in an overheated globe despite not contributing to the problem. It’s ironic that we so often hear of pro-life Christians defending the rights of unborn humans, yet so rarely hear these same voices when the topic turns to climate change.
Likewise, the asylum-seeker issue is an inherently moral debate, yet is so rarely framed in such terms. We’ve all heard about the inhumane – and internationally condemned – policies offered by the two leading political parties. Meanwhile, the Greens remain the only party brave enough in the system to offer a moral solution – one that respects human dignity and promotes equality. Without a doubt, they’d win Jesus’ vote if the election were on this issue alone. So why are Christian voters and parties alike so intent on framing the Greens and other left-wing parties as atheistic, immoral enemies?
Given how influential Jesus is on the lives of Christians, it is surprising that so many still tend to identify with right-wing thinking. It is just as surprising that many Christians limit their political engagement to discourses pertaining to gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia. Despite these three issues never being explicitly mentioned in the Bible, far too many Christians box themselves in a default right-wing position on the basis of their perspectives on these issues.
If Christians want to practice what they preach and live life in accordance to Jesus’ teaching, they need to start considering the other moral issues at play in this election. More importantly, they need to seriously contemplate voting for a leftist party on 7 September.
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As a caveat, a scorecard called the “Australian Christian Values Checkilst” is circling around social media at the media, informing Christians which parties to vote for. The Australian Christians, the DLP, and Family First (as well as the blatantly racist Rise Up Australia party) lead the way, followed by the Coalition. Labor and the Greens sit at the opposite end of the scale, as though they were atheistic movements, bereft of any morals. Moreover, the ticks and crosses mislead the reader, and would have you believe that Liberal’s asylum seeker policy is humane, and action on climate change is unnecessary.
A closer inspection of the scorecard criteria reveals a list of vague values such as “Life is precious”, juxtaposed with specific policies such as “Oppose overseas aid for abortion”. As you might expect, the Greens receive a damning red cross for this section, despite being Australia’s most generous party when it comes to distributing foreign aid.
Scorecards like this are useless because they are intuitively loaded and biased. Any Australian party – from the Shooters and Fishers to Rise Up – could very easily make their own Christian-based scorecard – or Muslim-based scorecard or secular-based scorecard for that matter – and give themselves ticks for everything simply by listing their policies on the left-hand side. In other words, please take this kind of propaganda with a grain of salt, and do not make it the foundation for your vote.
Disclaimer: I am not a member or campaigner for any federal political party. I am merely a voter, just like you.