It seems every election becomes more vicious than the last. Of course, this is nothing new in American politics; it could be argued that Andrew Jackson's wife was hounded into an early grave by the election of 1828. What is new is the inescapability of it all. TV, radio, and internet conspire to keep us angry. Every year, the politicians swear off "negative campaigning," then let loose with both barrels, aided by the media, who really prefer this style anyway. It sells.
Though politics has been an armchair sport in my family for as long as I can remember, I shut off my TV a few days ago to take a break. After a week of Tea Party politics and ground zero mosques, I certainly needed it. The mix of religion and politics left me wondering: "What would Jesus do?"
The question is almost as old as Christianity itself. Yet, in its current form, it first appeared not on bracelets in the 1990s, but in a book in the 1890s: Charles Sheldon's In His Steps, subtitled What Would Jesus Do? I find it ironic, in the current climate, to note that Sheldon was not only a Congregationalist minister in Topeka, Kansas, he was also a committed Christian Socialist. Interesting.
The question is fine, as far as it goes. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Jesus ministered to outcasts: the blind and the lame, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He calls us to do the same: to recognize the humanity of all of these, to see something of him in them. Yet the question is also problematic. In pride and anger, we can too easily decide that Jesus would horsewhip certain people, curse them like the fig tree, and damn them for all eternity. Perhaps he would, but I don't feel too secure in making that judgement.
No. In those cases, the proper question is not "What would Jesus do?" but "What did Jesus tell us to do?" That is, if we take our Christian vocation seriously. In all the furor over Muslims and mosques, honor and country, we would do well to consider what Christ himself taught before we react.
You have heard the commandment, "You shall love your countryman but hate your enemy." My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are sons of your heavenly Father.
Matthew 5: 43-45
Forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us. If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.
Matthew 6: 12, 15
If your enemy be hungry, give him food to eat, if he be thirsty, give him to drink; For live coals you will heap upon his head, and the Lord will vindicate you.
Proverbs 25: 21-22
Everyone who grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; any man who uses abusive language toward his brother shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and if he holds him in contempt he risks the fires of Gehenna.
Matthew 5: 22
Say not, "As he did to me, so will I do to him; I will repay the man according to his deeds."
Proverbs 24: 29
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7: 12
This is what we are called to do. This is what the book says. It does not tell us to do these things unless it is difficult, unless your brother is a Muslim, unless your brother disagrees with you. This is the Christian vocation. Of course it is difficult. This is why Christ said Take up your cross and follow me.
We can always ask "What would Jesus do?" There's nothing wrong with that. Still, we shouldn't presume that question has an easy answer. The more important question is "What did Jesus tell us to do?" The answer to that question is often clear. And difficult. But there it is. This is what we are called to do.
Even, and especially, when it is difficult.