Jesus for President

A vigorous discussion is under way in the Comments section of last week's interview with Donald Miller about his decision to campaign for Barack Obama.

One of the comments is from John Cooper, the youth pastor of Garden Ridge Church of Christ in Lewisville, Texas. After stating his appreciation for Don and Blue Like Jazz, Cooper admitted that he was "perplexed" by Don's decision to "promote the ideas of the American political system." He wrote: "After reading [Shane] Claiborne and [Chris] Haw's Jesus for President, I am not sure how Christ-followers can align ourselves with an empire and a president rather than pledging our allegiance to a King and His kingdom. I plan to vote Jesus for president."

Cooper brings up an important point that deserves more discussion. I am only halfway through Claiborne's "The Irresistible Revolution" and a quarter of the way through "Jesus for President," so I don't feel comfortable laying out this perspective myself. I asked Cooper if we could cross-publish here a post he wrote on his personal blog earlier this month. He graciously agreed.

I'm interested to your hear thoughts.

Cooper's post is below:

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The other day a buddy sent me and a bunch of our friends a link to a website designed to help us determine whether our values most reflect presidential candidates McCain or Obama and, thus, which individual we should voter for on November 4th. I took the test out of curiosity, though I already have made up my mind concerning my vote (more on that later). There were 13 issues raised with quotes from each candidate for each issue. The trick was that the site does not attribute the quotes to either McCain or Obama (you can guess some of them). That way you can make a decision on your values and not the candidate. In complete fence-straddling fashion, 7 of my choices were linked to Obama and the other 6 to McCain. I got a good chuckle out of that.

Regardless of those results, I made up my mind this summer after reading a book by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (also check out http://www.jesuswantstosavechristians.com/) that I would be voting Jesus for President. What's that? You say He's not on the ballot and instead we should vote for the candidate that most closely reflects the nature and ideals of Christ? Well, that is the sort of thing most of us are taught to do in our families and churches, right? That is why in Christian circles it is often popular to vote along republican party lines (whether or not this party's ideals reflect Jesus or not is another topic)... straight ticket even!

The idealistic goals of electing a Christian president and disseminating Jesus' values from Washington might seem like a worthy effort. However, rather than putting our hope in a political system, a president, and a nation, those of us who follow Jesus should be about doing His will, honoring Him as King, and pledging allegiance to His Kingdom. We must not rely on the government to do the very tasks God has called us to do as His hands and feet.

To quote Shane Claiborne, author of Jesus for President, "What is more important than how we vote on November 4 is how we live on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5." He goes on to say, "We vote every day with our lives... we vote every day with our feet, our hands, our lips, and our wallets. We vote for the poor. We vote for the peacemakers. We vote for the marginalized, the oppressed, the most vulnerable of our society. Ultimate change does not just happen every four years."

So whether we vote for McCain or Obama or write-in Jesus for President, may we be about the things of our Father in Heaven and His Son, our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. May we follow the slaughtered lamb into acts of humility, service, enemy-love, grace, and peace. May we remember that we were called to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people set apart and belonging to God; aliens and strangers in this world. May we not grow too comfortable and secure in a false identity as Americans, but reflect our true identity as God's children. May we vote every day for the cause of the orphans, widows, imprisoned, sick, poor, hungry, and the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters; and, as we do so, may we see that we are actually serving our King.



  1. John,

    You bring to light an issue that I have recently had to sort out for myself. I used to be comfortable being a Republican. It's easier to adopt a system of beliefs and policies than it is to ask God.

    If I understand your position correctly, you are saying we should not get involved in politics, right?

    I don't think we have to choose between following Christ and supporting a candidate. I think you are right that we shouldn't "rely on the government to do the very tasks God has called us to do as His hands and feet." However, we don't have to choose between doing his work with our own hands and supporting those who want to (or happen to) do it from the top.

    There are many forms of injustice that can only be reasonably fought through prayer and government action. I do not believe we are out of line as Christians to support these causes by endorsing candidates or voting.

  2. Hi Joseph,

    Let me first say that I appreciate your comment and I am excited that you are wrestling with these thoughts. In Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw point out that the earliest Christians resisted political involvement and seeking political office at all cost. In fact, he says that some of the earliest Christians were labeled, "Atheists" because of their lack of belief in and adherence to the Roman empire and Caesars' reign. Instead they sought to remain a "holy people, set apart" from the empire; rooted in the Kingdom of Jesus. Not sure, I have made up my mind on these issues entirely myself, but it does make me stop and think. You know many times I have heard Christians remark that we need more Christians in political offices so that Christ is lifted up and His values are represented in the political arena. However, it seems that 1st century Christians would have resisted this thinking and sought to embody the justice, grace, and mercy of Jesus regardless of what was happening politically.

  3. John (Coop),

    Thanks again for letting us put up your post.

    As I mentioned in my introduction, I am currently reading both Claiborne's books, with most of my reading time devoted to "The Irresistible Revolution." Every area of my life is being challenged by that book. My keen interest in (even, devotion to) politics is not immune.

    One question I have, however, has yet to be addressed by Claiborne. There is no dispute that the Bible tells us that if we want to relate to Jesus then we have to relate to the poor and marginalized.

    Don't we then have the obligation to do whatever we can to alleviate poverty and restore dignity to the weak, sick, hungry, imprisoned, and oppressed?

    If one of these guys - Obama or McCain - is going to be president, and the policies of one of them will help reduce poverty (for example) and the policies of the other will increase it, don't we have an obligation to vote for the candidate with the better policies? It won't "end poverty" but it isn't a small but important step?

    Love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for helping us out.

  4. From "The Gulag archipelago," by Alexsandr Solzhenitsn.

    "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

    There are good and bad ideas on both sides of the political fence. It's too easy to demonize or deify one side over the other.

  5. I LOVE that you posted this! I am going to link to it in a few days when I post about Politics and Religion...

    I think its a very good point- perhaps THE point

  6. Well said by all. I wholeheartedly agree that one's convictions as a citizen of the kingdom of God may lead each of us to different choices in how we interact with the kingdom of the world.

    My only caution is against writing in "Jesus" on your ballot. That is a total waste of a vote. It is basically a refusal to interact with the kingdom of the world, and we are told explicitly to be in the world, but not of it.

    As Jesus is not physically present today, and in that sense, unable to take office (although I have doubts that He would do so even if He were present physically), writing in "Jesus" on the ballot is not unlike writing in "Mickey Mouse."

    Even if you feel as though you are simply voting for the lesser of two evils, please vote - regardless of who you choose.

  7. I've spent the last year wrestling with whether or not I will be voting in this election.

    I believe that politics are often the secular parallel to cheap grace. We comfort ourselves by taking passionate stances in the months leading up to an election and checking our candidates box, feeling like we've done our part. The sense of satisfaction that follows, allows us to ignore the need for real, imaginative solutions to social problems.

    As I investigated Christian non-voting through blogs, books & community meetings, I discovered that it was running into the same problem. People were so satisfied with themselves for choosing Jesus over Empire, that they weren't really making any substantial efforts toward social change. They were too busy telling everyone that they should be as Jesus-focused as they were.

    Over the course of the year I also started a job in which I help provide practical resources for missionaries around the world. As I have gotten to know people in other parts of the world, I have discovered a new appreciation for my ability to vote so easily. People who pray that God would help their voices be heard, gave my small voice a new value.

    I wonder if whether or not we vote is actually unimportant. Can Christians turn the faces of politicians toward the protection of life and the least of these? Absolutely. Can choosing not to vote or get caught up in the circus that is our political system free up Christians to imagine new ways to love in the way of Christ? Of course.

    Maybe what's important is that whatever we choose to do, we trust God first. If our candidate doesn't win, we don't show the disappointment of the world, we show the hope that Christ is still at work. And if our non-voting goes unnoticed, we don't just yell louder, we work harder on behalf of the oppressed. if being involved in politics reminds you to think of the marginalized, then do it! If choosing not to vote empowers you to seek justice elsewhere, then do it!

    I haven't read Claiborne's book, I'm not sure if I will. But it sounds like the point is not about the choice you make on election day, but about the choices you make, blink-by-blink, every day.

  8. John and All,

    I'm on who is very much a fan of the work of Shane Claiborne. More than just a fan, that sounds very passive. But I believe very much in his message of activism that is driven by God's spirit. A couple of months ago, I happened to watch he and Chris share their message while in Dallas during his "Jesus for President" campaign. I talked with Chris afterwards because I, myself, was compelled to figure out some post-graduate opportunities that I could engage in. As an undergrad, I've worked pretty hard to not rely on other people to bring change where I'm at. I think we have that stewardship about us that we must be faithful to. Yes, we have to stewardship change where we live.

    After going home that evening and discussing with one of my best friends and his wife, I couldn't help but wonder how Jesus would participate in today's government. I'm not trying to get too particular or picky here, but there's a remarkable difference in the United States and the Roman Empire (in light of the all of the similarities Claiborne points out). The Romans themselves and the Jews who were under their occupancy never had a chance to elect their Caesar. So while I agree with him that we must avoid getting entangled into a love affair between the church and the state, I went home that evening wondering what it meant for me knowing that I have a vote. What kind of stewardship do I have over that?

    Moreover, I was thinking about the women I spoke with while in London who looked at me and without a lick of humour in their voice, said, "The whole world should be able to vote for your President. After all, what happens to you happens to the rest of the world." It was one of the moments during our conversation where I refrained from laughing or trying to bring a lightness to the conversation because they were pretty adamant about that belief.

    I'm not someone who believes Barack Obama or John McCain is going to save the world. I never have been. Nor do I think policies save people's lives. (In fact, early on in my college career I remember guffawing at this one girl after saying that when she graduated, she was to go to El Salvador and change the laws so people would stop killing each other). However, I do believe they're important. Were they meaningless, I imagine that Dr King and Malcolm X and James Lawson would not have labored so hard during the 60s to change them.

    While I believe very much in the dangers of an imperialistic mindset, I do not believe that it is our responsibility to let go of our vote. Our vote is something for us to steward. Our vote is something for use our best judgement when go to the polls, keeping in mind that both parties, both candidates, both ideologies are flawed, but choosing who we think will do their best to steward by their conscience. Briefly, an issue I think gets distorted (which I read much of in the "Donald Miller discussion" is the issue of abortion. One thing that I've always been baffled by both parties is that they are both pro-choice and both pro-life, yet they don't realize it. One wants to save children, the other wants the option to euthanize a child. While the other is pushing for longer wars, which results in protecting our choice to kill people if we see it fit for the protection of our political soveriegnty (kind of like the Bush Doctrine).

    However... on the flip side of what our vote is...

    Our vote is not an idol to be worshipped. Our vote is not an election of our Christianity, nor the mark of our Christianity. While at the same time, Our vote is not an election of a new savior. Nor is it apostasy or an oath to a new saviour.

    I believe in Jesus. Not Barack Obama. I believe that God will continue to be vigilant over this world. Not John McCain. I believe that God's spirit is hovering over our waters in this world (and I'm not referring to the US when I say "our", I mean the world). Not George Bush.

    I believe America has some serious lessons to learn, but I still believe I have a stewardship over my vote because I've been given a privilege (not due to anything I've earned other than the fact that I happened to be born as an American) to be a part of a collective decision of who the President of the United States should be. Something which many people wish they had the opportunity to participate. And perhaps some of worship that as an idol, I will admit that notion because I feel it may pointed out. However, it is not that for me. The same way I must be a steward of my money, my time, my energy, my skills, my education... and everything else. I believe that I must be a steward of my vote.

    At least that's how I see it. I could be wrong.


  9. I think the idea of writing in your vote for Jesus is one of the most foolhardy things someone could do. I understand it is an expression of one's beliefs but it's a waste of a vote. I'm a little peeved - despite all the other interesting things this gent had to say - that he would even suggest it.

  10. My husband and I have discussed this exact issue a number of times with friends. I'm inclined to agree with Hal and Robert. Jesus told us to render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar and render unto God what is God's. Jesus doesn't ask us to vote for him as president of a nation. He wants us to devote our entire heart & lives to Him. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our prince of peace...not the president of America...a very limited and demeaning way of viewing Him, I believe. If Jesus is the president where does that leave the rest of the world?

    Let me say first that by all means if you feel God has called you to do this, then you listen to God. But, ultimately, it seems that this basically amounts to a form of Christian escapism. I don't know who the right candidate is to vote for, but God does and He will lead you to vote for the right person. He does command us to pray for those in authority over us.

    Let us not take man's interpretation over the word of God, ever. I think that Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw are right on with a lot of what they write. However, it is very possible that they just missed it on this point.

    John Pattison, you make a good point..."don't we have an obligation to vote for the candidate with the better policies?"

  11. John (Coop),

    "Instead they sought to remain a 'holy people, set apart' from the empire; rooted in the Kingdom of Jesus."

    I'm not yet convinced that voting requires me to step outside of the Kingdom of Jesus. I feel that part of the cause of Christ is to "take care of the orphans and widows in their distress" and to do for "the least of these" as we would do for Christ. I feel that I need to pursue this in all avenues that are available.

  12. All, I have enjoyed very much reading your responses and have gained a great deal from your insights. One point that I think may be misunderstood is the idea of voting for Jesus. I have no intention to reduce our Savior to a political office. If we know much about Jesus at all, we know that He resisted power and position. The idea is to demonstrate with my vote that I choose the Slaughtered Lamb over any political office. My true citizenship is in His Kingdom and not in the U.S.

    I certainly appreciate the ideas of stewardship and the concept that to those whom much has been given, much will be required. However, rendering to Caesar what is his is quite different than helping to choose the Caesar. As Christ-followers we have an obligation to “obey the laws of the land” but we aren’t commanded or required to help determine what those are. We are to live as a people set apart. How can we be set apart if we buy into a political system, which if filled with greed, corruption, warmongering, and a host of other things in direct opposition to Christ? Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not the political system is a broken, worldly system and therefore it often perpetuates as much or more evil as it does good.

    Do I presume to have all of this figured out and my mind made up forever? No. I am just wrestling with the tension between Jesus who resisted to the point of death being aligned with all things of the empire and the fact that American Christianity has made bedfellows with it. None of this is to say that I am not political. As Shane Claiborne suggests, “The question is not, “Are you political?”, but “How are you political?” Jesus seemed to be political in the way of subversive submission. Yes, Jesus lived within the “laws of the land” and claimed that we should give back to Caesar what belonged to him, but He did so with the Kingdom in mind. What difference does it make if we return to Caesar his coin with his image on it? After all, our hope is in Christ and in doing the will of the Father.

    Since I am doing nothing more than rambling at this point, let me conclude with this prayer.

    Lord, thank you for the diversity of thought contined in this blog. May we see that we have much more in common in Christ than not in our own abilities to reason. May we sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron. May we seek first your kingdom and your righteousness.

  13. Coop,

    That was a wise response. Thank you.


  14. Not sure if anyone is paying attention to this anymore, but I just have a quick two cents:

    I sympathize with both sides of this argument. But I think the crux of the issue is this: in whom (or in what) are we putting our hope?

    I think as long as we believe that salvation and redemption and justice comes through Jesus - and Jesus uses many different avenues to achieves his ends - then we trust in him and not the political, societal, or other institutions to bring about what we desire.

    Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation is a great book on this topic.

    Thanks for the great discussion!

  15. Penny,

    Thanks for the book rec. I will check it out!