President Jesus Trolling
The Sermon on the Mount as our New Constitution
There is a genre of left-of-center opinion writing that, for the purposes of this article, I will call “President Jesus Trolling” (PJT for short). This typically involves a liberal or progressive political commentator, not necessarily a Christian, evoking the teachings or actions of Jesus or the New Testament in order to shame or discredit a conservative Christian politician by highlighting the apparent differences between them.
The latest example comes from Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times:
Jesus turned to Pious Paul, puzzled. "Why, they can pray for a cure," Pious Paul explained. "I call that universal…www.nytimes.com
I’m not going to provide a detailed commentary on Kristof’s piece or directly address the logical or hermeneutical problems it contains; instead, I’m going to see whether my liberal friends would like to consistently apply the PJT approach using other areas of Jesus’ teaching and ministry.
In other words, is the equation “Jesus = Good Government” what you would like to see consistently utilized in our contemporary political landscape? Let’s find out.
Speech given before the Yale Political Union on November 15th, 2016.thearcmag.com
First, a short example from Kristof’s piece, which is a strong representative sample of the genre of political literature I am addressing here:
A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind Jesus and touched his clothes in hope of a cure. Jesus turned to her and said: “Fear not. Because of your faith, you are now healed.”
Then spoke Pious Paul of Ryan: “But teacher, is that wise? When you cure her, she learns dependency. Then the poor won’t take care of themselves, knowing that you’ll always bail them out! You must teach them personal responsibility!”
Here are the elements of PJT in play here:
- A biblical story featuring Jesus’ famous compassion toward the poor and marginalized;
- juxtaposition of that compassion with the coldhearted political philosophy of a conservative government official;
- finally, condemnation of the conservative Christian politician’s stance by the much more enlightened (liberal, socialist) teachings of the very Lord the Christian conservative politician claims to be following.
That’s the way that PJT is used as an argumentative strategy.
For the time being, let’s forget about the many historical, contextual, hermeneutical, philosophical, ethical, theological, and political factors at play here, and simply embrace Rev. Kristof’s approach to political application of biblical teaching, especially the teachings of Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether Kristof or other liberal pundits actually care about Jesus’ teachings, or know basic theology, or propound a coherent worldview themselves; just go with it for now. Embrace the President Jesus Trolling.
But let’s leave the Left’s chosen area of caring for the poor and take a quick tour through some of Jesus’ other teachings, to see if they are just as comfortable PJTing those other areas of Jesus’ thought.
First, how about adultery? From Matthew 5:27–30:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
This teaching would have a profound impact on the dissolution of families, the damage done to children because of fatherlessness, sexual harassment in the workplace, and a host of other societal ills. All we need to do is ensure that the government of the United States dedicates itself to eradicating adultery and punishing it as a crime to the fullest extent of the new laws we will write to police sexual sin.
Are we all still on board? Ready to save people from hell fire and their marriages from divorce through legislation? How many young ladies will we save from cat-calling and unwanted sexual advances? How many children will be happier and healthier with a stronger social fabric? We cannot accomplish this, though, unless we pass legislation at the federal level criminalizing not only adultery, but sexual leering and public lust. PJT demands it.
Let’s try one more area of Jesus’ teaching, namely the relationship between labor and capital from Matthew 20:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”
The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
If we apply PJT theory to this parable, we see that the United States Government should strike down any laws limiting the freedom of owners to pay people whatever they want, regardless of time worked, what other people are paid, or any other factor, as long as the parties are in agreement on the contracted rate of pay (which may include an owner’s promise of “whatever is right” instead of an actual number).
This is a fairly libertarian economic vision, and the underlying principle of someone being able to do whatever they want with their own money is a compelling one for those in favor of deregulated markets and a laissez-faire approach to governing the economy. Remember, the teachings of Jesus must be applied directly to the policies of the federal government of the United States of America; no hermeneutical or interpretive nuance can be imposed upon these stories that are clearly meant to guide the policy making of our Republic.
Are you still with me?
Well, I think you should take it up with Father Kristof and his political allies, because they clearly understand the proper relationship between the teachings of Jesus and the laws of the United States better than you do. It’s all just a matter of consistently applying their PJT approach for the betterment of our nation and our people. Who’s ready to disband our military and cyber security systems so we can collectively turn our other cheek for Putin?