Who Would Jesus Endorse?
Who would Jesus endorse? He wouldn't. This entire blog post is a thought experiment. Although he did on occasion honor public officials (Mt. 8:10), and he certainly endorsed John the Baptist as a religious leader (Mt. 11:14-15), there is no evidence that Christ engaged in party politics. In fact, he appeared to oppose local Jewish sects--Pharisees and Sadducees--fairly evenly when it came to their injustice and hypocrisy (e.g. Mt. 23:1-36; 22:29), and he called as apostles both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector, who undoubtedly had wildly differing worldviews.
Still, Jesus was political. He led protest after protest on the issues of his day, and was eventually executed for it. This is the Jesus who rode the symbolic donkey into Jerusalem (Mk. 11:1-11), who drove the money changers out of the temple (Mt. 21:12-17), the religious and political center of its day. This is the Jesus who taught that the Samaritan was not the enemy (Lk. 10:25-37), and who preached the greatest and most famous social justice sermon of all time (Mt. 5-7). This is the Christ who proclaimed Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19). Without a doubt, if Christ were incarnate today, his voice would be at the forefront of any socio-political debate.
The latest numbers from the New York Times show four Democratic candidates polling above five percent. The Republican nominee appears to be a lock. Below is a roundup of these five candidates, on the issues that matter most to voters today.
Progressive Christians, tongue in cheek, point to Christ's many miracles as proof that he was obviously a fan of universal health care. Lazarus certainly never paid a deductible. Perhaps more instructive, though, is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Although in political circles this story is more frequently used to show the need for good will among nations, it is important to remember (a) that this was part of a discussion with a lawyer on how to interpret the law, and (b) the actions the Samaritan took were dressing an injured man's wounds, caring for him when he could not care for himself, and providing the financial means for continued care. Christ ends this discussion by telling the lawyer the law calls him to, "go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37, NRSV). This is why, in the private sector, so many hospitals, nursing homes and other charities are named "Good Samaritan."
Most Democrats agree that the health care system in America is broken. How to fix it has been a matter of contention.
Biden wants to expand the ACA, create a public option, and use tax credits to mitigate costs for lower-income Americans.
Buttigieg favors a "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan that keeps private insurance intact, automatically enrolls lower-income Americans in Medicaid, and lets others buy into a public option.
Sanders would cover all conditions for all Americans under a single-payer system, and has already provided concrete details in legislation introduced in 2017 and 2019. He would pay for this with a tax increase, but when tax rates under this plan are balanced against health care savings, middle and lower income families would pay substantially less.
Warren has essentially signed on to Sanders' plan, with some additional provisions for negotiating drug prices, and a shift of the financial burden from middle-class taxpayers to, among other things, cuts in defense spending.
Trump's primary health-care goal has been to dismantle the ACA and privatize all insurance by removing mandates, stopping reimbursements, and so on. As a secondary goal, he has made at least some progress toward lowering prescription drug prices by making pricing more transparent and allowing Medicare and others to negotiate.
Christ was a refugee, and himself immigrated multiple times during his life. While generally Christians refer to the Hebrew Bible for guidance (Leviticus 19 requires immigrants be welcomed as citizens, and forbids oppressing them), Christ was also very clear on this matter, declaring those who do not welcome strangers among them will "go away into eternal punishment" (Mt. 25:46).
Biden supports a path to citizenship for "dreamers" and wants to address root causes of refugee migration, but takes a hard stance on illegal border crossings and would leave the status quo in place for immigrants without legal status caught in the US. He was also part of an administration that set records for the number of immigrants deported, and built many of the now infamous detention centers on the southern border. To date, he has not distanced himself from these decisions.
Buttigieg supports decriminalizing border crossing and creating paths to citizenship for most immigrants, while at the same time reinstating protocols that would identify and deport dangerous criminals attempting to enter the U.S.
Sanders supports decriminalizing border crossings and creating a path to citizenship for most immigrants. He also calls for restructuring ICE, creating independent oversight of DHS agencies, and appointing "hundreds" of new judges to break the logjam in immigration courts.
Warren supports decriminalizing border crossings and creating a path to citizenship for most immigrants. She would reform immigration agencies and eliminate detention facilities, using monitoring technology in their place. She would also raise the "refugee cap," and get rid of "metering" and the Remain in Mexico policy.
Trump's central campaign plank on immigration was to "build the wall." He seeks strict punishment and deportation of suspected illegal immigrants and a reduction of due process. He promises crackdowns on both legal and illegal immigration, especially of racial and religious minorities, such as Latinos and those from certain Muslim countries.
Jobs and the Economy
Obviously, the economics of Christ's time and the economics of the year 2020 are different. But the underlying principle that Christ articulates over and over again throughout scripture remains the same. Christ declared that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy to "bring good news to the poor" (Lk. 4:18). Christ has a basic disdain for the wealthy of his time (Mt. 19:24), likely because the wealth of his time, like our time, was built on systems of oppression. In fact, when discussing what is "good" and which commandments to follow, Christ once told a rich young man, "if you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor..." (Mt. 19:21). In fact, Christ calls those "blessed" who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner--and gives dire warning to those who don't (Mt. 25:34-40).
Biden blames the United States' economic woes on "phony populism" and "a younger generation that's questioning the very essence of our capitalist system." He speaks in vague terms of revitalizing the "middle class," and would raise the minimum wage to $15/hr, offer two free years of college, and expand or fix student debt-relief programs.
Buttigieg focuses on affordable housing, income inequality, raising the minimum wage to $15/hr, and up 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
Sanders has detailed plans for affordable housing, including rent control; bringing back Glass-Steagall to control the markets; raising taxes on the wealthy; creating new programs of social uplift; raising the minimum wage to $15/hr; creating several months of paid family and medical leave; publicly funding college educations; and cancelling student debt. As part of his Green New Deal, Sanders also plans on creating 20 million new green jobs.
Warren supports federal funds to build more housing, bringing back Glass-Steagall, raising taxes on the wealthy, creating new programs of social uplift, raising the minimum wage to $15/hr, creating 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, publicly funding college educations, and cancelling at least some student debt.
Trump's economics have focused largely on propping up markets through tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, echoing 1980s "trickle down" theory. Under Trump, the U.S. has continued to see sustained job growth, although a number of economists and news outlets have reported the quality of the new jobs is generally low. The final results of Trump's America First policy and trade wars have yet to be seen.
National Security and Terrorism
One of the names for Christ is "Prince of Peace" (Is. 9:6, fulfilled at Lk. 4:17-21). Christ's ministry is a ministry of peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt. 5:9). "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt. 26:52). Although Christ did engage personally in violent and threatening behavior on at least one occasion (Jn 2:13-17), it was violence against property (sheep, cows, coins, tables) and not against humans. In fact, this may be one of the biggest departures Christ made from the law and the prophets who came before.
Biden is the only leading Democrat who advocates extending the current wars and keeping American troops deployed to fight them. This is an extension of his time in the Obama administration, which was continuously at war on multiple fronts and dramatically increased the number of drone strikes on military and civilian targets alike. Biden also advocates significant increases to the defense budget, although how large the increases would be is unclear. On the domestic front, Biden has spoken out unequivocally against "the domestic terrorism of white supremacy" as a "poisonous ideology."
Like Biden, Buttigieg advocates increasing the defense budget, but at the same time calls for bringing the troops home. Domestically, Buttigieg has released a detailed "Action Plan to Combat the National Threat Posed by Hate and the Gun Lobby" which focuses on policy, political and civic action, and a substantial increase in resources to combat domestic terrorism. Sanders and Warren both advocate for cutting defense spending and ending current deployments, although both have drawn distinctions between responsible drawdowns and what Warren has called "President Trump's reckless and unplanned withdrawal." Both have also spoken out against domestic right-wing terrorism in the U.S.
Trump's military policy, despite tough rhetoric, is largely one of appeasement, having made many attempts to curry favor with Putin, Kim, et al, and having surrendered to Turkish jihadists in Syria, strengthening ISIS and other groups in the process. Trump has also famously emboldened domestic terrorists, especially the various white supremacists--from neonazis to the Klan--who have gathered under Trump's "Make America Great Again" banner, while at the same time cutting resources to fight domestic terror.
Christ's time was 2000 years before the environmental tipping point we find ourselves at today, and so the issue did not come up--at least not in any direct terms. But the root cause of the climate crisis did. When seen in terms of economic inequality, both the cause and the consequence of the crisis we face, the theology becomes very clear. Christ proclaimed his mission, among other things, was to "bring good news to the poor [...] proclaim release to the captives [..., and] let the oppressed go free" (Lk. 4:18). And salvation, in Christ's own words, hinges on the feeding, housing and clothing of those in need (Mt. 25:41-46). Ignoring human-made climate change in its current form is ignoring social and economic injustice and oppression.
Biden's plan is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through investing 41.7 trillion over 10 years in clean energy, ending new oil and gas leasing on federal land, and prioritizing nuclear energy. He will pay for his investments by rolling back corporate tax breaks. Notably, Biden has refused to come out against a ban on fracking.
Buttigieg also plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through a carbon tax on businesses, doubling clean energy production by 2025, and investing $200 billion over 10 years to do so. He would also end new oil and gas leases on federal land and end offshore drilling.
Sanders has proposed his own version of the Green New Deal, investing $16.3 trillion over ten years. His plan includes 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050. Sanders would also ban fracking entirely.
Warren proposes investing $3 trillion over 10 years to cut carbon pollution in half by 2030, achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Warren would also require all new buildings to show zero carbon pollution by 2028, and would ban fracking entirely.
Trump is a climate change denier, and a fierce advocate of fossil fuel energy. In pursuit of global energy domination, Trump has vowed to "turn everything around" with regard to current regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, and has leased millions of new public acres to oil drilling companies. Perhaps most telling, Trump withdrew the U.S from the Paris climate treaty and abrogated entirely Obama's Clean Power Plan, signaling an anti-environmental stance from the start.
So who would Jesus endorse? Well, still no one. That's not his way. But for those voters whose values follow from Christ's teachings, it is incumbent to seek out the candidate whose views, record and promises most closely resemble his. Who that is, you decide.