For a year I’ve worn this yellow bracelet on my right wrist, a bracelet sent to every member of Congress by Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group. It says “What would Jesus cut?”
I sincerely doubt that Sojourners has a complete list of programs endorsed by Jesus, because they are smarter than that. Rather the bracelet is a reminder that people in power are accountable for the decisions they make, not just to the voters but to their conscience and their God.
Jesus, himself, was pretty cagey about politics. He dodged every effort to make him a king, he refused to align himself with the religious or political establishment, and, confronted with the dilemma of paying or refusing to pay taxes to the Roman government, he said,
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mt 22:21)
I love that about Jesus: he refused to be manipulated for political gain. He did not covet power, and he spoke truth to power. And that is what he expected of his followers.
So when I read the words, “What would Jesus cut?” I think of Jesus or God or your conscience standing by your shoulder to keep you from coveting influence or sucking up to power. Pardon the coarse expression, but certain behavior is best described coarsely.
In my case, this admonition often means don’t join others who put down popular scapegoats, such as school administrators, apathetic students, or Tea Party Republicans. They are easy targets, yet many of them try to heed their conscience against all odds. I’ll admit to giving in to political diatribe now and then, but I believe that Jesus expects better of me.
In the case of Washington’s elite, it means don’t vote against your conscience just because the power brokers tell you to, whether they be Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid, John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi. No one can presume to judge another’s conscience, but I think it is safe to say that we would not have gridlock in the Congress if everyone were voting his or her conscience. Conscience is not that well-organized.
Imagine Jesus on the floor of Congress. Jesus, what about abortion? What about amnesty for illegals? What about trimming Medicare? What about reducing defense spending? I don’t see Jesus asking how the party is voting or whether he will lose votes in the next election. I don’t see him bargaining his vote to get on a committee he favors. I don’t see him intimidated by political heavyweights. And he expects the same of those who follow him.
If Jesus is not your exemplar, then your political conscience should speak to you. Your conscience should have a voice at every vote, at every caucus, at every back room conversation where political bribes are offered. You should not leap to compromise, if it involves your personal gain.
The politicos are shaking their heads and calling me naive, but plenty of Congressional icons have taken the high road through their careers. I’m not sure who voted their conscience in the recent vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, but I know of four Senators who voted against their personal interests: Thad Cochran (Missisippi), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Johanns (Nebraska) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). It’s a safe bet that these Senators will not be rewarded for voting against their party .
I smile when I see representatives crossing party lines to vote or standing strong on an issue they believe in, regardless of lobbyists or Congressional Whips. John McCain stood up for amnesty for undocumented residents. Chuck Hagel opposed the war in Iraq. Kathleen Sibelius spoke out for women’s reproductive rights at the risk of excommunication from Church and Party.
I would be proud to be represented by such legislators and cabinet secretaries. While I might disagree with them on other issues, I would respect their courage to vote their convictions and to buck the political tide. Party loyalty is very low on my hierarchy of values. Jesus did not adhere to the tattered coalitions of power.
Jesus was not a Zealot nor an apologist for Rome. He visited with Pharisees and with tax collectors. He touched lepers and healed a Roman Centurion’s daughter. He was almost murdered in his home village, and he was executed in Jerusalem, once holy, today a political pie. No one was less wedded to political power than Jesus.
And he expects the same of those who follow him.