"As Christians, we must be generous and fair enough to listen to differing positions."
“What would Jesus do?”
Nineteenth century Christian pastor and writer Charles Sheldon posed this question in his widely read book, “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?”
This same message had a resurgence more than a century after with the “WWJD” bracelet or wristband accessory which became trendy among Christian youth groups in the late 1990s.
This question is also a challenge for all Christians of our times on the moral imperative to show the love of Jesus through our action.
For us Christians today, it is an important reminder on how our faith should shape almost every aspect of our lives—from the sacred to the mundane—from family life to politics.
Bringing our voices of faith to the public sphere is essential to our faith. In a 2013 homily, Pope Francis said, “Good Catholics meddle in politics, offering the best of themselves, so that those who govern can govern.”
But with the generally sad and dysfunctional state of politics in many places around the world—the polarization, corruption, and violence—it is often difficult to just even ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”
Jesus, of course, had an uneasy relationship with both the Roman and Jewish political leaders of his time. Much to the prodding of the Jewish Sanhedrin, it was a Roman governor who condemned him to the death of a political criminal.
This uneasy relationship between the Christian faith and politics goes a long way in human history. Three centuries of the early Church were smeared in the blood of the Christian martyrs. Several “troublesome priests” famously irked the political leaders of their times—like Thomas Beckett in the twelfth century to the twentieth century archbishop and saint Oscar Romero—and ended up becoming “political” martyrs themselves.
In his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis calls politics “one of the highest forms of charity.” Charity—from a Catholic perspective—is the highest theological virtue, which we more commonly call “love”. Clearly, in this sense, the pope is saying politics is an important way of loving God by loving our neighbors in a concrete way.
Therefore, when the Pope invites us to “meddle” in politics, he is practically asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”
In all the messiness of politics, the Pope asks, “How will Jesus love?”
Jesus, of course, was highly political. He called the poor blessed, but told the rich they would face woes. He criticized the corrupt leaders of his time, and spoke harshly of them when they were uncaring of the needy. But he did this to show that God cares for everyone, especially those in need, and expects those who claim to act in his name to do the same.
All throughout history, Christians have lived up to this vocation of service in the world—by establishing schools, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable institutions for the poor and the destitute.
When political regimes run and rule society in a manner contrary to the moral consciences of people and their human dignity, history is not wanting of church leaders who courageously spoke in favor of the needy and the oppressed.
If politics is a way for Christians to love as Jesus loved, then our vocation is to work towards becoming a country founded upon justice and human dignity—the society that God calls us to pursue.
Thanks to the political “meddling” of countless men and women of faith, millions in our world now have better lives.
So will it continue to be in the future. Bringing our faith to politics—to legislative advocacies, civil society projects and civic participation is an important part of being a Christian today. By participating in politics, we can be powerful witnesses to Christ’s mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and care for the ill and imprisoned with compassion (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).
Feeding the hungry, for example, goes beyond simply meeting individual needs as they arise. It is also imperative for us to go to the roots of social ills and work to change systems and structures so that people won’t go hungry anymore.
Bringing our faith into the public sphere is particularly important in this time of pandemic, when the weak, the ill and the poor are at most risk during this crisis. These days, we have seen how political power can be an effective solution, in the same way it can be the cause for our sufferings. We have realized how greed for profit has undermined generous service. In a world full of material illusions, we have lost sense of what is genuinely good, true and beautiful.
So, what would Jesus do? Will we keep ourselves to a “me and my own first” mentality—or instead we use this crisis as an opportunity to remember that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, no matter where they are? Will we in this time of tempest and when everything seems fragile and floundering—not find greater strength in human solidarity and closer societal collaboration?
How could we love as Jesus did? We need to believe in a politics that stands for family and community, instead of one corrupted by selfish individualism. We need to reinforce human dignity instead of being caught up in a consumerist culture that insists on what we have rather than how we treat each other. In a time of fleeting fads and changing trends, it is important to uphold the enduring values of faith, marriage and human labor that provide permanence to society as we know it.
In the end, when we see the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, we must insist that the foremost moral test of our society is how we treat and care for the weakest among us.
“Meddling” in politics, however, would mean the possibility of meeting people who we will disagree with either morally or politically. In these situations, while Christians are called to act in a manner consistent with the Gospel—the call to charity also means trying to stand in the shoes of those who have very different opinions than we do and trying to understand their motivations, their perspective and their pain.
As Christians, we must be generous and fair enough to listen to differing positions rather than jump to conclusions about bad intent, even if our disagreement with them is profound. We must not allow our own narrow perspectives to keep us from finding common ground. Instead it should fuel our passion in working for justice, or in speaking out on issues that are close to our hearts as we seek to transform the world for the better.