Baker Academic

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Could it be that Jesus is sitting out this election cycle?

In a recent post, I mused that religion is always a key factor in American presidential politics. Both Obama and Romney are "Jesus people" in their own way simply because they represent Americans. But, more importantly, American voters (as Prothero's very interesting book points out) almost always employ Jesus to promote whatever ideology needs promoting. As a result, Jesus tends to be overworked every fourth November. Hey, in this economy, Jesus should be happy he's got any work at all. It just so happens that Jesus is subject to being remade in the image of Elephants, Donkeys, Rhinos, Mormons, Baptists, et cetera. With this in mind, I suggested last week that:
"Religion is always a factor in American politics. Perhaps this will prove an understatement in 2012."
I think I might have been wrong.

The jury is still out, but Jesus has been a very quiet campaigner this cycle. Normally in this time of year, we would be seeing images of the candidates worshiping in their respective churches and shaking hands with prominent religious leaders. Not so. The closest we came to "Jesus is my co-pilot" language was in the VP/running mate debate when the topic of abortion came up very briefly. 

Twelve, sixteen years ago, the evangelical right cared about "life" issues more than the money in their bank accounts. And whatever one thinks about such issues, these folks were consistent. On the other end of the pew, liberal Christians were outraged by "life" issues abroad. A farce like Afghanistan would have tanked the standing Democratic candidate. Liberals, it seems, can't be bothered to care about peace issues anymore. In both camps, Jesus is employed much less than in previous years. Is it because both camps have undergone an ideological shift?

This is probably only half true.

The other half of the equation, and I'll admit that this should have been obvious to me sooner, is that conservatives are having trouble appropriating Jesus to support a candidate whom they formerly called a cult member. It also probably does not help that Romney has been on both sides of the abortion issue (alongside a host of other issues). Four years ago, Obama's ties with African American Christianity were leveraged against him to make him seem like an outsider. His fallacious ties with Islam were leveraged in the same way. But the conservative spin machine hasn't said boo on the issue of Obama's religion. Probably because they don't want Romney's religion to be spotlighted in counterbalance. There a certain logic in this omission. I must say that its been refreshing to see Jesus politicized less.

What is perplexing to me is that Obama has continued George W. Bush's military policies in almost every way. He approved legislation that allows suspected terrorists to be detained indefinitely and without due process. He has bombed countries like Pakistan unilaterally. American presence in Iraq is still ubiquitous. Did I mention Afghanistan? These policies are both fiscally irresponsible and against the grain of a "blessed are the peacemakers" mentality. Why do Jesus-loving Americans care so little about such issues? We used to be about "saving" the outsiders, not locking them up and blowing them up. In this regard, I'm a bit perplexed that Jesus has been underemployed. If conservatives really want to unseat Obama, why not swing from the left?

So I have to ask, is it good news that Jesus has become less political? Or is it unfortunate that Americans care less about Jesus these days?



  1. Careful professor, "Liberals, it seems, can't be bothered to care about peace issues anymore" is coloring a whole lot of peace-loving liberal Democrats one shade of crayola.

    President Obama is NOT and has never been a liberal, despite the vitriol of the Fox loving sect of the American electorate.

    Is he better than Bush, or McCain or Romney on Foreign Policy? I say, "Yes." But, is he a liberal, absolutely not.

    1. Dear Anonymous (by the way, this seems to be a very common name), I don't remember calling Obama a liberal. Although many, many will. To my knowledge he has never identified as such.

    2. The more we have unregulated capitalism the more Jesus slides out of the equation. People are too worried about getting their fair share by cutting taxes. My question to you is this. How do the teachings of Jesus eliminate the Federal Reserve? Would Jesus ever put banksters on trial? When our politics are controlled by lobbyists and the private sector, Jesus just doesn't fit in that equation...Jesus was a broke ass carpenter. The real question is this...which candidate will make life better for the broke asses in this country?

    3. Okay, you sound way too much like my brother for me not to ask. Is that you Tim?


  2. This CBC response to the religion of Romney might give you an idea of the view from the north

  3. It is my impression that Jesus walked in the political arena alot in his brief tenure here. It got him killed. The less I see Jesus used as leverage, the better. He should be an influence on a person's personal ethics and morals that is then employed quietly in all aspects of life, even in the mucky halls of goverment.
    I think we see less of "Jesus politics" this time because it didn't work last time.