Faith and politics: what would Jesus do?

Published on: 28 February 2019

Catherine Waddams, economist and professor considers Jesus' response in the political arena.

He was clear about his mission – that all people should have life in all its fullness. But different parts of his teaching, and other parts of the Bible, emphasise different ‘political’ approaches – a more ‘left-wing’ approach based on social justice and compassion, or a more ‘right-wing’ focus on individual responsibility. Not much help in deciding which political party to join.

The referendum revealed both views and strength of feeling which surprised many. We need to listen to these views and address them, as well as more familiar approaches, quite apart from what sort of relationship with the EU and the rest of the world the country chooses.

Perhaps church people can relate to feelings of disenfranchisement through their own experiences. Though we have our faith in common, a church congregation often includes people with very different backgrounds and approaches, and election time may produce a rainbow of political allegiances.

People have a vested interest in their faith and in the place where they have worshipped, and often contributed their time, money, energy and ideas over many years. The church community may have supported us through difficult times of ill health, bereavement or personal crisis. When changes occur, for example, the appointment of a priest with a very different vision, or the formation of benefices out of previously independent parishes, church members can feel threatened, frightened or betrayed.

Respect for different views, understanding strength of feeling and providing pastoral support for all is crucial – how solutions are found is as important as identifying the solutions themselves.

Can we extend this process to our political engagement with the wider world, accepting the strength of feeling of those we disagree with, and respecting them? I am aware myself of how strongly I feel about some issues – but find it difficult to allow others the space to feel as strongly about their own views.

Jesus would certainly have recognised the strength of feeling both in religious and secular settings, including misrepresentation of others’ views and attitudes and the crude taunts which we have seen across the Brexit debate.

As we move into Lent and towards Holy Week, perhaps we will have a new appreciation of how those events may have felt for Jesus and his disciples. Feelings have certainly been running high in the last few months and recognising the strength of those feelings, and what generates them, is crucial for the future wellbeing of the nation.

While Jesus may give us little guidance on which is the ‘correct’ side of a debate, he provides a shining example of how to engage in the debate. He was certainly not afraid to challenge or be challenged, though he often chose his own timing, or slipped away from confrontations. But he set his face to Jerusalem, to the final confrontation and the ultimate sacrifice.

While he was passionate (for example in overturning tables in the Temple) and certainly was not afraid to say what he thought, he rarely lost his temper, and often saw apparently simple questions as much more complex than his questioners (for example on paying taxes).

So, let’s not ask what Jesus would have said, but rather how he would have said it. That might be a fine Lenten rule, both for our churches and our country.

This article is from...

Articles in this issue...

Faith and Politics – Book reviews

A selection of books on the theme of faith and politics.


Where we all think alike, no one thinks very much

Tim Lenton meets some local Christians expressing their faith in the political arena.


Jesus Cristo é o Senhor!

At the time of writing, with Brexit possibly just weeks away, David Foster joined some of the congregation of Igreja Batista de Dereham, a vibrant Portuguese-language congregation, over coffee and bolo de arroz to find out about their life in Norfolk and their hopes and fears for the future.


Aylsham High School Festival of Faith

Do God and politics mix? How will Brexit affect the Church? How does faith motivate the work of Christians in politics? Who would Jesus vote for?


Diocese in Europe offers reassurance

Did you know that the Church of England has a Diocese in Europe? Some of their Ordinands train alongside ours through the Eastern Region Ministry Course. Charles Read asked the Diocesan Bishop, The Rt Revd Dr Robert Innes, a few questions.


Moving beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’

When people in Norfolk ask the Revd Philip Harvey where he's from, he pauses. The pause accounts for the fact that he left Australia in 2002, then lived in Germany, Oman, Luxembourg and, since July 2017, in Sprowston (north Norwich) as curate. He shares his thoughts on the perspective this physical and spiritual journey has given him.


People of faith in a time of uncertainty

Lee Marsden, Professor of Faith and Global Politics, University of East Anglia considers a faith response to our current geopolitical turmoil.


Seeing Christ in those we disagree with

Bishop Alan's urges us to be counter-cultural.


Keep up to date

Subscribe to our eNews for a snapshot of news, events and resources, usually emailed once a fortnight

Signup to newsletter