Tell me who your Jesus is and I'll tell you for whom you'll vote.
Is he the prophet from Nazareth, friend of the poor and the outcasts, striving for peace and justice-as he is for the left-leaning National Council of Churches? Or is he the pro-family, hater of sin and high taxes, Lord of all-as he is the right-wing Christian Coalition? Jesus, the Savior of Americans on both ends of the political spectrum, apparently comes in many forms.
In his book American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), Stephen Prothero chronicles the incarnations of Jesus through American history. To Thomas Jefferson, Jesus was "the first of human Sages," a divine teacher of wisdom. In the 1800s, as women filled the pews, Jesus was feminized and his qualities of piety and purity, love and mercy, meekness and humility were emphasized. The pendulum swung back in the 1900s as men reacted to women's advances in the workplace and elsewhere. They sought a tougher Jesus and highlighted his vigor, strength, courage, power "and above all, the personal magnetism which begets loyalty and commands respect." Theirs was a manly redeemer.
In the 1960s, as the Beatles conquered the pop world, Jesus became a "Superstar." Later Jesus grew his hair long, put on sandals and became a hippie for some, and a political activist for others. But regardless of the historical period, one American commonality remained-the centrality of Jesus.
Perhaps the most recent trend is the Republicanization of Jesus. For much of the 20th century, Jesus stood on the left with leaders such as Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. But more recently, Jesus-loving conservatives found him a place of honor in the Republican Party. As the party embraced the religious right's rhetoric on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, Jesus and his conservative entourage were given a dominant role in the Republican tent.
In contrast, liberals whose politics flow from their discipleship to Jesus are eyed suspiciously by an increasingly secular Democratic Party. Even though the last two Democrats to win the White House were outspoken about having Jesus in their hearts, many in the party mistakenly believe faith to be a private matter. Therefore, the issue of religion is often conceded to the Republicans and as a result churchgoers are voting Republican by a 2-to-1 margin.
The official Mennonite understanding of Jesus offers something for everyone. Article 2 <http://www.mennolink.org/doc/cof/art.2.html> of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective proclaims Jesus Christ as the Word of God become flesh; the Savior who delivers us from sin; the prophet who taught us to love enemies and abstain from violence; the only Son of God, fully human and fully divine. He is our Lord and the not-yet-recognized Lord of the world. Appropriately nonpartisan, this Jesus offers his followers few clues about how to vote or whether to vote at all. Perhaps as a result, Mennonites vote in similar patterns to other Christians.
In reviewing the multiplicity of forms Jesus has taken in America, many may find such a pliable Jesus offensive. Henry Cadbury, former Harvard professor, suggested that what we've done to Jesus over the ages is comparable to what the Roman soldiers did-they stripped and mocked him by dressing him in their scarlet military cloak.
Perhaps we too mock Jesus by dressing him in our political colors. But we dare not leave him solely in the dustbin of ancient history. We proclaim Jesus as the Living Christ in part because we trust that his relevance to our situation remains. We believe Jesus' life and teachings speak to us today about war, culture, wealth, politics, sin. And what exactly they say depends on how we answer his question recorded in Mark 8: "But who do you say that I am?"