February 17, 2016

Who would Jesus vote for? Maybe Bernie (COMMENTARY)

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Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stand during a rally at the University of New Hampshire Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, New Hampshire on February 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PROTHERO-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 17, 2016.

Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stand during a rally at the University of New Hampshire Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, New Hampshire on February 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PROTHERO-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 17, 2016.

Yes, Bernie Sanders is Jewish. But he has shown about as much devotion to organized religion as he has to the political establishment. In the unfolding drama of the battle for the White House, he is best cast among the chorus of the “nones” — that swelling 22 percent of the population who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated.

While other Democrats have gotten religion in recent years, testifying to their faith in Jesus as savior and Lord and yoking their public policy views to biblical quotes, Bernie has largely stuck to the Jeffersonian line that religion is a private matter.

Recently, however, he has been drawn out a bit.

As a scholar of American religion, I know I am supposed to take Sanders at his word, slot him as a secular Jew who is, as he put it, “not particularly religious” and leave it at that. Even so, I cannot shake the sneaking suspicion that he is the most Christian candidate in the race.


READ: Considering Bernie Sanders’ Jewishness (COMMENTARY)


In a speech in September at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., recently endorsed Donald Trump, Sanders cited Jesus on the golden rule in Matthew 7:12. He also quoted from an Old Testament passage often quoted by Martin Luther King Jr.: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24). These two texts lent Sanders the bookends of his speech, morality and justice, which he said had to a great extent gone missing in a country that “worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth.”

That sounds like Pope Francis, whom Sanders has repeatedly lauded. It also sounds like the Christian faith I encountered in my youth in the Episcopal Church. In fact, it sounds like the faith of my Republican mother who, after hearing of a homeless man who froze to death just miles from our Cape Cod home, joined forces with her minister and her best friend to establish the region’s first homeless shelter.

It must also be remembered that Jesus was a Jew, and that the historical Jesus bears almost no resemblance to the American Jesus conjured up in the late 1970s by the religious right and trotted out nowadays by Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and other Republicans desperately seeking the white evangelical vote.

If the Bible is your guide, Jesus said nothing, ever, about abortion. He did, however, tell us to love our neighbors, including those Samaritans, the Mexicans and Muslims of his time. And he demonstrated a clear preference for the blessed poor over the filthy rich.

Jesus was also fully conversant with the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Amos, whose faith focused first and foremost on justice for all in this world rather than salvation for some in the next.


READ: Trump’s interview with the devil (COMMENTARY)


When Jesus turns up in a synagogue in the Gospel of Luke, he does not condemn homosexuals. He does not prophesy that a man named Trump will one day become the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, collects civil scriptures in his new book. The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, collects civil scriptures in his book “The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide and Define a Nation.”

Instead, he reads from Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland says Cruz is “anointed to be the next president of the United States.” Sanders would never presume to say that about himself. Neither would I. Still, I can’t help but think that the spirit of the Lord hovers far closer to Sanders’ “political revolution” than to the patently unChristian efforts of cultural conservatives to wall off Samaritans, enrich the rich, or refuse to allow rape victims to terminate pregnancies.

I don’t bring my Bible into the ballot box. But if you do, if you consult with Jesus on Election Day. Don’t say you weren’t warned if he tells you he is casting his lot with Bernie, the secular Jew.

(Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, is the author of the new book “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).” This column first appeared in USA Today)

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  • Mary

    Stephen trumpets the same old tired liberal protestant line that Jesus didn’t mention abortion – why would he? Such a radical thing wasn’t on the radar in the First Century – not because they were primitive and didn’t have our medical advances, but because they had a conscience and belief in God that would have prevented such a concept as abortion from ever coming to their minds.

    He didn’t have to say anything more than thou shalt not murder for people to know where he stood. So do we – we’re just behaving as children and trying to find a corner to justify it and get away with it.

    We know it’s a sin.

  • alison

    Agreed.

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  • Tom Downs

    Mary, that’s just silly. Google “abortion in the ancient world”; it was widespread and all around the world. Perhaps Jesus didn’t mention it because he is all about spreading good news, and abortion just doesn’t figure in his message. (Should it figure in ours then?)
    Be careful. Based on what you said and the way Jesus thought about murder, you could be accused of murdering Stephen. Jesus is about gathering his chicks, not scattering them in to parties.

  • yoh

    Waitaminute aren’t Cruz, Rubio and Carson all saying they are bestest pals with Jesus?

  • I find this post troubling. I am hesitant to comment, because the issue is a complex one. When we talk about taking the “Lord’s name in vain” we don’t speak just about swear words, but about attaching the Lord’s name to an agenda that is not his. To tie the Lord’s name to any political candidate is extremely problematic. Indeed, a sense of our own fallibility and of honor to God may mean that we keep the Lord’s name out of endorsements of any candidate — any time, in any culture. To speak about particular issues may be a different matter. Even Mike Huckabee is not willing to make endorsements. Beware of using the Lord’s name in vain by tying him to any person, or using his name to come up with a catchy title to an article. He deserves more.

  • Junebug

    Democrats in general are more vocal about the general welfare of people, as was Jesus. Hillary and Bernie have records that show they can walk the talk. The tiresome mantra of Republicans does nothing but hurt people, e.g., to lower taxes, remove regulations and many government departments, et. al. And to overtly claim God/Jesus is on your side is sacrilegious. IMHO

  • Doc Anthony

    Hey, no problem folks! Surely Jesus would cast his vote for good ole BERNIE — if Jesus was a Bible-rejecting atheist with a closet-communist economic philosophy.

    Come to think of it, maybe Jesus would vote for HILLARY under the same conditions as well !!!!

  • Fran

    Jesus’ vote is not for any human politician or any human government since he is the son of God (Matt. 3:17) and King of God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44). It will soon replace and rule instead of man’s governments (Isaiah 11:1-10). Bernie would benefit to reflect on those ancient prophecies as well as directly on the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

  • Kyle

    This is shocking, even for a professor from my leftist alma mater. I do wonder if Mr. Prothero understands that the Bible is one book. He seems to give the idea lipservice in mentioning that Christ was schooled in Amos but goes no further. Even if Jesus did not mention something explicitly, by virtue of Him being the Alpha and the Omega (beginning and end) and a member of the Trinity, He stamped His Holy approval all over those uncomfortable Old Testament passages. And keep in mind that since He is God, Christ not only watched Sodom burn, he ordered it. He ordered the flood, the eradication of the Caananites and created a literal hell for those who reject His free gift. Let’s not be too hasty to look for Christ’s teaching only within the scope of the Crimson letters. But if you need to be convinced from His words alone, see the following: “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew…

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  • WHISKERS McCOY

    as a matter of fact they did have abortion in the first century. they would insert a pebble into the uterus and it would act as an IUD aborting the fetus.

  • yoh

    Welllllll….Jesus kinda was all those things you described. He rejected the harsh arbitrary nature of the God of the Torah in favor of a new version of him who was loving and beneficent. Jesus had nothing nice to say about the wealthy and acquisition of money for its own sake.

    So I guess he would find something in common with the fellow Jewish guy running for president.

  • yoh

    So what is the excuse why you don’t follow Leviticus lifestyle demands?

    In case you noticed the candidate the author suggests Jesus would vote for was raised entirely on the old testament traditions without any of that Christian additions. Yet that candidate is the one advocating for the welfare of the downtrodden.

    It’s ironic how Christians only invoke the old testament when they want to act maliciously or act in ways counter to the inconvenient beneficence of Jesus’s words. Yet Jewish traditions of charity and social justice are rooted in the same book.

  • Debbo

    “Jesus was a Jew, and that the historical Jesus bears almost no resemblance to the American Jesus conjured up in the late 1970s by the religious right.”

    Very well put Prof Prothero. The American Jesus is mostly a creation of the right wing evangelicals and the fundamentalists. They apparently felt a need to create a macho Jesus. Fear of the wonderful qualities of femininity is a remarkable aspect of their “Christianity.”

    Note that Mainline denominations’ theology much more closely adheres to and welcomes the the historical, gospel-based Jesus. My personal feeling is that plays a major role in the loss of membership in Mainline churches.

  • Ron

    The big question that no one seems to want to address is not whether Jesus focused on the poor and downtrodden – he obviously did exactly that in his own ministry. The question is whether his desire was for other individuals to do so of their own free will because they chose to follow him, or for the government to order everyone to do so through demanding money from everyone and disbursing it as they see fit. The left likes to say that Jesus never mentioned abortion, but I also don’t recall him ever mentioning government intervention to help the poor, either. So if his failure to mention the former must be interpreted as meaning he didn’t care about it, why is his failure to mention the latter ignored, and how can his teachings that we help the poor be interpreted as demanding governmental intervention in order to do that? It seems to me that he wants me to help the poor, but I don’t recall reading that he specifically wants me to try to force others to do so.

  • To even ask this question shows a clear lack of knowledge and understanding of the gospels and of Christianity. God doesn’t vote, nor does His Son. He rules! What God is concerned with is our spiritual welfare. Are we looking beyond this life to the eternal, or are we trying to find peace and satisfaction in this life? God’s people know that they are merely sojourners here, we are just passing through. The gospel speaks to the hearts of those who have a void inside that only Jesus Christ can fill. If that is who you are and you haven’t yet received Christ, then receive Him into your life as your Lord and your Savior. As the One who died on the cross to pay for your sins so that you can be forgiven and have everlasting life. Turn away from sin and seek to follow Him through His Word and by His Holy Spirit. Then you will truly be blessed.

  • Carole

    In Numbers 5: 11-31, anyone with a Bible can read the ABORTION
    INSTRUCTIONS, which allegedly were given by the Lord to Moses,
    to be used when a husband, suspecting his wife of being unfaithful,
    brings her to a priest to keep her from bringing into the world “seed”
    which is not his.

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    God bless America, the land and its people with peace and harmony.

  • Diogenes

    The old testament laws outside the 10 Commandments were repealed when Jesus came. That is among the differences between the Old Testament (Covenant or Agreement) and the New.

    I was shocked when I heard Sanders call Jesus a socialist. Jesus was not a socialist. He told his followers to take what they had and use it to help others. He never told his followers to take what others had and use it to help others, because that would violate one of the Commandments.

  • Diogenes

    Psalm 139:13-16 ESV
    For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
    Jeremiah 1:5 ESV
    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
    Psalm 127:3-5 ESV
    Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

    The above coupled with the Commandment not to commit murder have it…

  • Josh

    Atheism is prevailing worldwide. 35% of American’s now consider themselves atheists. Science has proven that there is no god and no afterlife. Two of the world’s most brilliant scientists alive today, Dawkins and Hawking, have been the most influential scientists aside from Einstein. Dawkins and Hawking propelled the New Atheists movement where scientific critical though has demolished superstition. God “exists” in the minds of the living; those who choose to induce imaginary beings, adhere to superstitious thoughts, and restrict critical thought.