What would Jesus do this time?

by Robert Watson

One of the common bumper stickers seen on our highways is “WWJD,” which is an acronym for “What would Jesus do.” The WWJD phenomenon is a 21st century update of the Christian fish symbol (Ichthus or Ictus) which is also displayed on cars as an honest effort by many Christians to try and consider the example of Jesus in their daily lives. But it is also an ingenious campaign by the Religious Right to try and further evoke God in pursuit of their political agenda, refuting any opposition with the question: What would Jesus do?

Christian evangelicals have constituted a powerful voting bloc for Republicans since the 1980s and were a key factor in George W. Bush’s victories in 2000 and 2004. Organized to oppose abortion, gay marriage, and the teaching of evolution, in recent years the Religious Right expanded its focus to include opposition to an array of issues they somehow portray as immoral like gun control, a minimum wage, universal health care, anti-poverty programs, and immigration (“Who would Jesus deport?”). Along the way they defeated the moderate and fiscal responsibility platforms of the Republican Party and, with one of their own in the White House, they pushed the party far to the right.

But the Democrats have been complicit in that they completely conceded the religious vote. It should be remembered however, that much of FDR’s New Deal was motivated by a moral imperative and the liberal reforms of the Great Society (civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunches, etc.) were rooted in scripture. Just as the Religious Right has framed their opposition to abortion on moral grounds, so has opposition to the death penalty been a moral issue for Democrats. That said, given the revolutionary and progressive nature of the teachings of Jesus, a compelling case can be made for the existence of a Religious Left.

Consider the biblical account of Jesus becoming so angered at the money changers making a profit in the house of God that he overturned their tables. There are money makers today – in and out of the house of God – whose tables need overturning: The war profiteers with connections to the White House; those getting rich off the energy crisis; and polluters of our modern-day Garden of Eden (“What would Jesus drive?”).

There are also questionable arguments used by the Religious Right and the hypocrisy of many of their leaders. For instance, it is doubtful Jesus would approve of politicians using his name while streamlining access to guns or denying healthcare to poor children (“Who would Jesus deny?”); or that he would have beaten the drum for Bush’s wars yet remained noticeably silent when Americans were left to die after Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, in any religion or, for that matter, any secular system of ethics or justice, a record of tax cuts for the wealthy and program cuts for the poor is immoral.

The legacy of deficits and lies (“Who would Jesus deceive?”) bequeathed to the country by Bush and his party has unmasked their claim to the moral high ground. There is nothing moral about strapping our children and grandchildren with an insurmountable debt and deteriorating planet. No longer will the Religious Right simply be able to say they represent “family values” and have people believe it when their words don’t square with their deceitful actions. No party has a monopoly on God or morality, just as Pat Robertson no more reflects a moral political perspective than does Jeremiah Wright.

Accordingly, with Christian conservatives underwhelmed by the candidacy of John McCain, and with Barack Obama campaigning like a “preacher in chief,” Democrats have an opening to make inroads with “values voters.” But to do so Democrats must embrace – and stop retreating from – the moral underpinnings of their policies on everything from energy conservation to providing our troops with adequate body armor. So too must they make the case to Christian voters that school lunches, health care, and support for middle class families juggling the costs of a college education, gasoline, and a mortgage is a modern version of “two fishes and five loaves of bread.” And it doesn’t hurt that Democrats favor the peace ticket this fall.

Robert Watson, Ph.D. has published over 25 books on American politics and history, and runs the American Studies program at Lynn University.

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