Jesus for president? His principles show the way

Our country is in the process of choosing its leaders — an amazing privilege when you think about it.

Under this incredible freedom, we tend to think that the leaders we pick are fit for their duties if they are aligned with our particular political affiliations or agendas. And so leaders who lean to the left are considered capable if we ourselves lean to the left, and leaders who lean to the right are considered fit if we personally lean in that direction.

But what happens if truly capable leadership has little to do with political agendas, and much more to do with something else? What if leadership capable of building up, of sorting to the heart of issues, of engendering change that protects and fosters life, has nothing to do with taking political sides?

Consider Jesus. While there is plenty of political, sociological and theological reactivity around him, he has plenty to show all of us – certainly about leadership.

Jesus found his deepest identity not in the people and their causes, but in difficult, determined days away from the fray—40 days to be exact, all spent in the wilderness.

There, he was tempted to live and lead from a desire for self-satisfaction, self-protectiveness and self-aggrandizement. Each time he was tempted, he responded with a deep understanding of a tradition that was both within him and larger than him—his faith. He understood, above all else, that faith would define the issues before him.

And so he led from there.

What if we expected our own leaders to have taken a significant time away from the demands of power to determine, through study, through reflection, through a “living at the bones,” if they have the capacity or desire to lead? And to lead for what is deeper than a political end— perhaps toward what the Bible calls for: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8.)

What kind of leader would we have then?

Consider, again, Jesus. He wasn’t concerned with votes, nor with lobbyists.

He had one purpose he lived for and walked toward — to get to Jerusalem. On the way, certainly, he healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead and talked about the kingdom of God. But all of that only served to show why he was so bent toward Jerusalem.

Over and over again, people — most of all his own disciples — pressured him to abandon his cause. He wouldn’t do it. People didn’t understand. No matter. He pressed on. People said it would do no good. No matter. He pressed on.

What would happen if we were to expect our leaders to have one guiding principle deeper than any devotion to a political party? A principle not shaped by political winds, but rooted in a larger-than-life precept, like the one contained in the Bible verse above?

What kind of leader would we have then?

And what would happen if, in this election, we toned down the partisanship, and listened, hard, for something more from those we might elect? Something more than “making America great again,” or inflaming people’s fears? Something even greater than the critical need to keep jobs going and health care flowing?

I speak of matters like whether our justice is Creator-shaped, whether our mercy is neighbor-shaped and whether our individual and political stances are marked, first of all, by humility.

What kind of leader would we have then?

What kind of country would we be then?

Rev. Karen Bates Olson is pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Browns Point. Email her at pastor@resurrectionlutherantacoma.org