The Jesus Jew
Many, if not most, of those in the conservative camp of the American electorate are evangelicals who think of the United States as a Christian nation. One wonders if any of them have pondered which of the presidential candidates exhibits the most Christian values. Were a poll taken, I wager that the choices would be either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, with a tiny minority going for John Kasich. Surely, none would pick Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders would be out of the question.
Let’s take a look at those two Democratic candidates. Sanders is a Jew – not a young Jew rebelling from his ethnic and religious heritage, but an older Jew. What are his core principles? His entire message is about compassion for the downtrodden, the poor and the struggling middle class. It opposes the politics of favoring the wealthy at the expense of those in the lower and middle rungs of society. He rails against the vast maldistribution of wealth, by which the richest 1 percent own almost 90 percent of the nation’s assets, and a single family (the Waltons) owns close to half of that wealth. He finds this morally repugnant.
The GOP gap
Of course, the Republican candidates make no mention of this enormous disparity. They and their followers have somehow managed to persuade themselves that sacrificing the lot of the masses in order to fill the coffers of the rich and powerful to overflowing is in line with Christian tenets. It is a testament to the human potential for self-delusion.
And then there are Clinton and Sanders. The latter’s recent visit to the Italian headquarters of the Pope, whom Sanders ardently admires, casts the religious dimension of this presidential contest in bold relief. It invites comparisons between the two main branches of Christianity.
Clinton professes to be an adherent of the faith’s protestant wing. Yet she is more closely aligned with the Catholic profile. Certainly, Catholicism champions the poor, the disadvantaged, the lowly – a position wholeheartedly espoused by Pope Francis, who is more inclusive and less censorious of those who depart from the church’s strictures than some of his predecessors have been.
But the other side of the Catholic Church is its concentration of wealth at the top. Slate.com has described it as “probably the wealthiest institution in the entire world. The Catholic Church’s global spending matches the annual revenues of the planet’s largest firms, and its assets—huge amounts of real estate, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Vatican City, some of the world’s greatest art—surely exceed those of any corporation by an order of magnitude.”
Catholic in Protestant Clothes
Hillary Clinton parallels the Catholic Church in both respects. She and husband Bill are quite well-off personally, and she caters to the wealthy bankers and Wall Streeters, accepting payment of $600,000 from them for three speeches. (She claims, of course, that such largesse has not influenced her to favor them in her political dealings.)
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, adamantly refuses to accept political donations from the rich and powerful, instead raising the money for his campaign in small donations from throughout the population. The focus of his message is granting relief for the middle and lower classes by increasing the minimum wage to $15, providing universal health care for all while eliminating the profitable insurance companies, and making college free to everyone who’s qualified. He wants to pay for most of these programs by getting rid of tax loopholes for corporations and requiring the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
The Christian Jew
All of these measures closely follow Christian principles. Christ wasn’t just a socialist; he was a revolutionary, and the Reformation was a religious revolution. Bernie Sanders is calling for a political revolution that reflects Christian ideals.
What did Christ say about the rich? “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Christ was a Jew. And in American politics, so is his closest moral disciple.