Richard Davis: Christmas can teach us things about politics, too

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Christmas is the season when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also worthwhile to consider Jesus' teachings and example as well. This is particularly relevant in the world of politics and policy where Christ's lessons for us and his example can so easily be forgotten. What were a few of his traits and messages that could be applicable to politics and government today?

Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies and "bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you." What attitude is more needed in politics today than that admonition?

Instead of condemning those who disagree with us, we should love them. We should bless them. We should do good to them. I was heartened by the story of the communications directors for the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee who, in the midst of the recent contentious presidential election campaign, jointly raised money for charity. That should be the rule and not the exception.

A trait of Jesus was to see the potential in others. Jesus told his disciples that they had the capacity to preach the Gospel, to do mighty works, and even to inherit the Kingdom of God. Similarly, we should see the good in others — the potential we all have to contribute to the temporal society where we live. A concern only for "No. 1" leads to a selfish and fear-ridden society. However, when, as a society, we invest in each other, including, (but not limited to) programs such as education loans and grants or job retraining or health care, we are understanding our individual potential and helping each other live up to it.

At the same time, Jesus had harsh words for some. One was the hypocrite. That is still a problem today, particularly in politics. Politicians who bob and weave to stay in office must worry about what face to present to the world at any given moment. However, political leaders who don't do that are the ones who know who they are and are comfortable with it. That doesn't preclude changing your mind. But, to avoid being a hypocrite, that change must be sincere and not based on political expediency.

Others he chastised were those who hastily judged others. Everyone has faults, including those in public life. One difference between those in public life and those not is the shortcomings of public figures are more readily apparent to everyone. Breaking the law is one thing, but mistakes in one's personal life — a failed marriage, an affair, troubled children — are sad events that require accountability to God and family, but they should not automatically disqualify someone from public life. Similarly, politicians sometimes say stupid things in public. Most of us say things we regret, but we're lucky they don't end up in the newspaper. Politicians aren't always so lucky. We should be willing to forgive and realize that all of us are still under construction. "Judge not that you be not judged" has as much applicability to politics as it does to other areas of life.

Jesus also set an example of caring for those others forgot. He lived among the poor, the outcast and the downtrodden. He served those who were most vulnerable in his society. In an age of growing economic inequality, we, too, must remember the plight of the most vulnerable among us. Like Jesus, we must care for those who are most in need in our society. That responsibility applies to us as individuals, the private groups and organizations we belong to, as well as to the society we live in and the government that operates as society's tool.

Christmas is a time to remember Jesus Christ. But more than just remember, we should reconsider how Christ's examples and teachings might be applicable to how we treat each other today, particularly in the realm of politics and public policy.

Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. Email: Richard_Davis@byu.edu

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