Alan Colmes "Was Jesus a Liberal" --A Critique

Recently we received a request to check out a book titled Red, White and Liberal by Alan Colmes (former television partner of Sean Hannity) and a chapter therein titled, "Jesus was a Liberal". As one with mixed political views, I had no axe to grind going in to this one; however, knowing how political commentators from both sides often tried to draft Jesus into their cause, I expected (and got) a decontextualed presentation. The arena of the first century simply isn't the arena of ours: Trying to turn Jesus into a Republican or a Democrat or even a Green Party member is a counsel of despair.

In that light, what of what Colmes has to offer? It is hard to gather how he arrives at some positions, given that they are made in summary format often; we have also been told that he claims to have done much of this tongue in cheek. However, here are some points:

  • Jesus is liberal, we are told, for these reasons:
    1. He "ate with prostitutes" -- I don't see how this is a particularly "liberal" position, but anyone can explain who wants to. Given accusatiuons against Bill Clinton, I'd be cautious here.
    2. "threw out the money changers (capitalists)" -- the moneychangers were employed by the Temple and were not individual entrepeneurs. There is no "capitalism" here as an economic system.
    3. "believed the rich should give to the poor" -- I don't see how this is particularly "liberal" either; I know of few on any account who don't like charity. Some do object to government sponsorship of redistribution of wealth, and if that is what in mind, we won't find that with Jesus.

      Of course in his day, the rich constantly gave to the poor, as it happens: It was part of the natural patronage system, but I don't think Colmes would approve of a return to that.

    4. "preached the golden rule" -- again I need to ask how this is particularly "liberal". It isn't explained.
    5. He "had a problem with the conservatives of the day, the Pharisees" -- So "liberalism" means religious liberalism? This does not show that Jesus was a political liberal. In addition, what particular discussions with the Pharisees are reflective of this point, and on the spectrum of Jewish religion of the first century?
    6. "opposed their stoning of sinners" -- not exactly. Colmes is not accounting for the fact that the Romans held the right to execute; the challenge to stone the woman was a trap of the "render unto Caesar variety," an attempt to make Jesus choose between sedition or adherence to the law. It is not an opposition to the death penalty.
    7. "[opposed their] quoting from Scripture" -- I do not see where Colmes gets this one, and Jesus quotes (or alludes to) Scripture far many more times than his opponents.

    So Colmes' quick list has little justification. What else?

  • "The love Jesus offered during his short life was not dictated by economic status, religious belief, racial background, racial background, or sexual identity. Jesus was a champion to all."

    Colmes seems to be trying to create this syllogism:

    1. Jesus "championed" persons despite these states.
    2. Liberals "champion" despite these states.
    3. All people who "champion" for others despite class are liberals.
    4. Therefore, Jesus was a liberal.

    The breakdown occurs when we ask the critical question, "What did Jesus champion these on behalf of?" Colmes makes some effort above, and beyond, to link Jesus to "liberal" causes, but his efforts involve serious decontextualizations, such as saying of "Love thy neighbor as thyself,": "So why do some conservatives insist on being less than loving toward neighbors not like themselves?"

    Apparently "loving" to Colmes means following some (unspecified) agenda, but if it does not fit the contextual meaning of agape, it doesn't work.

    One thing it did NOT mean was, "not correcting moral faults" or "setting others up on welfare at your expense".

    A section follows in which Colmes says that conservatives would "have you believe Jesus was the world's first advocate for the white man and that he looked like David Duke." [211] Aside from a single person who wrote him a letter, however, he provides not one quote to justify this as a "conservative" position. Someone perhaps needs to have a word with the (even liberal) Hollywood producers who continually cast Jesus with actors of clearly Anglo-Saxon (in some cases blue-eyed) descent. Ted Neeley of Jesus Christ: Superstar looks more like David Duke than I do.

    Now to some issues Colmes tries to bring Jesus into as an advocate:

  • "Blessed are the peacemakers" -- Colmes says, "Evil dictators like Saddam Hussein aren't getting blessings here, but neither are those who would initiate war against them. And I'm guessing Jesus is endorsing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty."

    Not a good guess. Rome gave the name Pax Romana to a period that had peace because they made it so with military force. Keener (Matthew commentary, 169) notes that this rare word was used most often of the Roman Emperors; it refers to those seek reconciliation of enmity, and using war to do so is not excluded on that basis contextually.

  • "Blessed are the meek" -- Colmes says that "right-wing talk-show hosts" won't make the grade here.

    But per the Handbook of Biblical Social Values, 130-1, "meekness" as defined in the NT means humility coupled with gentleness, by one who can readily obtain and use force -- it is a renouncing of force in order to communicate something to others (including insults, or good messages) and an open and confident acceptance of others. There is no application to talk show hosts from any side, unless they have brass knuckles they use too.

  • "If you help the poor, the needy, and the infirm, you are doing it for Jesus."

    Not quite. Colmes is misusing Matthew 25 . It's not "the government" doing this, either, and whatever worth there is in programs like Head Start, Colmes is in error to think Matt. 25 can be used for it.

  • "Jesus encouraged us to sell everything we have and give the money to the poor."

    Jesus told ONE rich young man to do this, and THEN follow him. Is that liberalism? If it is, it seems quite limited in scope. In any event Jesus did not tell Zaccheus, a wealthy tax collector, to do the same.

    It's no support either for government estate taxes. The "poor" in America are as a whole are nowhere near as "poor" as people in the ancient world; this is one of the only countries where the "poor" own TV sets and DVD players. If you want to see poverty in reality, as Jesus would have known it, head to Bangladesh.

  • "He who asks, receives" etc. is posted as something favoring "affirmative action."

    The explanation for why seems to be missing. I also wonder whether non-minorities ever ask for jobs or college support.

  • "Jesus was antigun" because he said, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

    That is erroneous as shown here. At best Colmes could say Jesus would disapprove of those who use guns to make a living robbing people. This was a specific warning against appearing to be a pseudo-messianic military movement, not a general advisement against possession of weapons.

    In a section following Colmes discusses Christianity in American history. I don't have anything readily available on most of this for reply, but that Colmes appeals to the Treaty of Tripoli is enough for me to disregard him as an authority on these matters.

    Another section following concerns us little. Colmes critiques those who say that God put George W. in the White House and asks, in light of Romans 13, whether Bill Clinton was put there by God as well. I'll give Colmes a better answer than James Dobson: Either one may or may not have been put there for whatever reason -- we just don't know -- but whether direct divine action was taken or not, God remains sovereign.

    The same goes for a section following on the subject of whether September 11 was a specific judgment by God. I happen to think not -- if God had something in mind, He can do things a lot more comprehensively than something that kills only a fifteenth the number of people who die in auto accidents alone every year.

    We're also not worried about whether Islam is or is not "evil" as Franklin Graham said. We're more concerned about whether or not it is true. Colmes' "we each find our own way" stance does not resolve the problem of contradictory traits between the deities of Christianity and Islam. One or both must be wrong; both cannot be right.

    Little remains of interest to us as Colmes veers into matters of Pat Robertson and modern personalities. There are brief comments on homosexuality borrowed from Alan Gomes (see here for a correction on Lev. 18, and here on Gomes' attempt to make an issue of laws against i.e., tattoos as a parallel).

    Finally, Colmes offers an ironic comment about how easy it is to "pull a quote from the Bible and use it to justify your view." That is so, and Colmes has provided evidence of it. However, it is NOT easy to do so when contextual and historical data is at hand. Despite Colmes, there is no way to say, "Jesus was a liberal" -- one may as well say that Julius Caesar was a Free Soil candidate.