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What Would Jesus Do?
It’s an important question that’s been reduced to an acronym, WWJD, presumably in order to popularize its message. That message urges each of Christ’s followers to ask themselves how he might respond in any given situation, and act likewise.
What would Jesus have done if he were in the audience at the January debate between GOP presidential contenders in South Carolina? Surrounded by a group comprised heavily of evangelical Christians, the candidates fielded questions on foreign policy. All but Ron Paul advocated increased military intervention. Newt Gingrich suggested that the approach to those he labeled “America’s enemies” was, simply: “kill them.”
Mitt Romney doubled down on the comment. “Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are,” he said. “These people declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them.”
To consistent applause, the barbaric call to invade, bomb, sanction, and occupy foreign lands was welcomed by this predominantly Christian crowd with open, eager arms. Challenging the status quo as has been his lot in life, Ron Paul then advocated a different approach to foreign policy, inviting the audience to consider what the policies they were cheering might feel like if they were on the other end:
If another country does to us what we do to others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy: Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want them to do to us.
The audience erupted with boos at the mere mention of this most fundamental Christian concept and the suggestion that it be applied to the government’s policies. So what would Jesus have done while watching those who claimed to be his disciples displaying vocal derision regarding one of his most basic and important teachings? Might he have called them hypocrites, as he so often did the Pharisees—the über-religious segment of society whose words and actions could rarely be reconciled (see, for example, Matthew 23)? Perhaps he would have said of the audience that they “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).
Whatever Jesus might have said or done, his teaching (known today as the “Golden Rule”) which was referenced by Ron Paul clarifies what those who follow him should say and do:
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
The Master did not accompany this instruction with any sort of qualifiers. Instead, he referenced “all things,” suggesting the universal application of this idea. Thus, the Golden Rule has as much application to foreign policy as it does between two people. One of Christ’s apostles, Russell M. Nelson, drove this point home:
Wherever it is found and however it is expressed, the Golden Rule encompasses the moral code of the kingdom of God. It forbids interference by one with the rights of another. It is equally binding upon nations, associations, and individuals. (emphasis added)
Christ also noted that this fundamental maxim “is the law and the prophets,” a phrase used to describe the Hebrew scriptures at the time of Christ. “The Law” refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, or what the Jews call the Torah. The subsequent words of the prophets, recorded in the rest of the Old Testament, were referred to as “The Prophets.” Thus, to state that “this is the law and the prophets” effectively means that it was the underlying principle pervading existing scripture; God’s law to love one another was distilled down into a single suggestion: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
And that suggestion was resoundingly rejected by so-called Christians in South Carolina.
One might say that not only does the Golden Rule apply to foreign policy, but it especially applies to foreign policy—two words that too often minimize the effects of what the policy produces, namely, death and destruction. While it’s relatively easy to apply Christ’s message to interpersonal relationships, it is imperative that we consider how our support for military engagements might change were we to consistently apply that message to the weightier matters of life and death.
The hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals who have been displaced, deprived of resources, injured, or killed in recent years as a result of the “kill them!” advocacy described above are children of God. They are endowed with the same unalienable rights as you and I, and were created by God as our equals. To dismiss or justify their premature death as a result of our government’s foreign policy is to violate the Golden Rule—clearly we would oppose another country doing the same to us.
The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to love one another and to love God, just as we ourselves would like to be loved. Those who oppose such attitudes towards our supposed enemies fail not only to adhere to the Golden Rule, but also fail to obey Christ’s commandment to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
The words of Jesus Christ rarely offer the wiggle room that some desire to justify their unwillingness to obey. Ron Paul was right to suggest that the Golden Rule can and should be applied to foreign policy. Those pondering “What Would Jesus Do?” might do well to heed their Master’s own words.