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Does Jesus want a higher minimum wage?
The debate over the policy implications of Jesus' attitude toward poverty continues. - photo by JJ Feinauer
The debate over Jesus' political leanings continues.

"Were he alive today, this Jesus would be advocating an ethical minimum wage, a new consciousness about America's underclass and a serious campaign against global poverty," Nancy Graham Holm wrote in the Huffington Post on May 1, referring to the depiction of Jesus in religious historian Reza Aslan's book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth."

According to Holm, the Jesus of the New Testament is better understood as an unconditional advocate for social equality, and the key to understanding him lies in the teachings of James, whose writings were canonized as part of the New Testament. According to Aslan, The Epistle of James portrays a gospel centered around "passionate concern for the poor."

"The Jesus of history is a Middle Eastern Jew who advocated free health care and fed the poor," Aslan said during a book tour in 2014.

In recent weeks, countrywide protests calling for a higher federal minimum wage have pushed the issue front and center, and Holm seems to have revived discussion of Aslan's book in hopes of framing the debate in theological terms.

Evangelical Christians are an important demographic in Republican politics, so it's not uncommon for liberal writers to appeal to the teachings of Jesus in order to argue for social justice programs.

But not everyone is on board with Holm's and Alsan's reading of Jesus' attitude toward poverty.

"While the Bible is hardly an economics text, some economic and social themes do endure, and they are incompatible not just with socialism but also many aspects of the modern welfare state," David French wrote in On Faith in 2011.

"While the Bible calls us to help the poor," he continued, "it is also clear that the poor must help themselves to the extent they are able."

Relying on Jesus to justify modern American political beliefs is nothing new. The teachings of Christ have been used to argue everything from the merits of the death penalty to the proper size of the federal government. A substantive majority of Americans identify as Christian, so it only makes sense that voters would wonder how his teachings should affect their politics.

"American Christians, both liberal and conservative, must deal with conflict between the traditional dictates of their faith and their personal political views and allegiances," a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, explained. And according to that study, Americans cope by simply seeing Jesus as a reflection of their own political views.

"The correlation reflecting such projection of own views on Jesus was ... extremely high," the study concluded, "and proved to be stronger among survey participants who reported themselves to be strongly rather than somewhat or not at all identified with their Christianity."

"When people of strong faith believe they are clear on the will of God, there is no room for compromise," Real Clear Religion's Jeffrey Weiss wrote in response to the study.

But as Weiss points out, the study did find that, on average, conservatives believe Jesus to more economically liberal than them, and liberals found him to be more socially conservative than their personal views.

"Maybe that's a way to build bridges toward governance?" he concluded.
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