Jesus could have chosen the course of a political movement--He recruited two men of that ilk to follow Him.
But He clarified His ministry to Pilate, by declaring that He came to testify to the truth. (John 18:38) Not just another truth--Rome had plenty of those by way of emperor worship, adopted foreign religions and philosophies in abundance.
No: The Truth, embodied in Jesus and demonstrated by everything He said and did.
So, Jesus did not politicize His movement, because the Truth is not reducible to a political cause or a platform. Politics is the art of compromise. Give a little, take a little. But if the Truth is at stake, compromise can be extremely dangerous. The lesser of two evils is still evil.
British historian Niall Ferguson calls slavery in America "the original sin." Here we had a new government being formed out of the Enlightenment principle of reason, with the words of the Declaration of Independence declaring a new dawn of freedom and equality, all derived not from the caprices of the government, but bestowed on us by God Himself. Beautiful, stirring and a lovely foundation upon which to build a new government which honored human beings and their freedom to choose their way of life.
In order to ratify the Constitution, there were two states that might have not ratified it if it had explicitly abolished slavery in the new Republic. The states were South Carolina and Georgia. We don't have detailed records of the conventions where this was debated, but with their deep investment in slavery, it is a good assumption they would not have ratified the new constitution, thus aborting the new Republic. So, a compromise was reached in the spirit of political process. In order to not count slaves to increase the number of representatives in the House (much to the dismay of the non-slave holding states) a slave was counted as 3/5th's of a person.
The compromise worked. The Constitution was ratified. The slave states were satisfied that their slave population was not ignored for representation and the non-slave holding states didn't feel that the slave states had an unfair advantage. As an additional compromise, the importation of slaves into America was banned by 1808--a date far enough away to allow for a gradual withdrawal from the odious slave trade.
Thomas Jefferson lamented at the end of his life about slavery, comparing it to a "fire bell in the night." Here is a quote from the US Capitol website:
"When Missouri petitioned to be admitted as a slave state in 1819, it ignited a dispute that Thomas Jefferson compared to 'a fire bell in the night.' But this was one fire Congress could not put out completely.
Representative James Tallmadge of New York proposed an amendment to Missouri's statehood bill gradually ending slavery there. The Senate defeated the bill because of Tallmadge's amendment. The next year, Senator Jesse Thomas of Illinois devised a compromise: simultaneously admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, while banning slavery in most of the Louisiana Territory. Speaker Henry Clay used his popularity and parliamentary skill to win House agreement. The solution ended the immediate crisis—but only postponed a final showdown.
If you persist, the Union will be dissolved. You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish. —Representative Thomas W. Cobb of Georgia, 1819"
Here is some more information:
"In January, 1820, Congress passed two bills that, together, became known as the Missouri Compromise. Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state. Missouri was admitted as a slave state, although slavery would be prohibited north of a 36-30 line (southern border of Missouri) in the western territories of the Louisiana Purchase—Missouri would be an exception to the line.
Thomas Jefferson in a 4/22/1820 letter to John Holmes had this to say: '…but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated, and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.'” (2)
Jefferson realized that the compromise that allowed the states to ratify the Constitution had led only to more compromises and that the fundamental immorality of slavery had not been addressed nor dealt with, only set aside. For now.
Sadly, these compromises led ultimately to our Civil War, where over 600,000 Americans died. Jefferson could not have imagined such a horror, but I am sure he would have hung his head upon the news and said, "I saw something terrible coming some day."
This is why Jesus would not compromise the truth of who He was, what He did, what He said, or of His mission.
In a fallen and sinful world, compromise may be the only way to get things done, I fear. But if sin is left alone, it is a cancer that metastasizes in the body politic and leaves us reeling with its results. So we compromise to get things done, only to find that sin is still present, infecting everything we do.
That is why, I believe, Jesus did not use the political arena to effect change. Truth cannot be compromised.
Think if Jesus had compromised: No cross? No salvation, no eternity with Him and a hopeless world filled with hearts unchanged by the Spirit of God.
In other words, Rome before Jesus came. A place where a leader could ask, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) while infant children are discarded, life is cheap, women are degraded and men are free to pursue their endless lusts.
In other words, post-Christian America.
The truth of Jesus is the only rock upon we can stand to face the storm that is coming:
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matt. 7:24-9)
The crowds were amazed because Jesus was so uncompromising in His assertion that His words alone were the only sure foundation to build upon, whether it be for a person or for a society.
In our mega-churches, with our feel-good-Jesus-is-your-life-coach-and-wants-you-happy messages, we have compromised the very One Who would not stoop to compromise.
We gotta reach people! Bring them the Gospel! Get 'em into church so that they won't go to hell!
But do we take these noble ideas and compromise them as to make them more palatable to our modern age?
Now, we live in a "What is truth?" kind of society and our compromises in our churches have left people skeptical and wary of church.
So, what do we do?
Instead of hunkering down, preaching the Word in an uncompromised way and allowing the Spirit to work on people's hearts, we compromise the message and ignore the deep sin infecting our country.
The fire bell is ringing again.