The Dangerous, Deadly Consequences of Pilate Politics

Each year, a different aspect of the Easter story grabs my attention and causes me to reflect. This year, it’s been Pontius Pilate.

Pilates’ sins were many. He ignored his convictions and his wife’s wise counsel. He gave in to the whims of an angry mob. And he condemned Jesus to be crucified — not because he believed Jesus was guilty, but because it was more politically expedient.

And when it was all over, he washed his hands — trying to convince himself and others (unconvincingly) that he was not responsible for the unjust execution that was about to take place.

Pilate exhibited a complete failure in political leadership. Unfortunately, his failures are all-too common.

Joshua Dubois insightfully examined Pilate’s failures (and their modern-day equivalents) in a post for the Daily Beast:

But perhaps it’s time to take another look at old Pilate — he may be more like us, and our leaders, than we care to admit.

Like many politicians today, Pilate had a lot of worldly stature to lose. The Roman Emperor at the time, Tiberius, had given Pilate a cushy, 10-year appointment as Prefect, when most terms in that role were less than three years. Any rocking of the boat — like the grassroots revolt that might have been provoked if he saved Jesus — would not sit well with his bosses back in Rome.

And like a lot of our leaders, Pilate had to be responsive to the demands of his base. At a festival that sounds a bit like a modern town hall forum, Pilate went before a throng of people and tried to reason with them, offering up Barabbas, a real criminal, to be put to death instead of Jesus. The crowd was having none of it, and, perhaps sensing that it was either him or this odd young carpenter from Nazareth, Pilate chose to save his own skin. The only people who would have supported Pilate if he chose otherwise were the poor, radicals, outcasts — people who could do nothing for him.

Of course, the consequences of Pilate’s decision have no modern analog; there’s no Easter equivalence, no aspect of our policy or politics that compares to the horror of Jesus’s death, and hope of his resurrection.

But in seemingly benign ways every day, our leaders still practice a lesser form of Pontius Pilate politic — with dangerous, deadly consequences.

Dubois then goes on to offer specific examples of modern-day “Pilate politics.” You may not agree with all of them, but he’s absolutely right on this: Pilate politics is alive and well.

Pilate politics occurs when leaders or political parties refuse to deal with festering, systemic problems because they fear backlash from their donors, constituencies or special interest groups.

Pilate politics occurs when party leaders ignore sound advice and their own convictions to embrace unqualified, vitriol-spouting candidates because they have support from a vocal, angry mob.

Pilate politics occurs when state and local leaders cave to fear tactics from corporate bullies and shy away from unpopular measures to protect religious liberties.

Pilate politics occurs when politicians legislate out of fear and self-interest, refusing to protect migrants, refugees, the poor, the unborn and “the least of these.”

And Pilate politics even infiltrates our churches. It occurs when a pastor ignores a controversial yet biblical topic because he fears the congregation’s reaction. And it occurs church leaders permit a loud, ungodly minority to dominate decision-making.

So Pilate politics is alive and well. Yet we should reject these Pilate-like tendencies in our heart — and encourage our leaders to do likewise. Dubois concludes,

It’s a difficult thing to go against the will of the crowd, to buck the norms of a given party, system or age — but in doing so, you never know who you might save. Perhaps on this Easter weekend, instead of disdaining Pilate, we can seek to understand him and therefore be less like him, and in doing so, become more like Christ.

This Easter season, I’ve been challenged to be less like Pilate. To listen to wise counsel, even when I disagree with it. To hold fast to my convictions, even when they are unpopular. And to refuse to give in crowd logic.

How will you be less like Pilate?

This post was originally published at Intersectproject.org.

Image Credit: Mihály Munkácsy, Wikimedia Commons

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