Those activities which were more controversial in their prohibition carried an air of being ‘out of the world’. Interestingly, when many Evangelicals ‘rediscovered’ that public life was a worthwhile site of engagement, their new enthusiasm for being ‘in the world’ was often not matched with the scruples concerning its ‘worldly’ character that they had displayed concerning personal holiness. Involvement of Christians in politics was, on a very important level, indistinguishable from the involvement of others.
Sure enough, Christians often represented stances on particular issues—notably on sexuality and bioethical issues—that were distinct in that they were out-of-step with where many in wider society were going. On the other hand, on some matters where, given a close reading of the Gospels, one might have expected a distinctive Christian voice, there was little to be heard. Is it any surprise that those matters were the exercise of power and questions of violence? After all, what is wrong with a bit of political headkicking when I can get a bill through to further ‘Christian interests’…? Hmmm…
There is no question that Christians have a part to play—actually, a range of parts—in public life. But do we naïvely assume that grasping the reins of power or voting in our preferred candidate is the ultimate political aspiration?
Herbert McCabe once said, “The relevance of Christianity to human behaviour is primarily a matter of politics…” I think he could well be right. But what kind of politics? Thinking beyond ‘party politics’ or ‘power politics’, might our primary political focus include the following:
1. Christians as a gathered community—a city on a hill, a light to the world—must inculcate a culture among themselves particularly committed to the transforming initiatives of the Sermon on the Mount and “teaching everything [Jesus has] commanded” (see Matthew 28:18-20)
2. Christians need to be involved in forming or perpetuating non-government social movements and ‘ministries’ dedicated to implementing restorative justice practices.
3. Christians in their various social roles should look for opportunities to contribute to the transformation of their institutions through analysis, critique, imagination, example and advocacy.
There are inevitable tensions between citizenship and discipleship yet discipleship is a non-negotiable calling. Civic responsibility does not trump Christian faithfulness. Yet, as a Christian ‘social philosophy’, citizenship should be recognised as a relative good which may be able to further the cause of Christ-inspired restorative justice.
Be ‘in the world’ but ‘not of the world’.
I published this also in Engage Mail 09-11 (November 2009) Contact me to subscribe