Monday, August 23, 2010

Some thoughts on engaging politics as a Christian

Here’s a little outline of how I approach politics, how I decide which political party to vote for, and, more broadly, how I think about political matters as a Christian. I write this brief post - 1. Self-conscious that some of my friends are more politically and theologically literate than me. 2. Acutely aware that there is only so much you can say in a blog post. 3. Not claiming any originality in these thoughts (my thoughts on politics have been influenced significantly by John Rees, Jim Wallis, Walter Wink, Ronald Sider, Ernest Bammel, Stephen Mott, to name a few. See especially John Rees's article for Zadok Perspectives, “Approaching Politics”, No.72 Spring 2001. You'll note, if you read that article, how influential John Rees has been on my thinking in this area. All kudos to John - he was a mentor of mine while at theological college). 4. I am not going to suggest who you should vote for – just offer some thoughts shaping how I approach politics.

So here I go:

1. ‘Politics’ is a broader phenomenon than ‘party politics’, and whenever human beings live together in social groupings they are effectively involved and embedded in ‘politics.’ Human organisation, personal decision-making, allocation of power and authority, gender issues, articulation of values, formation and reinvention of cultural and social traditions – we are all swept up in ‘politics’ before we even begin to reflect critically on ‘party politics’

2. Biblical authority and interpretation, and theological hermeneutics, are crucial starting points for a Christian approach to politics. Yet we often manipulate and distort Scripture for our own ends, or, conversely, ignore Scripture altogether and make political decisions unreflectively or based on other concerns or convictions.

3. Scripture and biblical ethics can provide us with a rich source of information and conviction in our political decision making, but there are many particular contemporary issues where Scripture is silent. So we need to build a foundation on Scripture, when we engage in political discussion or decide who to vote for, while recognizing that we will have to move from this foundation into conversation with others (other Christians, other Christian traditions, and those who are not Christian) about particular political issues, as we seek to make an informed, mature, biblically-faithful, and Christ-honouring decision.

4. While we live in a world that is estranged from God and distanced from God’s original intent (there are many ways to talk about this theologically, so, please, feel free to fill in the blanks), my conviction is that our call to discipleship includes a political dimension, and the need to uphold, engage and even confront the political processes of the day, and of the society of which we are a part. We can’t avoid this. Peacemaking, confronting the principalities and powers, loving enemies, proclaiming the Gospel, heralding the Kingdom, advocating for indigenous rights, caring for the orphan and the widow, devolving power, advocating for the poor and powerless, building genuine community – these are profoundly political actions which, when done in the Spirit and for the sake of Christ, cannot go unnoticed politically. For me, these ‘political’ actions are augmented through voting and through cultivating an active voice in the theatre of ‘party politics’ (individually and as Christian corporately). My voting needs to demonstrate a real concern for the issues I have raised above (peacemaking, justice, compassion, truth, generosity, etc), but, more importantly, the whole of my life should be oriented toward reflecting the mind and passion of Christ in these matters.

5. Government authority is legitimate, but it is ‘under God’ and is never autonomous, since it is subject to the supreme authority of God. Hence, while it must be honoured, and even obeyed when it does not transgress biblical ethics or injunctions, it is to be confronted by Christians through their proclamation of - the Gospel, the characteristics of the Kingdom, the justice articulated in the prophets and the Law, the original creation intent, the eschatological vision of Scripture, and so forth.

I'd be interested in how you would develop, contradict or respond to these thoughts

Graham Hill


Anonymous said...

Good so far, but I'm still left wandering where that put you on Saturday when you were holding the pencil?

Where in your construct is their consideration of how you respond to political parties based on a secular humanist ethic (as opposed to Judeo-Christian) and to parties who espouse policies like supporting late term abortions?

Have you been able to find any party you could vote for passionately?


Matt Stone said...

Anonymous, is it really as simple as "secular humanist" politics versus "Judeo-Christian" politics? Both Catholics and Protestants have influenced different secular parties at different times. And less than Christian ideologies have influenced the more explicitly Christian parties. I find it more messy.

Chris Thornhill said...

I think there's a difference between us 'engaging' politics and 'dominating' politics by seeking a particular 'christian politic' that we can 'vote passionately for'.

I'm struck by the way Jesus, seemed to be able to engage with political authorities while making it clear that 'his kingdom was of another world'. His dismissive reply to those who demanded black and white answers to the question of where their loyalties lie in terms of God's kingdom and the kingdom of the 'powers that be', is surely telling: "...give to Caesar what's his, and to God what's his."

Later, Paul seemed to take a similar view, affirming the need and validity of so-called 'secular governments', while encouraging the church - those of another kingdom - to follow Jesus' example (Romans 12 & 13)...

Living paradoxically is always 'messy'...especially when there's no eraser for our pencils ;-)