Sunday, 25 April 2010

Christians and political involvement


We can’t get away from election even in church. It does give us an opportunity to think about Christian involvement in politics

In Acts 4, a man crippled from birth has been healed in the name of Jesus. The disciples have been arrested and released, but charged by the authorities not to preach in the name of Jesus. So they come together and they pray. In their prayer, they restate their conviction that the authorities are not ultimately sovereign, but that God is sovereign. (Acts 4:24)

In other words, they are saying, ‘The political rulers claim authority – but we recognize a higher authority. We recognize that God is in absolute control of history’. I don’t know whether you realize just how subversive it is to pray for the queen and government. It is saying that we believe that there is someone who is bigger than them.

It is very easy to separate ‘spiritual’ from the ‘political’: to say that God is for church, but that as far as politics is concerned, God is basically irrelevant. But if God exists, if Jesus Christ is the Son of God, if he is Lord now, and one day every ruler and every person and every thing in creation will bow before him – then as Christians we need to be prepared to submit our political decisions before him.

Three Principals

1. The principal that we are called to be involved in the life of our community

Exiles in BabylonJeremiah 29:7, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”.

In 1 Timothy 2:1ff, we are called to pray for all people, ‘for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’.

The big difference between us and the exiles in Babylon and the Christians in 1 Timothy is that we live in a democracy, and that therefore our rulers are not simply imposed upon us, they are not simply there, but that instead we can and do have a part to play in politics: at European, National and local levels. Indeed, there is no reason, depending on interest and ability, on why we or you should not be those people.

I challenge people who say, ‘Politicians, they’re all the same. They’re all on the make. I’m going to have nothing to do with it’.

·        First of all it is not true. Most people go into politics because they want to make a difference, and because they want to serve. Many of our local politicians do not get any financial reward – in fact it costs them to do the job.

·        And secondly, someone has to do the work. Decisions have to be made. We need more housing: do we put it here or there; what are the priorities for the health service given that money is not unlimited; someone has to make decisions about the deployment of troops. So, if you really don’t think that the current lot are up to doing the job, get involved yourself. Even if you are not considering being a candidate, join one of the parties, or get involved in a lobby group. Saying ‘Politicians are all the same and I’m going to have nothing to do with them’, is a very lazy persons way of copping out of responsibility for their wider community. It is just too easy to be a critic sitting in the armchair.

While we live in a democracy, we have a part to play: at local, national and European, levels. You may not personally like the involvement at European level, but it is there – and we cannot just be ostriches and stick our heads in the sand

2. We are called to be, as far as it is possible, salt and light in society

‘Let your light shine before others’ (Matthew 5:16)
1 Peter 2:12, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’

I do not think that that means that we should get involved in politics wearing the white suit and somehow imagining that we are going to be more moral than the others. By the grace of God we will be motivated by love for God and love for others, but we will also be very aware of our own sinfulness, and mixed motives, and be aware that morality is not the preserve of Christians. So many people involved in politics have a passion for social justice, for challenging the structures that strip opportunities away from those who are poorer, and for setting people free from oppression. And they often live more  ‘moral’, more self-sacrificing lives than many Christians.

Christians should not get involved in politics because they think that they are going to be more moral people, but because they know that they are forgiven people, and because we believe we are called to make a difference.

To love our neighbour means that we want to see the best for them: spiritually and materially.  

That is why we are called to be good citizens.

  1. It is why – as a parish community - we should allow our resources to be used by the community (particularly the Hyndman Centre); it is why we should be involved with town pastors, with fair trade, with homelessness issues, supporting people with learning disabilities 
  1. It is why we should be the first to pay our taxes, and not to try and avoid paying taxes. Jesus paid his taxes (even if it was in unorthodox ways).
Even if you think society would operate better if the taxes were less and more was left to individuals, charitable groups, and the free market, it is currently our taxes which pay for the health service, our schools, armed forces, national security and welfare system.

  1. It is why we should not necessarily vote for the party or candidate who will most benefit us personally. In this election there does seem to be a great deal more thoughtfulness. There is slightly less appeal to personal self-interest, and a recognition that what is at stake is the health of the nation.
There is something incredibly authentic about a wealthy person commending higher rates of taxation on the wealthy; or for someone living on benefits commending cuts in public services.

And of course we live in a world that is very different to even 30 years ago. We are now very aware that the particular interests of our nation are not necessarily the same as the interests of humanity as a whole. And we need to be prepared to vote for parties who have the courage to do what is right not simply by our nation, but by humanity as a whole. Yes, we wish to live in a green and pleasant land, but if that means consigning millions of people (whether here or elsewhere) to living in either urban over-crowding or poverty, then we need to think about those things.

Whether we like it or not, we are our brother’s keeper; and although Matthew 25 is specifically talking about how we treat other Christian believers, the principal can be extended: judgment is about how we show compassion to the naked, hungry, imprisoned and sick. And whether we like it or not, that includes people here, among whom we live, and people in Tanzania, Bangladesh and Haiti.


3. We are called to get involved because we have a vision for the world.

I spoke about socialist realism painting in the talk on Wednesday. Socialist realism art, beloved in communist lands, painted reality not as it was, but as it was meant to be, and as it would be. There was a vision of what society would become.

We too have a vision of what society can become, when it recognizes the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus. If you wish to know what that vision is, listen to the Christmas readings from the Old Testament prophets. Read the last few chapters of Revelation. They are not just talking about heaven up there, but what will happen on the day when heaven comes down to earth.

We pray, ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Christians should get involved in politics because we have a vision for society: a society which recognizes Jesus as Lord; that under Him we are part of each other, that we are interdependent; that recognizes that the word of God offers us the best guidelines for living, but also that God gave us the remarkable gift of freedom. That is a very difficult balance to get – between, on the one hand, saying that marriage between man and woman is the best way, the right way, of family life and of bringing up children - but that we respect and support those who, because of either circumstances or choice, are not in that pattern. It is a difficult balance, but I think it can be done.

Christians should get involved in politics because we have a vision of a just society, and a deep concern about the excluded – those who are homeless, refugees and immigrants, those who are victims, those who are at the bottom of the heap, those who are powerless, those who are aliens among us, those who are isolated, those who are in minorities. I think of Jesus’ Kingdom manifesto in Luke 4:18 – includes ‘Good news to the poor; freedom for prisoners; recovery of sight for the blind; and the setting of oppressed people free’. Imagine if that was on someone’s Party political manifesto.

And Christians should get involved in politics because we care about community.

And today, Christians need to get involved in politics because if we don’t, the political agenda is going to drift so quickly against us that we won’t know what has hit us. For instance, while I am grateful for the much more honest and real debate about sexuality, and while I think that civil partnerships are helpful, and respect those who choose to live in active same sex relationships, if equality legislation means that it becomes illegal for a church or minister to refuse to consecrate a marriage between a man and man, or woman and woman, then you are going to have a vicar who will end up paying a fine or going to prison. And even if it is not your calling to get directly involved in politics, please do support organizations like the Christian Institute or CARE, because they do make a difference.

Of course there will be as many Christian visions as there are people. Some will focus on the need to uphold biblical teaching on traditional family values; some will focus on the need to uphold biblical teaching about defending the vulnerable in the local community; some will focus on the biblical teaching about justice and liberation for the poor and oppressed. Some of us will be very aware of the dangers to human freedom that come when the state tries to control everything. Others will be very aware of the dangers to the weak and vulnerable when it is left to the free market.

I do not give any answers. That is not only because I don’t have the answers and it is not my place to to promote one party over another. But do come to the election hustings on Friday at 7:30pm in All Saints church.

But there is another reason why I am hesitant about saying ‘support this or that party’ – even an explicitly Christian party – because even though it is vital that Christians get involved in politics as Christians, politics is always going to be provisional.

We are to live in this land and to seek the welfare of this land, but we are not to forget that we are aliens and strangers ourselves, our true home is in the future, and that we are ambassadors of that other kingdom in this world. This world, as it is, will never be our home. It is a world that is bound to frustration and to sin and to death. Some tensions will be resolved; their solution will mean that there are new tensions.

We need to remember that our battle is not with earthly rulers, but with spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And that should give us the freedom to be very gracious to those with whom we profoundly disagree.

That is why the disciples in Acts 4, pray. They pray for courage to speak, to declare that Jesus is risen from the dead, that he is Lord. And they pray that God will work wonderfully and bring healing. In other words, they are praying that the future kingdom will begin to break in here and now.

So please do vote, and do get involved. It would be fantastic if members of our own congregations were standing, if not for parliament, then for other bodies – lay representatives on the health authority, representatives on local government. Get out there and campaign – but as a Christian put it in perspective. We are not going to create heaven on earth. There is no magical solution. There will always be compromises.

It is all provisional; that is why love is actually more important than your political party or your convictions. And pray, with the first Christians, for boldness to profess that Christ is Lord, and for God to act so that his kingdom comes. 

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