Michael Jensen writes: Christians disagree about politics. Sometimes vehemently. Even when there is substantial agreement between them about orthodoxy in Christianity, there is disagreement about politics.
This disagreement has been greatly exacerbated in recent years – partly because politics itself has become more and more divided. But also, this has come about because certain political movements have more or less successfully co-opted Christians to their cause.
Now, this is not the same as saying ‘Christians disagree about curtains’ or ‘Christians disagree about music’ – because the political involves some vision of the good—of justice enacted in a social setting, of the best way for human beings to live a prosperous and peaceful life together. So, when we disagree about these things, we cannot always easily say that this disagreement can be simply set aside. We take politics seriously, and rightly so.
Christians tend to hold their political convictions for reasons that emerge from their faith at some level—or at least, they feel that they do.
But there’s a vital theological principle which I believe we must rediscover here, on both the left and the right. At this is what my former teacher Professor Oliver O’Donovan used to call ‘the imperfectability of human judgement’.
What this means is that, when it comes to human politics, Christians don’t deal in the ideal. We are not utopians. The kingdom belongs to Jesus. Salvation is found in no-one else. The business of human politics in the midst of history is about holding back as best we can the sweeping tide of human evil. Government is a practical, even pragmatic, art—often the art of deciding between the lesser of many evils, with incomplete or inaccurate knowledge. Human rulers are as sinful as those they govern. Often, we will reel in horror as we realise the damage we do to one another in the business of governing, even with the best of intentions.
But there’s no alternative, this side of heaven, to government. Government can be evil, but anarchy is worse—especially for the most vulnerable. We have to have government, and for that we need politics. And for that, we need politicians. As voters, we need to weigh up the choices before us and choose which one will do less damage, we think, given our certain ignorance of all the facts. Ultimately, our hope in all of this is the judgement of God in Christ—that he will bring his perfect justice, and that he will be merciful to us for our mistaken and sinful judgements.
Now, I don’t mean that there’s no vision of justice and peace given to us, or that we must retreat into a kind of quietist huddle, all the while washing our hands of the blood of our neighbours. We are not to walk on by on the other side! We cannot, as some churches have done, hide behind some reading of Romans 13 which absolves us of all responsibility. On the contrary, and heaven forbid! The hope that salvation belongs to Jesus gives us every motivation to anticipate, where we can and as we are able, his perfect peace upon the earth.
This was the insight of those who signed the Barmen Declaration in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. Only Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. And this means that no other human being is. There is no other judge, only those who are subject to judgement. There is no other perspective that is unblemished; no other eye that sees without the cataracts of self-interest. Reinhold Niebuhr put it this way, just after the Second World War:
Actually no nation or individual, even the most righteous, is good enough to fulfil God’s purposes in history. Jesus’ own conception of history was that all men and nations were involved in rebellion against God and that therefore the Messiah would have to be, not so much a strong and good ruler who would help the righteous to be victorious over the unrighteous, but a “suffering servant” who would symbolize and reveal the mercy of God; for only the divine forgiveness could finally overcome the contradictions of history and the enmity between man and God.
We must decide. We must judge. We must not avoid the call of our brother’s and sister’s blood from the ground. But as we do so, we should never be unaware of our own embeddedness within the brokenness of human history. We must have enough wisdom to realise that we are prone to moral blindness and continue to pray for the Spirit’s help.
So here’s some things I would like to see from Christians as we navigate politics, especially in this divided age.
First, I would like to see much less entanglement in different forms of politics. This is, my brothers and sisters, a terrible trap! We are being played for fools by the right and the left. It is a massive distraction from the proclamation of, and living out of, Jesus as Lord, which is our real politics!
The Christian church is not a means for delivering a conservative or a progressive political agenda.
A sign that you are entangled is when you never disagree with a particular vision of politics. This is a form of idolatry, in which Jesus is not in fact Lord but rather some idea of politics, or some beloved leader, is.
Second, could we sound a bit less tribal and defensive? Our political vision is not to safeguard our place in the world—or in the West—out of fear, but to seek justice and flourishing for all because of our hope. Why does so much of our political talk sound so self-serving? Christians of all people ought to have the confidence—the hope—to speak to matters that aren’t about our self-preservation.
Third, since the business of political judgement is complicated and depends on necessarily incomplete knowledge, could we not be so gullible? Could we please not get our ‘information’ from such shonky sources—the deeply biased website, or the rantings of this or that pundit? This is a sin against the truth, a bearing of false witness.
We live in an age not simply of lies, but (to use a euphemism) of verbal manure. We’ve gone way beyond simple lies! A liar at least acknowledges the category of the truth, but in the 21stcentury I am not sure that we believe that there is such a thing as the truth that we can lie about anymore. We trade in conspiracy theories. We complain about the bias in the media when it is against us, but trust completely unreliable sources that have no regard for facts. We want entertainment rather than news.
As a Christian: I am pleading with you to pause before you next share a link in support of your views. The virus of untruth is perhaps even more devastating than COVID19. Or, we might say: COVID19 has succeeded partly because we are so prone to share misinformation and to believe it. Christians must be better than this.
Fourth, could we be the ones who seek to find common ground with those who apparently oppose us? Can we not say that justice for the weak and for the poor and the vulnerable is a given of a Christian political vision—even as we may disagree about how to get there? I am nostalgic for the days when this used to happen in the political world more often.
A particularly nasty dynamic of the current political scene is the way in which special ideological interests co-opt good causes to their own purposes, as if they can have a proprietorial right over, say, family values, or racial equality, or anti-poverty, or the environment. Does this mean that we are to be silenced when we see rampant injustice, or—heaven forbid—be thought to be its advocates? This is the satanic consequence of division: when Christians are silent about (for example) racial inequality because they fear being in league with some ratbag element that supports the same cause.
Fifth, could we remember that political discussion is about what is best for here and for now? We make decisions in the midst of history. And we, the church, stand in different places at different times. Sometimes we’ve had to accept political power and administer it. Sometimes we’ve been denied it. Things may look different in a liberal democracy than in theocratic Saudi Arabia than in medieval Spain. Christian politics takes discernment of the ‘signs of the times’.
Sixth, and so: could we all be a little less dogmatic and more curious about politics? Why not be curious about why the other person disagrees so profoundly? Why not patiently respond to the person who inquires into your views? Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind is an eye-opening account of how and why people of good will disagree—perhaps the disagreement lies more in personality differences than anything? And maybe, just maybe, your political preferences are more about your personality than about your faith after all.
Revd Dr Michael Jensen was an English teacher, then studied theology in Oxford before teaching at Moore College, Sydney. Since 2013 he has been Rector at St Mark’s, Darling Point in Sydney, Australia. He has written a number of books including ‘Between Tick and Tock’, ‘Is Forgiveness Really Free?’ and ‘My God, My God – Is it possible to believe anymore?’ He is married to Catherine and they have four children, a cocker spaniel and a domestic medium hair cat.
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64 thoughts on “(How) should Christians engage in politics?”
Hear hear! Excellent article.
I think a useful Biblical model is Daniel who was a very senior civil servant. Although he had to work in a despotic regime, (which was none the less putting in place a remarkably efficient pioneering administrative system with high regional delegation of power) he openly kept his own standards and morality that was at odds with just about everybody, no cosying up to power. His efficacy drew terrible peer envy and rivalry and his difference was exploited to try to bring him down.
Contrast that with the that was characterising the peace peace prophets in the Jerusalem court only a generation or so previously which happily put Jeremiah down the well for his “minority report” words. And then the playground squabbling and partisan behaviour of Scribes, Pharisees and so on. Interesting that although zealots aren’t actively condoned they don’t get the same disapprobation by Jesus and JtB.
Which do we look most like at the moment ?
As I gradually started rebuilding my life as a housebound person by using the internet for human contact and stimulation I became so disgusted with how we speak to each other to “debate” issues in Christian circles, feeling we were little better than any other opinionated groups in the quality of respect and even common courtesy we’d afford each other, that I ended up withdrawing completely and relying solely on better policed groups like Sojourners, a Radio 4 discussion group and The Additional Needs Alliance (who promote the needs of special needs children in churches) on fb or purely informative podcasts like In Our Time, More or Less, Nature Magazine, The Science Hour, Dan Carlin’s history podcasts, French radio’s Cours du Collège de France lectures etc This is quite new me feeling safe enough to try to interact in a Christian arena again.
I have no problem with disagreement or controversy, just with rudeness, thoughtlessness and a Manichean polemical approach to discussion. Which bit of the fruit of repentance/fruit of the spirit exactly do we think we’re representing to the world in how certain very main line groups are going about politics? It’s easy to just blame the Americans, but they’re just the most visible in international politics and those of us who oppose what’s happening on their “Right” are no better. Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I see one more meme, however well meaning referring to the POTUS just by his surname and casting aspersions on his mental health – and PS if he does have mental health problems is that really how we want those things to be addressed?
Goodness, knee jerk reaction or what LOL
The main point for me, has always been, what I think he is trying to say in his fourth point – that we really ought, or indeed MUST, acknowledge as Christians that each of us is passionate about the wellbeing of our neighbours, out of desperate love desiring to see the wellbeing of ALL.
As a conservative I am regularly chastised, questioned, criticised by those on the left in such as a way as the very core of my loving heart is called into question “You don’t care about the poor!”. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. We believe different things about the mechanics of economies. That’s all. Those on the left and those on the right of politics equally love and care for those in need. We care very deeply about our neighbours near and far, known and unknown, and all want the very best possible world for us all to live in. We just believe, as the author says, of different ways to get there.
It is this inability to see the good in each others hearts though which I think causes so much argument. The questioning not of “preferred process to sort out the economy” but “You are a bigot!” or “You don’t care about anyone but yourself!” is disheartening and ungodly.
Those on the right believe left wing politics and socialist economics will cause more harm and more damage to more people than anything else they can imagine. They can not vote that way because of the inherent harm they believe it will cause to their fellow human beings.
Those on the left, believe their cause is just and good and will deliver favourable results for all. They see right wing politics and right wing economics as the problem trapping people in poverty and causing harm. They too can not vote a different way because of the harm they think will be caused to their fellow human beings.
BOTH care deeply about the wellbeing of others. Both are motivated out of love for neighbour.
“Second, could we sound a bit less tribal and defensive? “
“Fourth, could we be the ones who seek to find common ground with those who apparently oppose us?“
Two appealing comments, especially from one who has taught at one of the most conservative evangelical colleges in all the Anglican branch of Christendom, and from a member of the family of the most conservative evangelical church leaders who have dominated the most conservative evangelical dioceses there ever was. I would love to see that constituency being a lot less tribal and a lot more willing to find common ground. How about it Michael?
You are immediately proving the gist of the article by setting up, without more, a chasm, which makes no attempt to bridge, with what you consider to be “common ground ” Christianity.
Where would you start?
I started – by asking Michael how about it? Let’s see how he responds…
I started by asking you, Andrew, as you made no attempt.
The implication from you is that there is no common ground (of reconciliation, if you will) that you will seek to initiate with a common core Christianity, which you seek to persuade is no longer common core , without setting out what remains common and points of divergence, with reasons. The onus, or burden of proof, is on you.
If there has been movement, it is movement away, from core Christianity. Movement of reconciliation starts with the prodigal, with a recognition of movement away of why and how, and what of a commonality of faith heritage remains.
And this response from you merely confirms my initial comment.
But, as it is reasonably foreseeable, based on the past comments, not only to me, how this will go, I’ll withdraw, as we agree with each other!
Geoff: I think you are reading way too much into what I said. I began by saying “Two appealing comments….” and I genuinely find them so. I am hoping that we may, indeed, find common core. And I would find that particularly interesting given the very extreme conservative position Michael comes from. So I still, without any side or malice, await his response. Maybe we shall see that he now disowns that stable.
Andrew, What do you actually know, first hand, of ‘Sydney Anglicanism’?
I am not quite sure what you are asking.
See my Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology for an extensive account of my take. However, my piece is not about ecclesiastical politics so much as about politics. So this is a bit of a red herring, no?
Thanks for responding Michael. I don’t see any Great separation between Ecclesiastical politics and other sorts of politics I’m afraid. Both are subject the the same kids of pressures.
One example. Sydney Diocese refuses the ordination of women as priests doesn’t? Please advise if this has changed in the last 12 months and I have missed it? Barely even uses the word Priest I think for fear of what it might sound like.
Sydney Herald has a good analysis Of other recent news here:
Ian you ask what first hand experience I have. A good friend who lived there. A colleague who visited on sabbatical.
The Sydney Diocese upholds the Bible as the infallible word of the living God and that salvation is found in faith in, and obedience to, Jesus Christ. Their boldness and upholding of these truths lead to opposition, attack and persecution. These media articles from a media outlet which is openly opposed to Christian values is a part of that.
“The Sydney Diocese upholds the Bible as the infallible word of the living God…”
Well that sounds like a vast generalisation and is something most Anglicans could not subscribe to. Self evidently the bible can’t be infallible – it contradicts itself in many places. And I suspect lots of Anglicans in the Diocese of Sydney don’t believe it is infallible.
I am sorry Andrew, but I think my patience has worn out.
Rather than engaging with the content of the post, you decide to attack the author, on the grounds of second-hand reports of what you believe is the case.
Once again, you airily dismiss the views of others as self-evidently wrong, even though this has been discussed before. I think ‘infallibility’ is actually a good term for the confidence in Scripture that we find in the Articles.
Please come back when you can engage with respect, and discuss the issues rather than attacking individuals.
Where do you think Andrew attacked the author of this piece? He quoted two points on which he wished to engage Jensen: on the desirability of moving away from tribalism, I think. As far as I can see, Jensen has not engaged with this, and someone else has asserted both that the Bible is the word of God and that it is infallible. Those might be the views of the Sydney Diocese, but they are not the views of the catholic church. So, it is hardly surprising if someone on this thread challenges them.
And, even if Andrew is, in your opinion wrong, and you agree with the ecclesiology of the Diocese of Sydney, does this mean that his views are unwelcome here?
Ian: please would you say exactly where I attack the author here? I am at a loss to see such a place and ask you to withdraw the accusation unless you can substantiate it,
The article is about politics—but you choose to start talking about what you perceive as the sins of Sydney Diocese.
You then dismiss as obvious nonsense the view of the Bible as ‘infallible’ because of its ‘contradictions’—something I believe and in relation to which I have responded previously, though you didn’t engage.
I will disapprove any future comments by you in these kinds of veins.
Ian: thanks for your reply. I’m not sure that your points address my question: you accused me of ‘attacking the author’. Where do I attack the author please? I certainly challenge some of the issues, but that’s quite different to attacking the author.
I have not once mentioned ‘sins’ in connection with the Diocese of Sydney, so again you are misrepresenting me and I would be glad if you didn’t do that.
I have no recollection of not engaging in any discussion with you before. Please say where that happened and I will gladly respond. We don’t necessarily all see every comment, and therefore can’t always engage. My observation is that you rarely comment, and don’t often respond to questions.
I am not happy with the term ‘infallible’ for anything – but it Pope or bible, but it seems that you believe something different about the meaning of this term. It would help if you define your meaning.
Finally – the article is about Christians engaging in politics. I can’t see any difference between the way Christians should engage in secular politics as opposed to ecclesiastical politics. I began my post by applauding two comments from Michael about the process. Please could we apply those here, and see where it gets us?
I am not going to engage in a further exchange. Please take more care in your comments in future.
Please take care if you make false accusations.
Andrew – how do you know that the SMH is a good analysis? My goodness me! That’s like saying the Guardian is accurate on matters of faith.
And what has the ordination of women got to do with anything? Or whether we use the word priest or not?
If you read my book, you’ll find I’ve got a self-critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Sydney Anglicanism right there.
The Guardian probably is accurate on *some* matters of faith and the SMH is probably a good analysis in *some* ways. Where is that article inaccurate do you think?
The ordination of women has a great deal to do with things if you are a woman priest. And it is most certainly a political issue. Your suggestion that it has nothing to do with anything suggests a refusal to engage with the issue rather than anything else.
I will add your book to my reading list – thanks.
“What has the ordination of women got to do with anything?”
Well, being a faithful Anglican for a start.
The book is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009YY5QR0/
Even reading the introduction in the free preview on Amazon is quite an eye-opener for those of us outside the context. Thanks Michael!
And an alternative view here
Muriel’s view is one I dissect. She is an implacable and unbalanced critic.
“She is an implacable and unbalanced critic.”
In your opinion, do doubt.
How can you apply your own principles (pasted below) to that comment?
“Second, could we sound a bit less tribal and defensive? “
“Fourth, could we be the ones who seek to find common ground with those who apparently oppose us?“
Far, far, by far, too well … balanced.
Haidt with Lukinoff explore further how Politics and politics with “good intentions and bad ideas are setting a generation up for failure” in their book “Coddling of the American mind” with a prescience that addresses today’s shouting and “Twitter made flesh” in media, the public square and interprets Christianity.
Or rather, discourse denuded, toppled by twitterisation of platforms and vacant plinths. And the evacuation of the academy with its foundational fissures from implosion of unbounded, unfenced feelings.
We create heroes in our own image, that is, all are deeply flawed against our own spotless mind of perfection!
Monuments are but icons to our own humanity and that is what we love and hate with equal measure. Exposure to scrutiny we love and hate.
Except when we are exposed with microscopic measure we adjudicate that on balance we are a “good person” or a group of , “good people.”
Even so, as it applies to scrutiny by God!
Why did Jesus have to die?the innocent for the guilty, that “thou, my God, shouldst die for me.” The politics of the cross of Christ.
There is only One, flawless in his humanity, perfect in incarnation.
Before this comments page gets swamped by all the bile this will no doubt attract…brilliant and succinct. Thank you. This is an article I’ll keep to remind me where I stand.
That was a clever rhetorical move! You congratulate the article’s wisdom and preclude opposing comments by seeing them not as conversation, but sick splashed on blog page.
I’m chuffed! Thanks. I’m a fool who tries to appear wise by keeping silent. Difficult in this arena.
I use a rule of thumb when listening to youtubers: If it appears to be Christian but never mentions Jesus I skip it.
To quote the book of Hezekiah 5v3: ‘even blog scroll for the day of verbal diarrhoea’.
I shouldn’t leave comments as I’m not an expert in anything.
Yes it all ought to be respectful and gentlemanly and see the opposing view – in a perfect world – and especially among Christians. Trouble is those with unreasonably fixed convictions tend to steamroller societies! They perhaps sometimes need to be firmly opposed and their sophistries exposed to mockery for is there not a war of ideas to be won? Is there not such a thing as an indubitably Christian position on some matters, to be defended in public instead of endless hand wringing? Hesitancy and seeing the other view cedes the field to the already committed. Even a small band eg the Bolsheviks can triumph when good men do nothing (but merely protest they’re not seeing the other side). We prevaricate and are sweetly reasonable when we should be speaking up and out whether other Christians agree or not. Read around, think and pray, then speak up. I see Jesus using sarcasm, insult, exposure, humour, mockery to make His points. Even to His disciples ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan’ wasn’t very sensitive to Peter. Or even exasperation. Paul used intemperate language. Luther, famously. I fear we need to speak the truth (as we see it) in love, open to correction or get swept aside. Actually I’m speaking to myself as timidity is a besetting sin!
Excellent article… Worth sharing. Thanks…
Excellent article, but for the sake of balance, when Michael says this:
“when Christians are silent about (for example) racial inequality because they fear being in league with some ratbag element that supports the same cause.”
I might add:
“or when Christians are silent about cultural Marxism because they fear being accused of not caring about the poor and oppressed”.
Whenever anyone uses the phrase ‘cultural marxism’ my alarm bells ring. It has been called, not unfairly I think, a uniting theory for rightwingers who love to play the victim.
Useful analysis here:
Your put down of those who
recognise the influence of the cultural neo-Marxists suggests you may not have read Marcuse and Gramsci et al not to mention Kinsey.
Andrew & Andrew
cultural marxism & alarm bells?
Interesting video – the content will annoy many here and his style is slightly ponderous, but worth listening to –
Ponderous barely begins to describe it…….
Very best of many of the best things I was taught when working for the BBC World Service: say it in a sentence first. Until you can say it in a sentence, you won’t be able to say it clearly at all.
Alarm bells rang pretty soon into this piece I’m afraid Simon.
I kept thinking my screen had frozen – but it was his very long pregnant pauses – however, I do think he had something important to say about cultural marxism n identity politics, especially speaking from his own context as an African American, brought up by his single mum in violent neighborhood in 1970’s, now based in Africa. He certainly aint politically correct – but made me think
Raymond Fung explored the idea of evangelism and compassion for the “sinned-against”, from the context of sweat-shops in Hong Kong in the 70s. How do we proclaim God’s compassion for the sinned-against. He notes that there are many in churches who don’t live life feeling primarily sinned-against, and our view of mission and salvation does not take it into account. He asks how we should (re)think evangelism given this fundamental element of life.
He calls on us to have compassion, but to understand that compassion needs to be in the context of people who are sinned-against and we cannot condone people being sinned against. This week’s lectionary reading – Matt 9:36 – and the harvest needing labourers is not about evangelism generally, but a reality of a huge number of people needing compassion, and few who will offer it. [Or did we preach about a general harvest with a lack of workers?]
Liberation theologies also looked at the Exodus as a key event, as a sign of God’s abhorrence of oppression and desire for people to be free. The people were sinned against and God heard their cry. A God of compassion is also a God of judgement on the oppressor ..
Fung, I think, though asks a deeper question which is whether our doctrine(s) of salvation are in any way shaped by this aspect, or remain shaped by Romans 3:23, which, in its context, is saying that neither Jew nor Gentile have a better leg to stand on.
The outworking of this, and the extension of this is whether and when Christians should take sides and how.
Theologically do we see Jesus taking sides and if so with whom and also against whom or what? Do we read the entry into Jerusalem as taking sides? Do we read the language of the “kingdom” as oppositional to the Roman regime of the day? Do we read Luke’s birth account as a challenge to Augustus, that the true Prince of Peace is born at the point when Augustus taxes all the world? Do we read the birth account in Matthew as a challenge as to who is the true King of and for Israel? – clue it is not Herod! Do we read the prophets and Revelation as outbursts against oppression and calls to make a difference and not be complicit? How do we read the rich ruler / young man and how do we compare his response with Zacchaeus, and which of the two are we? (assuming we are people of reasonable wealth / comfort etc) Do we spiritualise teaching about the poor (the Beatitudes) and about wealth?
It is so much easier to shout No to something that is not right than to be part of the Yes, where all answers will be flawed and imperfect, though some will be better than others.
It is also easier to offer charity (and feel good) than to contend for justice and feel exhausted. But maybe the latter is the way Jesus calls us to go.
We are called to be actively part of the solution, and this will mean challenging and seeking to change the structures and systems that leave too many sinned-against, not just offering charity and sticking plasters to the wounded and hurt? Who and what wounded and hurt them? (and yes, there are no simple answers but to be part of the answer means rolling sleeves up and getting hands a bit dirtier).
Under the banner of, ” Grace Justice Mercy” from the epicentre of the West, New York, comes this sponsored by “Grace and Race” and “Centre for Faith and Work”:
An evening with Bryan Stevenson, Law Prof and practitioner and Tim Keller.
“The business of human politics in the midst of history is about holding back as best we can the sweeping tide of human evil.”
I know enough to know that there is no simple definition for politics, but this one seems destined to fail not only those who use it, but more importantly, those whom it is used upon. For instance, if my side sees X as a bad policy move, and the other side is proposing X in good faith, then my side may say that the proponents of X are on the side of evil. God (literally) knows that we in the states are dealing with just such a situation with the rise of the nationalistic Christian right that sees any attempt to thwart its political machinations as either evil or deluded by evil.
Do you place Keller as part of the nationalist Christian Right?
If you do, could I suggest you listen very carefully to what he says in the above link and read a lot of his stuff such as Making Sense of God, in which he cites Richard Bauckham at various points, such as pointing out a Biblical meta -narrative, a coherent story.
There is a middle way, a way of Grace, God’s Grace and the gift of Himself in Christ Jesus.
This is where Keller pulls it all together in his contribution to the evening, (linked above) concluding with Christ.
And read Jonathan Haight.
It seems to me that you are immediately falling into your own hole, dug for others.
Are you responding to my comment? I’m not sure because there’s no addressee. As someone from the US, I don’t know anything about the writer. What I was responding to was the article, or the thinking of the writer. That sentence gave me much pause. I don’t have the time, nor the passion to read on about what Keller is ascribing to –if he can’t make his position clear in this article then that’s on him, not me.
The last thing that I want to do when reading an article that is also a statement of action and method is to investigate the writer’s ethos. Please!
I have read the work of cognitive scientists and also linguists. You seem to be doing a lot of assuming about me! Lighten up?
I still can’t get away from thinking politics is a divisive distraction from seeking first the Kingdom. This may be because I spent 20 years in a church where politics was never mentioned. The focus was on being ‘the light of the world’ where we spent effort and commitment on creating justice amongst us. That was challenging, including dialling down our personal lifestyle expectations to create social equality. I would think it’s easier to demand social justice in wider society rather than create it with the people we worship and share church fellowship with on a day to day basis.
Now we are living on our own again it is easy to find the divide increasing. It would be easy just to be vocal on social media about justice as an expression of our principles. But the better would be to remove poverty and discrimination in our church fellowship; and that is an ongoing challenge. It would be good to be able to say to the world: “if you want to see justice, come visit!”
I couldn’t agree more with your post; however, it appears that politics is an essential aspect of public life; granted it is an ethical mire, it is still the one way to effect change within society–see Thatcher.
P.S. It seems like I am stuck using the all caps moniker as this was Google autofill’s first choice and I jumped at it.
Hi Matthew, I didn’t think you were shouting!
Yes, politics is part of public life but not always the life of a church. I acknowledge that some will be called to politics as a vocation; but that is no different to being called as a teacher or whatever. The Christian Institute lobbies politicians to support the freedoms of the Christian faith and gospel.
I can’t see how one’s faith informs one’s voting in Parliament: Fiona Bruce, Stephen Timms and Tim Farron will all vote differently but have the same faith basis. No doubt their faith makes them better MPs but doesn’t necessarily influence their ethical voting choices.
I can’t see a biblical case for a church to focus on politics. The early chapters of Acts give us a good idea of how Christian justice worked amongst the believers following Peter’s admonition to ‘save yourselves from this crooked generation’. Having a nationalised Church and Bishops in the Lords has proved an unfortunate marriage I fear.
Trouble is “Kingdom” or however we translate it is quintessentially a political word, and our churches exist in and cannot but engage with the wider society. Yes, how we live should be an example, but it is not just about living more simply, it has to be also engaging with what demeans and diminishes lives, and so challenging systemic inequalities.
It would be great to say to the world “come and see justice in our community”, but the poor of the world may also ask why we have not extended our concern for justice beyond our own community. It is a good thing to eat less meat ourselves and buy Fair-Trade coffee, but we should also raise the issues of deforestation, climate change, low wages etc.
There is a challenging hymn by Kathy Galloway- “Do not retreat into your private world”.It ends,
There is no shelter from the rage of life,
So meet its eye, and dance within the storm.
Uncomfortable as it is, and though I don’t manage to do this very well at all, I think this is the call of God. Seeking first the Kingdom and God’s justice is to go out as sheep among wolves – the most ridiculous thing for the good shepherd to say!
Every fibre of my middle class being wants to go back and justify a nicer and more protected existence!
The post from Matthew Harding relates to the post by Peter Mattacola not to this one by a different Peter!
Thank you Peter for the whole of your comment and especially this:
“Trouble is “Kingdom” or however we translate it is quintessentially a political word, and our churches exist in and cannot but engage with the wider society. Yes, how we live should be an example, but it is not just about living more simply, it has to be also engaging with what demeans and diminishes lives, and so challenging systemic inequalities.”
I want to say Allelulia, Amen! Amen! It is why many of us believe that the issues of women in ministry as Priests and Bishops, issues in human sexuality, issues about race and issues about other areas of human justice are vital for the Church to address. And why I find it worrying when someone asking for greater co-operation in the field of politics asks “And what has the ordination of women got to do with anything?”
As you say, it is uncomfortable, especially when we disagree about such things. But I was heartened by the ideas put forward by Michael Jensen in his post and want to see how we can work those out – yes, even in the field of the ordination of women and the life of LGBTi people in the Church.
The Kingdom of God isn’t only about social justice: it is primarily about being born into it, from above, entering, not by works.
Just as faith without works is dead, works without faith is dead works.
“The Kingdom of God isn’t only about social justice: it is primarily about being born into it, from above, entering, not by works”
Entry to the Kingdom is indeed by new birth from above (just as entry into the Covenant was by YHWH’s gracious calling and election). Yet: we do not enter the Kingdom by works, but new birth implies a reorientation of our priorities so that we truly love our fellow man as well as God.
So the Kingdom of God is not only about social justice, but it includes social justice
Hi Peter, I didn’t know if this was a reply to my post or not.
I don’t think Kingdom has to be a political word as we understand politics. The Kingdom expressed in Acts was: ‘there was not a needy person among them’. That is surely an achievable aim for a church: a place freed from systemic inequality.
I dont think kingdom is a political word – Jesus saying ‘My kingdom is not of this world” surely makes that clear
Did Jesus in any significant way address himself towards the political structures of his day? Only once and possibly positively? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s is almost a legitimation of Caesar ruling in Jerusalem & Judea. Remarkable
May I respectfully disagree. Kingdom is a very political word, and Jesus confronted and challenged the political leaders of his world, both in word – challenging Pilate and Herod, and action – eg “Palm Sunday”, and in acts of prophetic symbolism- eg Sending the squadron of pigs (now with Legion in them) into the water as God did to the Egyptians in the Red Sea. The gospel writers show the political encounter (as I mentioned in an earlier blog comment) in the birth narratives and in setting Jesus up as the Son of David and as the Messiah.
Yes the values of this Kingdom are different, and Jesus does not fight and kill to achieve it, but that does not mean it is not a political word.
Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the Roman rule and rulers and the crowd’s comment “We have no King but Caesar” endorse this choice.
Render unto Caesar is a dense and multilayered one-liner and should be interpreted from the wider context not as the key to it.
With regards Peter M’s response about Acts 2, again context is important. If we are poor and marginal then at least making good for our church family is right and good, but if we are relatively well-off and comfortable then we MUST do more than just live more simply and share with fellow-Christians who also probably are comfortable. Add to this the instruction to the rich young ruler and you have a more radical Christianity – “sell what you have and give to the poor”, but if we have jobs with influence we must look to use that influence for good and for change. This is faith in action, not works without faith, or empty words of faith. It is hard.
The disciples were rightly focused (for a change!) when they asked “Who then can be saved?” with regards the rich. Or to reflect on Jesus’ parables, we are told the cares of this world and the lure of wealth choke the seed in the thorns, or do we think we are a new genetic strain that can grow despite being within the world of wealth and the cares of this world?
Christians are, as you put it, a “new genetic strain”: actually a new humanity in the last Adam, Jesus Christ, not part of the kingdom of the world. His Kingdom is not of this world. In it, but not of it.
This may be a known unknown to many, but is a reality known, to Spirit born, born not of the flesh?
This is of eternal import, not mere intellectual gymnastics or opinion.
“This may be a known unknown to many, but is a reality known, to Spirit born, born not of the flesh?“
Geoff: this sentence doesn’t make sense I’m afraid. Could you say it again a bit more clearly please?
I take it you accept the first part of my comment. It is clear and plain in scripture.
As to to bit you don’t understand, (agreed it is not a good sentence!) that too is plain, in scripture, a command that is known, but unknown to those who don’t “know” the how, the why, the where, the when. In reality, can’t see the Kingdom of God. As I said, it is a known, unknown, to many but a known known to…few? not only born of flesh, but of the Spirit.
Hope that is plain.
“As to to bit you don’t understand, (agreed it is not a good sentence!) that too is plain, in scripture, a command that is known,…”
Which command are you referring to Geoff? What is the context? I’m probably being dim but I’m really not clear what you are on about here!
Peter R, might I come back on your comment above?
What might be called the political climate at the time of Christ was not really comparable to the situation expressed in the article. Then it was a regime of a Roman conquest with a puppet King, Herod. It would be similar to discussing political influence in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet repression of 1968 with its puppet ruler. Democracy as we have it is meant to be a legislative programme of improvement and adaptation; in the first century there were Roman laws and the Jewish Laws. Jesus did not seek to overturn the Jewish laws but taught that the Kingdom of God required inward heart and outward life obedience to those precepts.
If you look at churches working in the deprived wards of Britain you would definitely find individuals and families who are not comfortably off. Such people feel very easily patronised and intimidated by middle-class people such as myself; even though I grew up in a working-class household. The vision of the King and his Kingdom is a people liberated from sin, oppression, division and poverty who share in the society espoused as “in this new humanity there is no question of Greek and Jew or circumcised and uncircumcised or barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, The King is everything and in everything” (as Tom Wright translates it). And this is the testimony of this Kingdom to the world: “This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.”
I think you’d be unsettled if you listened to Keller in the link above.
I am generally of your view and I was discomfited.
At the baseline, all politics is concerned with justice, and with it an unacknowledged transcendent meta-narrative, which Keller emphasises is found in Christianity.
Drawing on Michael Sandal (Havard) identification of three current views of justice
1″maximising welfare” – the greatest good for the greatest number – utilitarianism
2 ” respecting freedom” following Kant, -the most just action is one which allows, respects, the individual to live as they chose
3 “promoting virtue” following Aristotle, justice is served when people are acting as they ought, in accord with morality and virtue.
All are meta narratives with entailments, some conflicted and inconsistent and incoherent.
All coalesce in Christianity.
In the Politics of the Cross of Christ. Good News indeed.
The line ‘All political standpoints are well-intentioned, complementary, well-informed and in good faith’ is a mere assertion. It is the easiest thing in the world to hold a stance that is not those things, and therefore in a world of 7.5 billion people some will do so. Again, the expectation that most will be informed absolutely astonishes me. It is so counter-intuitive. So does the expectation that political stances will have integrity. Why? Is that human nature?
it is a bit like these assertions:
-All ”religions” lead to the same goal
-All styles of music are fine – style is neutral
-There is an eternal 3legged stool of liberal, catholic and evangelical, and always has been and always will be.
These assertions have very little to support them, but many treat them as unquestioned!
C S Lewis was right that on egalitarian and social responsibility issues Christians look what people seem to call ‘left’ and on families they look what people seem to call ‘right’. But that Christian combination is a very distinctive one, which excludes a mass of other options. It does astonish me when people say that a Christian can closely identify with any of the main parties as they now are.
There is sometimes scarcely one person in Parliament who seems to stand for what one would wish – at present there is Lord Alton, and it surprises me not a jot that he is an Independent, nor that he is a Christian Democrat (a party often quite strong in Europe but not here).
I was so relieved to find one local candidate last time that was (what people seem to call) pro life, that it was not difficult to know which way to vote. Small pickings when that should be the norm not the exception.
I always tend to find voting a poor approximation to what I would like to see with me often holding my nose as I go into the voting booth. I am always uneasy about not voting as the freedom we have to vote in this country is not something we should take for granted and was fought for by previous generations.
“The line ‘All political standpoints are well-intentioned, complementary, well-informed and in good faith’ is a mere assertion”
That’s probably a fair point, as developed in the rest of your post. Jensen would probably have been better served by:
1. Limiting the scope of his observation to the mainstream parties (i.e. Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, excluding BNP and the likes);
2. Suggesting this should be our default attitude towards those who hold different views and that we should avoid a “hermeneutic of suspicion” towards political stances
I find this article frustrating.
If politics is, simply, what matters in the ‘city’ (one of the two to which we owe allegiance) then Christians had better get stuck in. If in our ‘city’ the government disregards the law (selling planning permissions e.g.) or is careless of the needs of the people (I heard something about huge cuts to fire-fighting capacity in NSW), if we’re listening to our neighbour and attentive to how it often seems that it’s the same folk who carry the can for poor governance (and they are not the governing classes) then gentle Spirit filled people will get angry, and they’ll find more positive and robust advice on how to engage elsewhere.
I agree with the author that our political discourse is marred by a lurch away from truthfulness but find little encouragement here to engage in a here and now response. In the USA at least the section of the church I guess most likely to nod in agreement with the article is the section enthralled with a serial liar.
I’m bothered by the suggestion that entanglement and proclamation are in opposition and equally that our real politics should be what sounds like an other-worldly Lordship of Jesus. When I proclaim without being entangled I need a megaphone and when I live out my belief in Jesus as Lord of all eternity I find I’m more bothered by current injustice, not less, and less content with my privilege and frequent preference for keeping quiet and aloof.
The article gives half the picture, voicing half the church’s preference for staying clean – at risk of ‘passing by on the other side’ while the other half is more moved by Jesus’ example of eating with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ – at risk of getting very messy. Both sides end up needing to be forgiven but framed this way they’re not equally defensible. Of course there are dangers with an uncritical entanglement but it is true for all sides and those who instinctively warm to this article may find they are entangled in privilege that makes them fearful of protesters wanting change.
In the last 48 hours I’m glad there were voices on ‘the right’ in our (UK) politics that spoke up for hungry children (e.g. Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow) but the loudest voice on the right preferred we should think about statues (a borrowed thought). Honestly, there is some virtue on the noisy, clamouring, left.
I think believers in Christ should avoid openly taking sides with politicians and instead pray that peace prevails in every regime. Remember, peace can prevail even in an authoritarian rule, eg, when Muammar Gaddafi was president of Libya for 40 years. What’s more, the Bible instructs us to pray and respect all the rulersRomans (13:1-14 ; 1 Peter 2:13-17) . I believe this includes even those in the opposition.