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The politics of being a Christian

So, who did you vote for? Will you be celebrating this weekend or holding your head in your hands, thinking about what the next five years might bring for our country? I am an avid consumer of politics, and I've been watching and listening to recent debates and interviews with interest.  One of my favourite podcasts is "The Rest is Politics," hosted by Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart, an odd pairing that seems to work well together.


Two interviews recently broadcast on ‘TRIP’ stood out for me, the first being an interview with Alex Chalk, Lord Chancellor and Conservative candidate for Cheltenham, and Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary for Labour. I was moved by how powerfully Wes spoke of his Christian faith, the influence of his two granddads, and his commitment to the Labour Party. For me, he is someone who stands out positively, as does Alex Chalk, who came across as deeply authentic and passionate for his local community. I appreciated the opportunity to hear their personal stories and begin to understand them both as individuals who, to my ears, had much in common and could disagree agreeably. Even though I am writing this ahead of the election result and may not be entirely sure of the outcome despite the polls, what impressed me with both Wes and Alex was how the political identity of both men was visible in their everyday lives. They were both men of conviction and courage seeking a better, fairer place for their communities and the country. They were committed to their cause.

 

It made me think about our commitment as Christians to our cause: bringing God’s Kingdom closer by living and acting as Gospel people. Over the election campaign and various debates, I lost count of the number of Christians who declared they wouldn't be voting as they considered each leader as bad as the other. One person even suggested that deciding who to vote for was the equivalent of determining “which shin you wanted to be kicked on.” Quite a bleak outlook. Does not our commitment to bringing God’s kingdom closer lead us to be political, insomuch as when the politics and policies align with God’s future?

 

Certainly, in a time of “populism, polarisation and post-truth” according to Messrs Campbell and Stewart, it has been difficult to discover the people behind the policies and the policies behind the people. I find it somewhat ironic that just as Alistair Campbell once advised Tony Blair, "We don't do God", many Christians would equally declare, "We don't do politics." I believe we should do politics; furthermore, I would go as far as to say it should be part of our Christian identity to get involved. If the politics and policies do not reflect kingdom values, we need to do something about it other than tusk and sigh at the news headlines.

 

At this point, some of you might want to suggest that Jesus was not political, so we should not be. I want to push back on this and argue that whilst Jesus was not party political and that no wing of politics - left or right - can claim God as being on its side, Jesus was highly political. Biblical scholar N. T. Wright helpfully identifies that Jesus’ message was, after all, inescapably political. He denounced rulers, real and self-appointed. Jesus spoke of good news for people experiencing poverty. He led large groups of people off into the wilderness, a sure sign of revolutionary intent. He announced the imminent destruction of the Jerusalem temple. At the start of a festival celebrating Israel’s liberation, he organised around himself what could only have looked like a royal procession. He deliberately and dramatically acted out a parable of the temple’s destruction, thus drawing on to himself the anger of the authorities in a way that he could never have done by healing lepers and forgiving prostitutes. Wright goes on to say that Jesus died the death of the lestai, the political insurrectionists (Barabbas and the two crucified with Jesus were lestai). How could Jesus not have been ‘political’?” (See N.T. Wright, “The New Testament and the State”). Jesus did this because God cares for those in need and expects those who claim to follow Him to act in his name to do the same. Our call as followers of Jesus means we should be people of action - and words. We should be political.

 

Whatever party we support, we must pray for our leaders. We must also hold them accountable for their promises and raise awareness of justice and environmental issues they overlooked.  Friends, more than this, Jesus' disciples must speak up for the underprivileged, refugees, and voiceless. We should demand a more mature conversation between the parties, where instead of point scoring for political benefit, an agreement may make a difference. Political engagement can influence society and bring about the change we need. Let's encourage local leaders of all parties to seek compromise in Westminster, Holyrood, Senedd Cymru, and Stormont rather than incessant political point-scoring. Let's keep them accountable for change and make it plain that inaction is unacceptable. What if every church wrote to their local MP asking what they could pray for in the following weeks as a new government is established and invited them to attend in six months to report on their commitments and promises?

 

What if each church in our network adopted Jesus' ‘Nazarene manifesto’ and put it into practice? We could then not afford to be anything but politically engaged.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,

because he has anointed us

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

  Adapted from Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV)

 

Jesus was unavoidably involved in the politics of his time. He was involved because politics deals with the well-being of those around us. This means that it becomes the responsibility of individuals who are concerned about the well-being of others. And it becomes our responsibility, too, because, as Christians, the Good News calls us to seek the well-being through the outworking of God’s Kingdom in and through others. Perhaps the Spirit is disrupting us to work harder and more intentionally towards an outworking of the Nazareth manifesto in our country. Friends, let’s get political.


Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries

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