Shhh. Politics. It’s not a big pulpit-topic these days. Why not? Especially in light of newly minted Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, the various travels of Barack Obama, and every other story in the newspaper?
Various people claim God’s backing on their project—sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly. Religion and politics. They are connected, yes; but this marriage can be dangerous if unchecked. A good warning is something Lincoln said: “The real question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side.”
I think much in our faith has become privatized. Montreal philosophy professor Charles Taylor argues that for the first time in Western history many people are able to understand the purpose in their lives strictly related to their own humanity and with no reference to God. He calls it ‘self-sufficient humanism.’ And so, perhaps in response to all of this we have retreated within ourselves to an i-pod faith, internalizing our faith to the only-me-and-Jesus variety. Inside for no one to see. Damage control mode. A Jesus who isn’t concerned with public affairs. But the real Jesus was, and is.
His principal topic was the “kingdom of God.” Government. Of God. A kind of rule for the people determined by God. That’s not democracy. That’s theocracy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is “politics,” anyway?
Quite literally politics means about citizens. Internationally best-selling author Alain de Bottom says that it is also the “process of change” where ideals seek to develop in relation to people.
But we’ve become cynical. In politics, in the church, in everywhere. This past 100 years has been the bloodiest in the history of the recorded West. We’re cynical that “progress” can save us. It hasn’t. And won’t. This cynicism is also encouraged by dictionaries: One of the entries for politics is: “manoeuvring and scheming to get one’s way.” Another taxpayer funded boondoggle or scandal. I feel cynicism is on the rise.
And we oversimplify and trivialize the work of politicians of various political stripes. I read something a few months back: Someone is drowning 100 metres off shore. A conservative throws out 50 metres of rope and says, ‘We’ve done our bit, now swim half way and do yours!’ A liberal throws out 200 metres and then drops his end of the rope!… Cynicism.
Yet the process of people getting elected and representing others as they try to do the wise and humble work of changing what needs fixing and stewarding what’s working is one of the biggest change agents in the world. I worked at Queen’s Park in those early years after the McGuinty Liberals swept the province and saw some great examples first hand.
We care about what happens in this life—on this side of the soil. I recently heard it said that we also believe in life before death. We sure do. The most ancient hospital in Paris was called l’Hotel-Dieu, meaning ‘House of God.’ It was an extended arm of the church. The hospital welcomed the sick and maimed regardless of social, political, or religious identity. Massive and free literacy programs were started in many parts of the world including Scotland so that men, women and children could learn to read—many things, but mostly the Bible. Health care, education, protecting God’s creation (enviornment), being wise in how we handle the economy because we are called by God to be good stewards. All of it is of interest to us. Look at government budgets; these are priorities to us all.
Spiritual giant C.S. Lewis says, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”
Still unsure as to whether your faith should influence how you understand and engage the political realm? I love how it’s said in Micah 6: “He has showed you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Jim Wallis interprets this Micah passage memorably. He says that we are walking with God down a road by the river. That’s the “walk humbly” part. Then we hear someone screaming for help, caught in the current. We wade out to rescue him. That’s the “love mercy” part. Then we hear more screams and pull out a few more drowning people, each time showing more mercy. Eventually, as a crowd gathers and more and more screams for help fill the air, we need to say, “Quick! A bunch of us need to go upstream and find out who’s pushing people into the river and stop them!” That’s “doing justice.”
People often quote the great Swiss thinker Karl Barth by highlighting how he said preachers should prepare sermons with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. As far as I can tell no one can really find that quote, and never would Barth suggest these things be weighted equally. But in a Time Magazine article he did reference how everything we read in the newspapers should be interpreted through the lens of our Bibles. “Act justly” and “love mercy” and “walk humbly with your God.” Sounds very “about citizens-y” to me.
Jesus was political because he wanted to effect change for God’s kingdom everywhere—and that’s a very public, not private, thing. And for us. As Lincoln said so perfectly in the 1860’s, the real question is not whether we can tug God down from the cheap seats and cajole him into being on our side, but whether we might try to be on his.