Cardinal Pell has been criticised today for calling the Greens ‘sweet camouflaged poison‘. As a pastor, stepping into political debate is always a vexed issues fraught with controversy. Not that controversy is a bad thing in itself, the gospel is controversial. But I’m careful to choose my fights.
And so, it seems was Jesus. When the religious leaders tried to goad him into commenting on taxation (which in context had religious and nationalistic connotations), he skilfully dodged with his famous, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. Still, they despised him for associating with tax collectors.
When they were about to carry out the death sentence on a woman caught in the act of adultery (and ever since we’ve asked, where was the man?) Jesus managed to save her, and said, ‘Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.’ His loose moral code (if ‘stop sinning’ can be considered loose) won him no friends among the religious elite. Not that it stopped him from fellowshipping with them, and some became his followers.
Did I mention his association with terrorists (or freedom-fighters, if you prefer)? And Roman soldiers (or the oppressors, if you like)?
Seems Jesus was comfortable on all sides of politics.
Thing is, when anyone became a Christ-follower they were expected to leave their previous way of life, whether that was a life of immorality, violence or judgmentalism. They were to put love for God and others ahead of their own agenda, ahead of any other agenda. They were to live lives empowered by God that reflect God’s Kingdom agenda of radical love.
And here is the nexus between faith and politics. Jesus came preaching an entirely different political agenda – the Kingdom of God, a heavenly Kingdom. Let that sink in because it’s as revolutionary today as it was then. It actually got him crucified.
As persecution of the early church increased they began to feel the divide between the Kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God more keenly, until the Apostle John could say, “If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you” (1John 2.15). When Kingdom and Empire values collided, for the Christ-follower, Kingdom trumped.
Of course, this Kingdom agenda has led its citizens to make a huge impact in the world – hospitals, orphanages, drug rehab and schools for example. But this was all motivated by the gospel as Christ-follwers sought to express their faith and live out the Kingdom. It wasn’t a social agenda, it was a gospel agenda, encompassing both the spiritual and social. Which, incidentally, is why Christ-followers can’t separate the preaching of the gospel from social action, in God’s Kingdom the two are inextricably linked. As people are transformed by the gospel, the structures and society they are part of change too.
It’s not surprising, then, that serious problems arise when Christianity becomes politicised. Kingdom morality is radical – forgiveness, acceptance, simplicity, generosity, sexual purity. You simply cannot legislate these and few can truly attain them by human effort. They must come from relationship with Christ and the deep work of God’s spirit in the human heart. We have a divine vision for society and it can not be brought about by human means.
Jesus didn’t come to preach morality, he came to preach relationship with God, from which a moral life can emerge (and that to a higher end, morality isn’t the goal, its the means). In fact, he condemned those who tried to impose their morals on others. He didn’t condemn the morals themselves or the effort to live by them, in fact he affirmed them (Matt 23.23). But rather than impose this way of life on others, he invited others into a relationship with God that enabled their expression through a transformed heart. He died that we might be able to connect again with the source of goodness. And God vindicated his approach by his resurrection.
Of course, there are things we can seek to do through politics and I think Christ-followers should be in government (they have been from the start). I think Jesus would cheer on attempts to solve homelessness, improve mental health (although I suspect he’d save the government the trouble), alleviate poverty and so on. I really think he could care less about the NBN or national debt. Not that these are unimportant, they’re just not Kingdom priorities. I suspect he’d be distressed about the ‘stop the boats’ sloganeering, but just get on with the business of loving refugees. The environment? I suspect he’d call us into a life of radical simplicity which would solve the problem. And I really wonder if he’d fight tooth and nail to defend marriage in legislation, I think he’d be far more concerned about healing marriages. I don’t think he’d be alienating gays, I think he’d be welcoming them into love and fellowship and trying to help them enter his Kingdom, radical demands and all.
Really, I don’t think he’d vote for anyone. I think he’d say, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and uproclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9.60). That’s offensive enough without getting sidetracked by politics.