Please Be Political… by Richard Dawson

Richard is the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

Politics is the ultimate expression of the fact that we have to exist with people who don’t think like us. Derived from the Greek polos – meaning ‘people’ – politics is the art and, perhaps, science of being a people – being together. Every expression of politics is basically a reaction to this fact. Fascist and communist expressions of politics are simply more extreme reactions. Democracy is simply an attempt to find the fairest and broadest expression of this reality. As such we who are Christian should avoid two extremes in our involvement with politics.

The first is to reject the whole notion of politics as worldly sinful expression of human attempts at self-government. This is how many Christians view politics and as a result they refuse to become involved or even to register their right to vote and have their say. The rationale for this is usually that politics is part of a worldly attempt to govern that will ultimately fail and won’t address the real need of humankind which is salvation and the spiritual governance of God through the Holy Spirit. The problem with this is that it is not biblical in the least.

Jesus Himself said ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s’ establishing forever that Caesar did indeed have some rights, rights established in heaven itself. Paul is perhaps even clearer when he states in Romans 13:1 ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.’ And he goes on in the next 6 verses to establish very clearly that political authorities are both necessary and God ordained.

Now I realise that this seems to be at odds with all the some of the less palatable realities of politics and especially the fact that many political leaders down through the ages have used their authority to do terrible things to the people under their power. However, that does not in and of itself mean that we’d be better living in state where all people do what they think is best. This is simply another form of tyranny where the power resides not with an individual but with every individual. Under such a regime there is little chance for ‘righteousness’ to thrive since no one could challenge the individual’s right to govern themselves.

The Bible is convinced that political power is both necessary and right even if it’s administration is often corrupted by corrupt human beings.

The second extreme is to replace our hope in God with hope in politics, political parties and political figures. Here we become far too optimistic about what political power can achieve for us and we are therefore attracted to those who promise the most or with whom we identify the most. This is certainly a feature of our age and of Kiwis and it is a very human thing to want to see our hope. But let’s be clear, there was never a closer thing to outright idolatry than this view. Our idol becomes the party or person who seems to think like us the most and to promise to act like we think they should. This idol is clearly made in our image and they remain our hope and the promise that the future will be what we want it to be. In this regard we act like idolaters.

We identify with the ‘visible’ features of the idol; how they look, how they express themselves, what they say; all these things have to line up with our imagination and our hope just as a little wooden idol would.

We enjoy control of our idol. We rejoice when things go well and we hide it away when things don’t – making excuses for it and for the loss of some of our hope.

We protect our idol. We defend our party or person. We feel offended when they are attacked. We are prepared to rigorously defend our idol even when a defense is not available in which case we will recall the mistakes of those who are attacking our idol.

Finally, we imagine that our idol has so much control that they will be able to change our personal circumstances and make things different for us according to… our desires and dreams. In short, our world is in their hands but, and what is more to the point, their hands are really all about fulfilling our world!

Friends, this should not be!! We should recognize both how limited our political masters are and, much more importantly, who our true lord is! Yes, politics is both important and necessary but it should not be our idol or where we place our true hope.

Perhaps the worst feature of this is the party spirit this sort of thinking brings out in Christians especially around election time. I am horrified at the cynicism and barely disguised hatred expressed so freely by card-carrying Christians around election time. There’s simply no need for it. Yes, by all means support your person/party but don’t do it at the expense of the dignity and grace which is the mark of your faith.

When we behave in the manner I have outlined above we proclaim a different message from the one we’ve been given as Christians by our Lord and it this – ‘I am your true hope; I am the One in whom your dreams and desires should be invested – not the political powers of this world.’

By all means be political but do so in a way that reflects who you are – a child of Christ whose true hope is Christ.