Daniel Kirk has posted an excellent piece about the intersection of Christian faith and politics. In it, he asks four questions:-
- What sort of rubric do you use for engaging politics as a person of faith?
- Is there really any point in participating in the system we’ve been given?
- Are you more actively engaging now than you did a year ago, if so what’s new?
- What are the points at which Christians should be changing the conversation rather than simply taking up the flag for one side or the other in the political maelstrom?
I think my first answer has to be to the second question. There really is no alternative to participating in the system we’ve been given; the only alternative would be to seek to tear down that system and institute a different one, and I don’t think we’re called on as Christians to be wreckers (aside, perhaps, from a need to overturn the tables of the moneylenders regularly); we are supposed to build community, not to destabilise it. Granted, building a Jesus-driven community IS a destabilising action so far as the prevailing order is concerned.
Yes, the system we have is corrupt; I’m with Walter Wink in characterising it as one of the “powers and principalities” against which we should struggle, but also with him in recognising that our current system is, like us, fallen and capable of redemption. Our task should be to strive to redeem it. Granted, we may also hope that God will move mightily and change things, but our experience should indicate that where we have the power to do something, we should not expect God to do it for us – and, in a democracy, we have the power to do something.
That power is the power to vote, first and foremost, but also the power to agitate to sway representatives, to work to have representatives who share our vision elected and, in the final analysis, to stand for election ourselves if we find we are the only person willing to. This was a situation in which I found myself around 40 years ago, when I complained to a former Jesuit friend that I had no-one to vote for, and after establishing that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either of the main parties and there was no presence of our rather marginal third party, he suggested that I stand for them – which entailed creating a party group on the ground locally. After a couple of trial runs, I then proceeded to get elected to local councils seven times…
I think his advice was sound – and he himself was a member and a representative for one of the main parties, not the one I stood for! (Incidentally, I’ve paid that one forward in giving other people advice which got them elected, and two of them stood for his party). There really is no alternative but to participate, given that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
That, I think, also gives my answer to the last question. If you don’t like either side in an apparently two party system, join or start another which you like better. Who knows, you may win…
My basic objective was always to promote social gospel issues, to ensure the good of the greatest number possible as a communitarian enterprise while avoiding major disadvantage to minorities. In the process it was necessary firstly never to lie, and secondly never to make a promise which I wasn’t confident I could deliver on. I grant you, these are not normally regarded as things politicians do, but I’m proof that, at least at a local level, it’s possible. If standing in a more serious capacity, I would probably want to add “don’t take any campaign contributions from people who expect you to do anything which conflicts with your basic objectives”.
I am, however, retired from practical politics, so no, I am not really more actively engaging – my health is, frankly, no longer up to the challenges of either pavement-pounding or vigorous public engagement. Though I do find I’m thinking and writing more about political subjects than I used to, and don’t rule out the possibility of doing more, albeit almost certainly not in standing for office again. Over 20 years worth of being an elected representative is entirely sufficient for anyone, in my view!