POLITICS MORE OR LESS (originally published in Harvest Field)
The question is not whether Christians and churches should be involved in politics, but in what way and in what circumstances. We need to be informed about options and the factors to be weighed. We need to hear and talk about the Gospel; we also need to relate following Jesus to real life.
The following points may help discussion:
1. Some ministers need to know more about politics.
Leaders who are politically naieve can cause as many problems as those consumed by politics of a partisan kind. The church needs more saints, but some of us could usefully be a little less innocent about how the world works and a bit more wise helping people cope. There were some politically astute figures in the bible. We could learn from them.
2. Our cultures may help us get it right. They might not either.
No one with a Scottish background should have to apologize for applying faith in Christ to life in society. Asian society also has a strong practical streak, though it sometimes feels matters of government should be left to those chosen for the purpose. I doubt if a Polynesian world view encourages the idea religious faith is about one part of life rather than another. All of us have political views affected by class, culture and interest. Sometimes these will be affirmed by the Gospel. At other times they must be challenged.
3. In church services there can be an overdose of politics. A complete absence of political observation is not right either.
Saying nothing about politics does not help Christians handle politics from a Christian point of view. I don't mind a minister having a political bent providing it is not all they talk or preach about and he or she shows understanding for those who see things differently. Political sermons can be an escape from faith rather than a product of it, but they ought not to be and don't have to be. It is easy to sound off. It is more difficult to take people with you despite their deep-seated differences.
4. How politicians handle politics is not how Christians should handle politics.
The church does and must include those of different politics. Christians are called to demonstrate appropriate ways of handling disagreement. The Ecumenical ideal should help us here. It is not right when some seem more committed to affirming theological diversity than they are to accepting political diversity.
5. It is OK to come to Church and expect to get away from conflicts. People need strength and wisdom to go back to them.
Worship is space with God, not just information and opinion about the world. Time out from conflict should be seen as a means to facing the real world not a way of escape. In our services Christians must deal with what no one else is here to do. The basics of the Gospel need to be in every service.
6. The business of Public Questions Committees needs to come into the worship life of the church more than it does, but in a different way.
Issues need prayer as well as judgement. People need information and perspectives but do not like being taken for granted or being told what to think.
The Public Questions Committee needs to see their role as primarily enabling people to make better decisions from a Christian point of view. What are the alternatives? What are the principles at issue? What are people's views are likely to be?
7. Drop outs are not the only price of mishandled politics and misguided prophecy. The ultimate losers are the people.
Those who have left the church over its political comments are from more than one part of the theological spectrum. I would like to suggest they have often done so, not because of the fact of engagement with political issues, but because of the quality and style of that engagement.
The loser has not only been the church, it has also been the causes of justice, Christian political engagement, and active involvement in the maintenance and improvement of the systems of education, local body politics, trade unions, and business.
If the concern really is to get Christians and the church involved in society in a biblical way then more patience is needed in taking people along, in encouraging engagement more than a particular response; in inspiring and informing considered Christian viewpoints. It is not a matter of substituting blandness for conviction. It is a matter of indicating where more than one legitimate response may be possible.
8. Many Christians need to be more active in politics not less. Churches on the whole need to be involved less, but sometimes more.
The role of the church should be more to encourage and facilitate than to represent; but at times it must represent. It needs to understand that restraint can enhance authority. It does not always need to spell out a Christian basis for its viewpoint, but it must have one. It is dangerous to piggy-back on passing ideologies whether of the left or of the right.
The more the Church does its homework, into the views of its constituency as well as in relation to issues, the more credibility it will have among those it claims to speak to, and the more usefulness it will have among those it claims to speak for.