Faith and Politics
written by Rev Gary Heard

It is the subject of occasional observation from ministerial colleagues that I am very political in my outlook. It is an observation that is not something which bothers me as a description, but when it is made to me usually elicits the response: “just as much as you”.

Somehow in the church we have created the belief that the only ones who are political are those who speak out in relation to matters directly related to politics. But we are all political, either by action or inaction, by concern or apathy. The ascription is usually meant to convey a sense of derision, as if somehow one is getting away from the gospel. It strikes me that the observation is made only of those who appear to be “left wing” in their viewpoints, or who are critical of conservative approaches. In stark contrast, those who support governments who speak out advocating the ten commandments, or the place of prayer, do not consider themselves to be political at all, merely expressing the gospel.

But the gospel, like politics, is concerned with power and its deployment. The very reason Jesus was crucified was his attack on the political powers of his day, who also happened to be the religious leaders of the time. Jesus’ proclamation of the “kingdom of God” was the description of a new political order, where peacemakers are honoured, the meek are given just reward, and those who are persecuted for pursuing the things of God are given place in heaven.

We live in a time when politics and religion have been delicately intertwined. It is not the first time, will not be the last time, and may not even be the most intense time when such has occurred. But the war on terrorism has – for good or ill – been defined somewhat in terms of Christian versus Muslim. The Presidential election in the USA is being defined by Bush’s christian faith over against Kerry’s more secular approach to politics. And in Australia we have some seeking to draw distinction between sides on the basis of christian belief.

Can we turn a blind eye, or keep our voices quiet when our government acts unjustly? Is it christian not to care about the impact of our country's policies on the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless? When we reflect on the tradition of the Old Testament Prophets and the actions of Jesus, we find our responsibility to speak and act for justice. To be silent in the face of injustice is to be as culpable as the perpetrators.

It is the gospel call to us to speak, and to act so that our politics reflects the gospel call, and not merely reflect the party-political agendas of our time.

June 13, 2004
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