As the political parties respond to the local election results and as we wait to find out what happened in the European elections, we have an opportunity to think about how we engage with our society and with our elected leaders.
A couple of books I have been reading recently provide some interesting insights regarding the nature of government and the responsibility on Christians to engage politically, socially and in many other dimensions.
In Creation, Power and Truth, Tom Wright speaks about God’s desire for the world he had created to be ‘ordered and structured’ and how God calls human beings to be his agents and representatives in it. Within the story of creation and redemption, Wright (p60) suggests a three-stage process:
- That God does intend the world to be ordered and, in his time, he will achieve this
- Until that time, not wanting the world to descend into chaos, God uses ‘human authorities, even when they don’t acknowledge him’ to bring some degree of order and structure
- That God’s people have a ‘vital calling’ to speak truth to those in power and to remind them of God’s purposes and plans
His ideas provide a way of positioning ourselves – in relationship to God’s plan and current power structures – and challenging us as to whether we are fulfilling our role as “consciences to the powerful”.
We see many examples of this sort of role in the Bible with:
- Prophetic voices in the Old Testament challenging the king and his actions – such as Nathan with David in 2 Samuel 12:1-12, Elijah with Ahab in 1 Kings 18:18 and Isaiah with Hezekiah in Isaiah 39:3-7
- Jesus speaking to the authorities of his day – criticising the religious leaders in Matthew 23 (and elsewhere) and challenging the Roman authorities to think about the reality of power in John 18:33-38
- The early disciples recognising that their primary responsibility was to God and that they were prepared to challenge those in authority on that basis – Acts 4:18-21
But for many of us, the extent of our involvement in the political life of our society extends to exercising our democratic right to vote.
In his book, The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann speaks (pp330-331) about five ‘vicious circles of death’ which feed upon themselves and each other:
- The circle of poverty – which affects so many in so many different ways, individually and within and between communities
- The circle of force – where those who suffer poverty are often dominated by those in power
- The circle of racial and cultural alienation – as people, and groups, are robbed of their identity and treated as objects to be manipulated and exploited
- The circle of the industrial pollution of nature – where we exploit and abuse the wonders of God’s creation which we were called to steward and care for
- The circle of senselessness and godforsakenness – as people lose all hope and sense of purpose as a result of how they are treated
Some of these have been highlighted in the recent election campaigns, they are all things which are seen and experienced continually and we look, among other things, for those in positions of power and authority and influence to do something about them.
But Moltmann doesn’t stop at articulating the problem, as he sees it, rather he goes on to offer suggestions as to how these interlocked, vicious cycles can be broken to bring freedom
He calls (pp332-335) for a society where:
- Economic sufficiency and social justice are available to all so that people can be liberated from the circle of poverty
- Each person is able to participate in the process of decision making so that they are no longer subject to the forceful control of others
- Each person is recognised as valued and important so that the issues associated with alienation are addressed
- Nature is seen not as an object but our environment where its needs are understood
- People experience meaning and satisfaction which (Moltmann argues) can only be found in the indwelling presence of God
While some would argue with the specific details of the solutions Moltmann outlines, I think that the type of society for which he is calling is one that many of us would aspire to. But what are we to do?
I suggest two things:
- We heed the encouragement of Paul to Timothy to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
- We take seriously the responsibility (advocated by Wright) to hold our leaders to account, to point out to them where their rhetoric, actions and objectives are not in line with the sort of society advocated by Moltmann, and to suggest where there are better ways of discharging their responsibilities as God’s stewards