waking up to politics (2)

A word of clarification about my previous post may be in order. When I suggested that the experience of physically waking up to recent political announcements had also ‘woken me up’ from a blissful ignorance of all things political I was perhaps overstating my case. I’ve actually been in the process of waking up to politics for a little while — although I’ve been sort of addicted to the snooze button!

Even that’s probably overstating it. You see, I’ve often had thoughts about politics. It’s just that I’ve been so busy trying to resist the temptation to Constantianism that I’ve ended up with relatively little that’s distinctively Christian to say about politics. For example, I share the disappointment/frustration expressed by Byron (and Bob Hawke) at our Federal leaders’ apparent willingness to rubber stamp the popular misconception that voters should get to chose the PM. But I’m less certain about how to articulate a positive alternative — let alone one informed by the Christian narrative of God’s world-reclaiming action in Jesus.

I don’t want to make a virtue out of this uncertainty. (The whole point of asking what I should make of contemporary developments in Australian politics as a Christian is to help me sort this out.) But I do want to be clear that I’m in fundamental agreement with Matt when he declares, ‘my loyalty isn’t to a certain political persuasion, but to our Lord Jesus Christ’.

My primary allegiance is to the crucified and risen Messiah Jesus. He is the Lord — the primary reality in the universe. Among other things, this means that we must be ever ready to re-open the question of which human institutions are most transparent to this reality in any given circumstance. (I’m talking about entire systems as much as particular policies or parties.)

I feel that the church should be given primacy in this. In the most important book I read but didn’t understand last year, Christ, History and Apocalyptic, Nathan Kerr explains why: ‘the “church” is not so much an “alternative society” or even an “alternative to society”, but a kind of subversive challenge to society or to “politics” as such’ (p 175).

It’s through the church that the Spirit reminds human institutions they’re not ultimate. At least, so long as the church stays true to its missionary calling and open to the reforming voice — and transforming presence — of its Lord…


  1. I think it is important to remember how St. Paul loved being a Roman citizen, and in the end the emperior put him to death. But Paul was not bitter, it was his calling and good providence. Note, 2 Timothy, St. Paul’s Last Will & Testament. What will be ours, in this time of our dying Judeo-Christian culture?

    1. You’re on to something, I’m sure. I find it really fascinating how Acts depicts the Apostles as not backing away from engagement with the earthly authorities — sometimes even insisting (as Paul does) on their humanly-guaranteed rights in order to further the work of proclaiming Jesus.

      One thing that strikes me about these ‘power encounters’ is how independent the Apostles seem in these engagements. It’s as if they’re not bound by the circumstances that confront them (perhaps because they’re bound by something even more solid and powerful). But are free to claim their rights — or to shun them — in so far as that serves the cause of the gospel.

      I suspect it’s this sort of independence — a freedom from being determined by human structures (which is at the same time a freedom to engage productively with them) — may also help make sense of martyrdom: it might look like Caesar ‘wins’ when Paul is executed, but actually the significance of his death is its testimony to Christ’s victory.

  2. You should take a look at ‘God’s Politics – why the American right got it wrong and the Left just doesn’t get it’ by Jim Wallis if you haven’t already. It was written a few years ago so the book really focuses on the Bush adminisration and the way that Chrisianity comes into play within that particular polical situation but has heaps to comment on the way that faith more generally than christianity comes into play with the political arena. Check it out.
    Also an article posted by a member of my old church Chris Watkin titled ‘Yes We can’ has some interesting comments on the way that Christian faith comes into play:

    1. Thanks Laura. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I spotted it on your bookshelf — and that was a while ago! I guess I’ve only got myself to blame for being caught short of something worthwhile (and Christian) to say.

    1. Chris, Fr Robert – does the fact that you seem to dislike Wallis’ Christianity and/or politics mean that he can’t have useful insights on religion in American politics? I don’t share Nietzsche, or Foucault’s theological viewpoint but I can still find their analysis insightful.

  3. Natalie,

    I am not an American, but Anglo-Irish, born in Dublin Ireland and educated theologically in England. And since I am a conservative (see Edmund Burke), and I was also a Royal Marine Commando (officer) for over ten years, plus (not counting my active duty combat years) I fought in Gulf War 1, and we also trained with the Israeli commandos, plus.. I am just not within the preview of Jim Wallis, nor an Obama fan at all. I like FOX News also! I guess that says it for me! lol

    BTW, I have a D.Phil., so I have read my share of Nietzsche! It was he who said, “the last Christian died on the cross.” lol But thank God this was “positionally” for us all! I also hold the Th.D., I have been enjoying listening to your husband’s theological runs…! I am old enough to be both of your’s Father, and perhaps grandfather? lol I am 60 (but still about 155lbs, at 5’11)..lol. Yeah I am kinda an old health nut!

    Fr. Robert

  4. …what Fr Robert said.

    Just kidding. I have no doctorates to speak of, nor have I ever served in any of HM Forces, and I’m neither an old health nut, nor a young one. But I have read Wallis’ God’s Politics and Seven Ways to Change the World, and met him briefly after hearing him speak in Adelaide in 2008. Of course he has more insight into the American political landscape than I do.

    My issue with Wallis is not the position that he takes, but the “evangelical Christianity” he purports to represent. At every turn his gospel is a social one, devoid of any suggestion of a sinner’s justification or the forgiveness of sins. To him, Christianity is about living the gospel, to the exclusion of its proclamation. Now, a life reflecting the Lordship of Christ is precisely what Christians are called to live, but it is not the gospel, and without the gospel, it is not the “evangelical Christianity” that Wallis and his supporters claim a unique perspective on.

  5. I found Wallis’ comments helpful for the way that they didn’t confine the options for a political thinking person of faith to the conservative side of the game. How one has arrived at their political persuasion is of course a matter which will be influenced by every aspect of their life including their faith, their work, their family etc.
    God’s politics is the only of Wallis’ books I’ve read, it had useful comment for me and ones that touched on topics I see everyday and struggle to know how best to face those things as a Christian who votes: homelessness, mental heath, unemployment. I am no expert in anything, theological or political but I experience my life from where I stand and want to share the love of Christ in it practically, with words of the gospel and with my vote.

  6. The Christian lives the life of the crucified, with and in Christ, simply. There can be no demands but a life lived in the death of Christ. And somehow we find the risen life of Christ “therein.” (See, 2 Cor.4:7-12)

    Note verses 10-11, “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our moral flesh.”

    Yes, the Christian life is not of this realm. It is in and from another place and world. But even here the Christian stands beneath the Lordship of Christ!

    1. Terrific! It sounds like we’re all on the same page in wanting to figure out how to face all of life — including the political/social dimensions Laura’s highlighted (homelessness, mental health, unemployment, etc) — as Christians and take seriously the need to stand beneath the Lordship of Christ in our present context.

      I’m pretty sure I’ve never read a single sentence Wallis has written (perhaps Laura or Chris you could fill me in — or tell me if I’m barking up the wrong tree?), but I wonder what sort of connection — if any — there might be between: (i) his emphasis on the social aspects of living the gospel, and (ii) his diagnosis of the problems with a certain brand of American Christianity that tends to construe the gospel’s influence on culture in not very cross-shaped terms. Just a thought.

  7. he certainly sees a connection between them. Here is my very brief summary of the book.
    It is the first part of his argument ‘why the right got it wrong’. ie. As James puts it ‘I will show you my faith by what I do (2:18)’ Wallis sees some deficiencies of the Right as having a rhetoric of faith in words but in social justice issues, not displaying that faith in action (very simple summary – I am sure the political reality at the time and his explanation is much more complex) but he acknowledges that their support of Christian ethics (eg abortion) in other areas is upholding the actions supplied by faith. The second part. ‘why the left doesn’t get it’ is basically saying that the Left has not recognised that faith is a strong motivator in the voice of the voter and a voice worth their hearing. For the most part the person of faith shares many of the ideals of the Left (mainly the welfare and care of fellow citizens) but has generally shunned any hint of religiousness and to its political detriment as those voters have a strong motivation to meet the goals of caring for the poor and they have turned them away by their strong advocacy of humanist rhetoric. So the sphere of politics is not as devoid of actions that match a Christian faith on either side of politics but neither side has truly grasped those actions in full.

    So what to do with Australia’s forthcoming election?
    I feel that in my electorate the main dilemma is how to vote with my faith as a motivator when none of the candidates running seem to be motivated by the Lordship of Christ. I cannot vote with a like minded thought process but at best with a like minded outcome.

    1. Thanks for that, Laura. And not just for confirming my hunch!

      I feel your dilemma — and mine’s made worse by the fact that now I’m living in a new electorate, I have to research the candidates all over again. The like minded motivation v like minded outcome thing is a tough one. I need to think about it more. But one passage that springs to mind is Romans 13. Even if they don’t know it, the Romans state does stand under the Lordship of Jesus. The Caesar’s weren’t generally known to be like minded with Christians (indeed, in Rev 13 it’s possibly the same ‘administration’ that’s pictured as an idolatrous beast). And yet they do serve the Lord as agents of justice. Or something…

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