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Give God a Vote

Is preaching the gospel compatible with a discussion of politics?  There are some who think not; indeed, who even get rather worked up about it, especially politicians. However, even a cursory reading of scripture will lead one to understand that one cannot communicate God’s Word without getting tied up in politics.  More than one of God’s prophets, before, after and including Jesus, was killed or imprisoned for ‘stepping on the toes’ of those in power.

Bearers of the Faith, would be less than disciples if they were to ignore the actions of those in power when such actions go against the grain of God’s will, e.g. when the poor suffer at the hands of the rich and powerful, when God’s creation and the well-being of future generations is plundered, when people are denied basic human rights, when the commandment to love is ignored in favour of war, revenge and punishment, when a culture of fear is fostered rather than a culture of faith.  All of the above are happening now.

Common sense will tell you, if the gospel has nothing to say about politics (i.e. the means by which human beings order their societies), it really has little relevance to our lives at all, and we may as well burn our Bibles and close the church.

To believe in one God, and one God only, means patriotism and political partisanship must always take a back seat to discipleship.  As a people guided by God, there is no way that our political views ever can be free of the way of Jesus, nor should they be.  When God’s will and the will of our leaders conflict, there is no doubt where our allegiance must lie.

From time to time over the course of my career, I have preached sermons which were considered too political by some members of my congregations, but is it not the duty of every Christian to call our leaders to account for their actions when we think that they are acting contrary to gospel values?  Are we not called to name evil when it appears and to name its perpetrators?

This is not a question of Labour vs. the Coalition or liberal vs. conservative.  The question is: Is our leadership, whichever party is in power, acting morally?  It is a question that should be asked everyday, and if the answer is ‘no’, then change is in order, and action is called for.

Given that our responsibility in this matter is so blatantly obvious, it must be asked: Why would any Christian complain about bringing religion into politics?  I came up with three possibilities, but there may be others:

  1. The gospel conflicts with what we want, so to side with the gospel against the government would be to threaten the advantages we are getting from current political policies, be it security, money or support for our prejudices, or…
  2. We have a misguided sense of loyalty, mistakenly believing that it would be unpatriotic to criticise the government, even if we don’t agree with their policies, or….
  3. We are among those who are responsible for having cast our vote for the party in power, so it is better to not know about its immorality than to acknowledge we made a mistake.

If a person were to fall in the last category, it would seem that this person would have not only a greater sense of responsibility, but also more motivation to question the existing order.  After all, these are the people who should feel betrayed by the ones to whom they entrusted their power.  This is why we have elections every few years: so that we have a chance to fix our mistakes.

In my years of ministry it has frequently been necessary to speak out against specific policies that were clearly contrary to Christian values.  If I should ever stop doing so, I will have abrogated my responsibility as one who has vowed to spread the gospel.

As issues arise, you will hear politics from the pulpit; there is no other viable moral or theological alternative for a preacher.  It is a question of being faithful to the one God and to the way of Jesus, our teacher.

One church leader said before the American elections: “What would it mean to have a public voice in our community this year around issues that we care about?” she asked. “If God is still speaking, then God doesn’t shut up in the face of potentially controversial issues.”

Let’s ensure God always has a vote.

Bob Thomas

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Just One of the Crowd

 

I am happy to say the vast majority of people I’ve met throughout my 72 years have been pretty good sorts.  It has led me to believe people to be essentially good, which in turn, has raised the question: If people are essentially good, why do they do so many terrible things?

One need go no further than one’s local Member of Parliament. I have met a number of politicians, and with only one exception I can think of, they struck me as intelligent, well-intentioned women and men with high ideals and worthwhile intentions. Yet put them in the halls of Parliament House, and the ideals seem to evaporate, apparently along with their moral fibre, intelligence and compassion.

Those attributes required for a successful and harmonious nation are well-known and proven; a compassionate and hospitable society with justice and equal opportunity for all, respect for the individual, minimisation of the gap between haves and have-nots, tolerance of difference, good and free education, widely available and affordable health care, security for the aged, protection for the environment, etc.  

Compare this to that which our politicians have given us: a rapidly widening gap between rich and poor with a huge percentage of the wealth of the country in the hands of a few; a failure of the nation to play its role as citizen of a world increasingly desperate for control of green house gases, protection of endangered species, peace, elimination of hunger and poverty and provision of homes for refugees; its politicians more focused on getting re-elected than serving the nation and playing on fears which, in turn, evoke racism, jingoism and xenophobia.

Ask any individual to do something obviously evil and he or she will very likely refuse, even if offered money to do.  For example, if a refugee made himself or herself known to a typical Aussie, and asked for help with accommodation or a job or food, 9 (and probably more) out of 10 would go out of their way to help or else find someone who could help.  Yet, as a group we lock up refugees (including their children) in concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island for an indefinite time, subjecting them to physical, mental and emotional deprivation and abuse.

Ask individuals if they would adjust their life-styles in order to protect their environment or to pay more tax so as to improve healthcare and education, and most reply in the affirmative, yet as a nation those same people elect governments which promise to lower taxes, support a private education system for the privileged and promote the mining and export of coal.

I don’t mean to pick on Australia.  People have ever been so everywhere. I am sure very few individuals would have killed a neighbour who was accused of being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts, but put few of them together, and they would have a bonfire going in minutes.  Ask  a Mississippi man to hang a black man in the early 20th century for nothing more than asking a white girl on date, and very few would do it, but round up a few more, put hoods over their heads so they remain anonymous, and a KKK lynch mob is born.

You would have had a hard time finding a German in the 1930s who would be willing to kill a Jewish neighbour, yet as a group they participated in the murder of six million. This story has had many similar instalments over centuries of ‘ethnic cleansing, each one demonstrating the submergence of people’s goodness under a tide of mob rule.

It seems clear that groups have no conscience, no moral code, no accountability. This should not be a surprise, for groups have no compassion, no empathy; they only exist for themselves.  There is only one guiding principle by which groups function: to maintain themselves.  They are the constituents of that which St. Paul called “principalities and powers.”  Even the church, as an institution falls, into this category.  

The only right and good way for each of us is  to never give oneself to a group, even to a church; certainly not to a political party, a tribe or even a nation; never to an ethnic group or race or gender identity or belief system.  Yes, participate in all of these groups if you wish, and use them intelligently, but never give oneself to them.  We belong to God and to God alone, and no group, even family, has a prior claim upon one. 

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare) 

As oft has proven to be the case, the Bard was spot-on, for to be true to oneself is to be true to the One to whom one belongs.

Bob Thomas,  May 2019

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