The Challenge of Political Involvement is to Have Your Feet Planted Firmly in the Kingdom
I had a conversation with a friend of mine a few days ago. I would say he is one of the most deeply thoughtful people I know. He is a philosophical kind of bloke but doesn’t limit his activity to reading and thinking like a few other philosophers I know and quite a few theologs. We were talking about how Christian people engage with the wider community so that their engagement is an exposure of what is unique about Christian faith. It seems to me that Christian people are called upon much more profoundly to justify their uniqueness than most of the other religious systems and world views of the day.
It often comes down to a matter of whether you are going to identify with the right-wing of the political spectrum or with the left-wing. I have a lot of contact with a lot of people who strongly identify with the left and I am involved with a political party that is traditionally identified with the right. Many of my friends in the first group can’t quite get why a bloke like me is involved with a party like that. The assumption is that whatever a person from the left thinks about right-wing beliefs, I must have some loyalty to those beliefs otherwise I wouldn’t belong to a party that is identified as right-wing. I have observed the same assumption being made about people who identify with the left. Take your best or your worst anecdote about the left and you can apply it to anyone who is associated with a party on the left. It’s nowhere near as simple as that. And its getting more complex with the passing of months.
The fact is that I don’t “belong” to the right side of the political spectrum. I hold some views that would be more right than left and other views that would be more left than right. I could be a conundrum or confused, or insincere or a mixture of all of those.
The more I think about the things I care about and what I belong to the less identified I am the the political systems themselves or the rather anachronistic language we use to describe political beliefs. I suppose there will always be the need for collective terms. I think the greatest challenge for using terms is that of keeping them current. If we are talking about the divide between individuals (right) and communities as a whole (left) it is possible for a certain political group to represent one more than the other. The fact is that they are not like poles on the ends of a magnet. The challenge will be the balance between the two rather than coming down on the side of the one to the detriment of the other. If we are talking about economics do we have to choose between a free-market system and a government controlled system? If we are talking about welfare, do we have to choose between the presumption that poor people are lazy and a system that creates an entitlement of welfare support for successive generations? I don’t think so. These are simplistic notions and I am not suggesting that I have the intellectual resources to make unchallengeable simplifications. My point is simply that I think there is little value in looking at todays world through the “left-right” paradigm. It has never been a useful paradigm for me. It seems to appeal to the rank superficial tribalism that most of us are over eager to promote.
One of my most accessible conclusions in this kind of dialogue is that I happen to be a thoroughgoing “kingdom of God” person. The most liberating, meaningful, hope-filled thoughts I have are those that have been inspired by the idea that I am a servant of Jesus Christ and a representative of his message about the kingdom of God. He used the adjectival phrase, “good news of the kingdom.” So I simply judge issues and address problems by asking this question: “If the kingdom of God fully came to this problem, this issue, this aspect of society, what would it look like?” This exercise has produced the most challenging and profound array of attitudes, intentions and strategies for myself and those who serve Jesus as I do.
And it has raised some very profound critiques of the kind of lifestyles that have been tolerated, exemplified and espoused by churches of many different kinds. I think we have seriously missed our calling, so often. I am indebted in these matters to a book written by an American Quaker with a rather humorous name: John Howard Yoder. No connection either with the Australian Prime Minister nor a well known character from Star Wars. He wrote a book with the courageous title: “The Politics of Jesus.” It wasn’t just everything he said that stirred me it was what he succeeded in demonstrating. Jesus was also a political conundrum. He was “right-wing” in some matters and “left-wing” in others. This was for the reason I mentioned before. He was THE complete representative of the intentions and values that belong to the kingdom of God. He didn’t so much belong to one group and oppose another. He lived, spoke and did the works of the kingdom of God and, at times, upset just about everyone with a political, social and economic axe to grind.
So I see myself more as a missionary to a particular political party rather than a “tribal” member. I am tribally Jesus and the kingdom of God. I happen to work within a particular section of the political system. I am a loyal and willing member of my local Branch and was, for a time, its President. But all the while I work away with the clear and present intention of figuring out what the kingdom of God would look like if it came to a particular situation or issue and then I try to serve Jesus by speaking and acting to see that happen.
And I thrive on the challenge.