For years I’ve been involved one way or another in bits and pieces of the political process. About ten years ago or so I began to support a young Christian person who wanted to serve God in the political arena; first of all, in the ACT and then Federal. As part of that process, I joined the political party to which he belonged. It was my first formal brush with the political system. Even though my passport says so, I am not really an Australian citizen. When I started following Jesus I transferred my citizenship to the kingdom of God. We have a kingdom and I have been working hard to see the loving purposes of my King extended. When it came to belonging to a political party I was initially shocked at the level of tribalism among my fellow party members. I then became aware that I am not tribal when it comes to politics. When this was noticed by fellow members, I explained that I was only involved in the party because of my commitment to the kingdom of God. That fact ensured that I never made it beyond branch president. In the end, it made me a fringe-dweller – but I was able to serve my King and his Kingdom quite successfully regardless of my low status.
I admit to having a long-held rather low view of the political process. I believe it is necessary and I have met some very wonderful, hardworking people whose motives are as pure as any others I have come across. But the system is so deeply flawed that it can’t be trusted to produce much more than a policy merry-go-round. There is one reason for this. It is called the ballot box. I realise that the only thing that has a telling impact on any political process is public opinion. It is the holy grail of any twenty-four-hour news cycle for most politicians – regardless of what they say to the contrary. What greets a politician or political party when they awake each day is the fact that there will be a definite number of cycles before the next ballot, whether it is a leadership ballot or an overall election ballot. That’s what makes the system dysfunctional and self-limiting as a worthy agent of change for the better.
I, myself, have always had Anabaptist-leaning views about this. At the time of the Reformation in Europe when all of the reformers were lining up behind the favour of their respective princes, the Anabaptists lined up alongside the Sermon on the Mount. As the church found with Constantine, not many princes liked the idea of loving their enemies. They mainly wanted to be free from Roman Catholic control and even more, taxes. The Anabaptists took Jesus’ words seriously when he said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 20) and Paul’s when he said, “Our citizenship is in heaven…” (Philippians 3) I have always been suspicious of two things when it comes to the work of serving my king as an ambassador in a foreign country (i.e. Oz for me). What is counter-intuitive for people who follow Jesus is the fact that serving this kingdom doesn’t mean separating ourselves from anything or anyone. Quite the opposite. Just have a read through one of the four Gospels in the New Testament and you will see Jesus totally belonging to the kingdom of God and totally committed to loving every person in front of him every day of his life. Sometimes Anabaptists did withdraw, but those who took the Sermon on the Mount as the values parameter for a new kind of community did the exact opposite. Those are the Anabaptists I admire and belong to.
I have always been suspicious of two things when it comes to the work of serving my king as an ambassador in a foreign country (i.e. Oz for me). I am totally convinced that for the church to endorse any form of civil government is the signing of a death warrant for both. It has, and always will, bring out the worst in both. The second suspicion is the one I see happening today where Christians see the political process as an agent of kingdom transformation. When this happens the narrative sounds as though the kingdom comes through legislation. It is especially tempting to see things this way when our heritage has instituted things like prayer at the beginning of the day in the Parliament. In Australia, this has been a particularly well fed, and well cared for sacred cow. I can remember old people in Balmain (Sydney) telling me of the time when the tram drivers would take their foot off the throttle as they passed the church on Sunday morning just so that the people could worship without distraction. But it is Constantinian to assume that the church has a right to tell the parliament how to do its business and is offended when its views are not valued. We have not been called to be the moral police of the world either. We have been called to offer redemptive love in such a way that people will get to see what a great bloke Jesus is and want to follow him like we do.
For these reasons, I remain anabaptist-ish in my views about the work of the church and its relationship to the work of the legislature. They need to listen to each other, but they should never trust each other. The church should never be able to be trusted with earthly authority because it will always sully it’s calling to represent Jesus and the kingdom of God. The church should never trust earthly authority because it will never be able to do what only the message of the church can do – that is, change a person from the inside out and then change a community from the inside out. Another way of saying that is to repeat the Greg Boyd saying that the kingdoms of this world will always be exercising power OVER people, to control them. The kingdom of God will always be called to exercise power UNDER people, to lift them up. Those two kinds of power will never be able to work together or truly serve each other. The legitimate kingdoms of this world will always have to gain their credential from some form of ballot box and will therefore need a majority vote. The kingdom of God will only work through the free and willing choice of individuals and needs only one vote – that of a person to lay down their life so they can serve Jesus. The kingdoms of this world will always need to work through law. The kingdom of God only works through grace.
In owning my anabaptist-ishness, I need to point out that I am not a one-hundred percent-er basically because the last thing I want to do is to be separate from every part of my community. I (we) are the only group I know in the world who have been specifically commanded to love every single human person, indiscriminately and redemptively. Other groups pick and choose on the basis of tribal preference. We are charged with the task of showing twenty-four-seven indiscriminate redemptive love – and we are told to GO and do it, not just open the doors of our comfortable buildings and hope nice people come in. Our citizenship is not tied to any ethnic group, nation or tribe. We have renounced that citizenship and all of its trappings. We hold a temporary transit visa in whatever jurisdiction we might find ourselves. We do well to remember that and not try to live as if we had dual citizenship. To use another metaphor, we forget that we signed up for battle. We are soldiers whose weapons are cross-shaped love and Jesus-looking forgiveness. Paul counsels Timothy in this way, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2). Jesus has provided us with eminent practical samples of what it is like to have citizenship “out of this world” but such citizenship drives us lovingly to those who have been captured and enslaved.
This is the people movement to which I have dedicated everything I am and everything I have – and consider it a privilege and a joy.