The politics of Jesus in NZ got quite interesting last week! Unexpectedly Shane Jones, a leading Labour MP, not only announced that he was leaving parliament at the end of May but that he was likely taking up a government South Pacific fisheries role. Time will tell whether this torpedos Labour's already slim chance of leading the next government after our 20 September election. For a flavour of punditry on the matter, read Vernon Small here.
Small's point, which we gather was also Shane Jones' point as a "right-winger" within the Labour caucus, is that to win elections in NZ (and, it would seem, in most Western democracies) one needs an approach to policy more shaped by pragmatism than idealism. The pragmatism, that is, which asks what the broad middle ground of voters are likely to support. With the exception of utterly extraordinary times (e.g. 1933 in Germany), voters do not vote for the idealism of communism, fascism, monetarism, or (thinking of the USA currently) the "ism" which drives the so called Tea Party forward which I understand to be "let's have virtually no government at all." Voters in Western democracies vote for a little bit of change, this election perhaps shaped by keenness to see the poor assisted better but next election maybe influenced by the promised growth for the whole economy and enlargement of personal spending money through slightly reduced taxes. The classic binary switches between Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Labour (UK), Liberal/Labour (Oz) or National/Labour (NZ) are hardly ever made because one party is promising to turn the world upside down!
For Christians thinking about, even getting involved in politics through party membership, engaging with the necessary pragmatism required to win elections can be very tough. Our default setting is idealism. The vision of radical discipleship in the context of communist community life in Acts 2 and 4 says nothing about 'middle ground' or 'shifting the centre a few percentage points in the polls'!
But the Shane Jones' resignation, with Vernon Small's article in view, challenges Christians in another way. If the major parties were once 'broad church' parties then a ready explanation for how a reasonable number of Christians made their way into parliament is that their views as Christians were able to be accommodation in these broad churches. But if the Labour Party here is becoming less of a broad church, even taking on a form of political sectarianism, are Christians destined to belong to the National Party only or to never stand for parliament?
Incidentally, Shane Jones is an Anglican Christian. On the one occasion in which I met him, we were both members of our General Synod in 1996!