Monday, March 24, 2014

The Politics of Jesus (Monday 24 March 2014)

'He remained true to Jesus but never quite resolved, in his own mind, whether this outcome amounted to success or failure.'
Recently Tony Benn, a famous British Labour politician died. An extremely good article on him by Peter Wilby ends with the sentence cited above. At the beginning of the article it is noted that Benn came from a strong Christian family, but grew away from those Christian roots as far as active church life was concerned while retaining a commitment to the way of Jesus. Benn is an interesting person to reflect on from the perspective of the politics of Jesus because the best that can be said about Benn (I suggest) is that he was a rare politician who put principles above pragmatism at almost every step in his career and, from a career perspective, suffered diminishment and denial of high office as a consequence. At worst, Benn's principles arguably did a lot of damage because they contributed to the Labour Party's ineffectiveness during the Thatcher years. (I leave it to others to work out whether that 'damage' was confined to the Labour Party or extends to include those for whom the Thatcher years were not kind to them).

In NZ this year we have an election coming up, 20 September 2014. Personally I am unsure which party to vote for (party vote) let alone who to vote for (to be MP for my local electorate). If my votes are to be 'true to Jesus' what analysis of the situation (state of the economy, state of the nation, state of local community and national society) will guide me, perhaps you too?

The gospel of Jesus has profound implications for politics because politics is about how we organise ourselves as human societies and the gospel is about how God is organising a new human society, the kingdom of God. Sometimes Christians have attempted to live as though each kind of politics is distinct from the other (sometimes with disastrous results as either Christian have taken to the hills to form separatist communes or silently consented to totalitarian takeovers of their countries). Other times Christians have identified the kingdom of God with the politics around them, usually resulting in future regret. Politics generally results in dystopia rather than utopia. The kingdom of God does not come through elections or revolutions.

Nevertheless what does come through elections and revolutions are possibilities for change in conditions of human life. Increasing or decreasing taxes according to manifesto promises has consequences for people. Constraining or unleashing spending on health or education or defence changes the course of the future for generations. Christians have the ability to analyse these possibilities in the light of the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God concerns the flourishing of all people, do promised changes promote universal human flourishing or benefit a select group? If the kingdom of God has a bias (as many argue) towards the poor, what will electing government X rather than Y do for the poor?

That will do for today. In case it looks like politics will be taken too seriously, here is a witty piece from the Onion to keep some proportion about what politics can and cannot achieve.

NOTE: Last week turned out to be hopeless time and energy wise re continuing thoughts on coherent and consistent theology. I will return to that subject.

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