Monday, December 6, 2021

Is this an odd era for Christian politicians?

Last week our main party in opposition, the National Party, elected Christopher Luxon as its leader. He is therefore the Leader of the Opposition and potentially our next Prime Minister.

Christopher Luxon is a Christian and has views on things such as abortion and euthanasia which seem exceptional to some in our media but which are pretty standard for a large majority of Christians in New Zealand, whether Protestants or Catholics.

Oddly, however, he says he has not been to church for five years. (Here he offers a jokey kind of explanation for this.)

Across the Tasman, Scott Morrison is Prime Minister and well-known for his Christian beliefs and for his involvement in a large Pentecostal church (though it is not Hillsong as a number of people have mistakenly supposed). But some of his decisions and actions as Prime Minister don't sit easily with some of us who are his brothers and sisters in Christ. In particular, as PM he presides over a harsh approach to New Zealanders in Australia!

Of course, US President Joe Biden is a Christian, a Catholic faithful in attendance at Mass and a Catholic at odds with many Catholics who cannot understand his failure to uphold Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life to the point where a number of US Catholic bishops think he should be denied communion.

Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, to be fair doesn't make a great show of his Christian faith, which may be just as well given his odd pattern of behaviour, decision-making and somewhat eccentric approach to leadership. Many commenters would not be as kind as I have just been in that sentence!

Yet recently Boris managed to pull some kind of ecclesiastical deal to enable his third marriage to be a Catholic marriage in Westminster Cathedral!

Over in Russia, Putin lacks no shortage of fans in the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet he may be about to invade Ukraine.

This brief survey, which could be extended into other countries, especially in Europe, perhaps leads to the conclusion that it is difficult to find consistency among political leaders who profess to be Christian.

Oh, and we should not forget Angela Merkel, recently stepping down as Chancellor of Germany: the most sensible of all Christian politicians in this present era?

Regular in church/irregular in church. For abortion/against abortion. Sensible leadership/foolish leadership. Kind/unkind. It is interesting, is it not, that the phrase "Christian politician" is not a useful guide to what we might expect from a politician so described?

But, more deeply, might we observe that this may not be some uplifting sense of "diversity among Christians is to be welcomed and celebrated" because we do not all think alike? 

Rather, such difference among Christian politicians is a sign of deep fractures in global Christianity, fractures of the kind that are debilitating for the cause of Christ? 

What are non-Christians to think when, say, they recognise that Boris and Joe and Angela and Scott all follow the way of Christ? To those outside of or even against the way of Christ, that way must seem, well, a little confusing!


Father Ron said...

Interestingly, Bishop Peter; where there is an established political system, in the countries favouring the theocratic religious views of their leadership; most often terrible injustices can be carried out 'In The Name of God' - for instance the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, or the
Rule of the Caliph. Do we Christians want a theocratic state, where religous observance may only be carried out according to the spiritual/religious preference of our leaders?

I feel that the more democtratic countries have a lot going for them - including here in
Aotearoa/New Zealand, where one's citizenship is not based on one's religious convictions. I also feel that this is not inconsistent with my own profound Christian Faith.

Unknown said...

" Trust not in princes and sons of men in whom there is no salvation."

-- attributed to David

"Those who have not sinned have not been sufficiently tempted." -- Mae West

God raised Jesus from the dead.

Those souls with an allegiance to Jesus share his risen life. But by their bags of skin and bones, they also live in a world that is outside that life.

Necessarily, anyone in the Lord is conflicted, is living this dialectic. And anyone just going with some flow is outside the Lord.

Nothing about having civil power relieves the tension between living in Christ and inhabiting a secular society outside of him. So if politicians are in the Lord, they are as conflicted as other disciples are.

Moreover, a disciple believes that God instituted civil power (aka legitimate violence) to restrain greater evils, especially anarchy. This occasions a further conflict between a believing politician's holy desires and his horrible duties.

"Blessed are the peacemakers," he hears in church. And then, to restrain evil, he signs the day's orders-- some hangings of rebels, some executions of convicts, some drone strikes against a few foreign enemies, some assassinations of their agents, some provocative deployments of tanks and missiles, ships and planes.

Much or all of this is inconsistent with his beliefs and desires as a disciple of Jesus. But from the facts as he is allowed to know them, he sees no prudent alternate way to do his divine duty.

Thus, as POTUS, George Washington, who had recently been a rebel himself, hanged the rebels of the Whiskey Rebellion.

Conversely, the poet Dante consigns a pious hermit to his fictional hell: that hermit had been pope, but resigned rather than restrain evil with force, thus allowing unconscionable attrocities. The hermit got to feel pious; the evil he was appointed to stop flourished.

By the late middle ages, the Body had amassed much experience of believers wielding the temporal sword. The reformers summarized that in the *doctrine of the two kingdoms*.


Unknown said...

Is Sir Humphrey Appleby nearer to classical Christianity than the Rt Hon Peter Hacker?


Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but compare the reception that Luxon has received with the exuberance with which the first Muslim MP was greeted. Sigh!

[For clarity, I am pleased we do have Muslim MPs, but it seems that it is only Christian ones that are offensive to the press.

Father Ron said...

Re Anonymous @ 6.52pm:

Have you ever thought that Jesus might have been regarded as 'unacceptable; by the religious authorities of his day? One of the problems was that some of the religious leadership saw him as 'too liberal; a friend of sinners'!

Mahatma Ghandi once made a statement to the the effect that; 'if these Christians would only act more like their Jesus, perhaps they would attract more Christians'.

Father Ron said...

There is quite another point to be discussed on this issue: Did the Bible-cluthching stance of ex-President Donald Trump really convince people that he was a Disciple of Christ? AND, werre those Christians who supported him convinced of this fact?

At least, President Joe Biden actually does go to Mass regularly, and is supported by the Leader of his religious denomination, who commended him (despite the discomfort he has caused the conservative U.S. Bishops in cinference) to continue receiving the Sacraments.

Unknown said...

Hi Father Ron

6:52 is mine. Thank you for reading it. Neither of us quite understands the other.

But by now + Peter and his readers understand that when you describe Jesus he sounds a lot like Fr Ron Smith, and when I describe him he agrees closely with Bowman Walton.

Isn't it wonderful that the same Lord found both of us?


Unknown said...

But at 6:52, I was tracing a pauline thread through Hooker, Calvin, Luther, and Augustine back to the Resurrection. Although they say this in different ways, they all recognise that in this aeon where evil is restrained by human means, even virtuous rulers cannot afford the scruples of the New Jerusalem. They will inevitably disappoint those looking to them for a model of Christ.

Does this mean that a believer should avoid political power? Seeing the blood on their hands after their disastrous rule of Munster, classic Anabaptists drew precisely that conclusion. Here up yonder, Amish farmers do not even vote.

Today's Anabaptists (cf John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas) have been most helpful in pressing the rest of the Body to explain who we are and what we do apart from the state and public opinion. Jesus undeniably transposed the visibility of his kingdom from that of a distinct territory with many factions to that of a distinct community in many territories. He made its interior life a sign of an age to come.

Yet we see many churchmen so enmeshed in civil society and anxious to nudge civil power left or right that they have fallen into the Munster trap themselves. They cannot understand disciples who are no farther from God than they are but who promote some opposing use of worldly power. The Anabaptist critique of them is straightforward: they have wandered out of the Kingdom into the dark.

This is even more true of the folk evangelicalism that has veered weirdly into class politics and culture wars. When religion requires correcting the civil society and polity by force, it is slouching toward Islam.

Put another way, we might see the spectrum of theopolitics running, not from the worldly left to the worldly right, but rather from hermits on mountaintops busy with the Body's interior life to
believing prime ministers and police officers groping through the fog of the godless exterior. Every point on that wide spectrum has its warrant-- Israel carried the Ark, lived its life, and also sent spies-- and the Body needs all of them, more or less.

So those churchmen who can describe the society they want but not the soul they should have are wrong, less in what they think than in what they ignore. And those activists who feel the state of civil politics as their own spiritual condition need to migrate from the barricades to the Body's interior for healing.

Against the old High (Reformed) churchmen before them, both early Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics objected that the Church of England was missing that Spirit-nourished interior. Indeed, many other Victorians thought that true Christianity is simply producing an England (or an America) so righteous that the Body does not need an inside at all. Simply being well-adjusted to the mores of a progressive age was salvation.

These reforming critics were more right than they knew. For until the aftermath of the Great War, nobody expected the end of Christendom, the rise of robust pluralism, and the mass confusion of disciples whose inner life, too dependent on the godless fog, is salt that has lost its savour.

This is our time; that is the Supertopic. All that really matters now is finding paths to the Body's interior, and seriously seeking to know how the Lord would have us tend it.


Father Ron said...

You are right, of course, Bowman. It is wonderful that - different though we might be - Jesus accepts and loves us both. I do try to reflect that but perhaps others might find me too trying! Agape! Have a lovely Advent and Christ-e-mass!

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter. On the question of The Church and its roll in politics, I came across this article today in N.C.R., which records words spoken by Pope Francis to his Greek audience in the Cathedral of St. Dionysius on his recent visit. His remarks mention the fact the evangelisation is not about trying to fill a hitherto empty vessel, but rather; discovering what there is already of God in the person one is addressing - and encouraging that to grow.

Here is the link: Pope Francis evangelizes very differently than US conservatives

Anonymous said...

Or try this short URL--

Here's the full quotation--

"He did not tell them: 'You have it all wrong,' or 'Now I will teach you the truth.' Instead, he began by accepting their religious spirit. … He draws from the rich patrimony of the Athenians. The Apostle dignified his hearers and welcomed their religiosity. Even though the streets of Athens were full of idols, which had made him 'deeply distressed,' Paul acknowledged the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith. He did not impose; he proposed."


Unknown said...

Conservatives know how to persuade other conservatives. They have similar traits; they care about the same things; they admire rather than avoid a confident "take charge" mindset.

The interesting question: does anyone evangelise well among persons who are *not* conservative? That is, among persons high in trait openness, especially if they are also high in traits introversion and neuroticism?