Over the New Year I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’s book, God’s Politics. It’s a confronting book, as you might expect from the founder of Sojourners, but a very important and timely publication.
While the book’s primary focus is on the developing relationship of contemporary religion and politics in the USA, most of the issues he addresses, and all of the biblical principles he identifies, are entirely relevant to what is happening here in Australia.
Wallis is deeply concerned, and rightly so, at the way in which political leaders are using God language (or the language of faith) to promote themselves in the public arena and at the same time are developing and implementing policies that are clearly in conflict with the teaching of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself.
These policies have both international and domestic significance.
On the one hand there is the blatant and self-righteous assumption that in the context of global conflict, “God is on our side”, and a willingness to commit billions of dollars to achieving the desired political and economic goals involved, along with all the inevitable civilian and military casualties that occur.
On the other hand, corrupt and oppressive regimes prosper in many places; a third of the world’s people live in abject poverty; racial and religious persecution abounds; the environment is being systematically exploited, polluted and destroyed at a rate that puts a huge question mark over the long-term future of our planet and; the gulf between rich and poor continues to increase year by year!
Wallis writes: "God’s politics… challenges everything about our politics.
“God’s politics reminds us of the people our politics always neglects – the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind.
“God’s politics challenges narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural self-interest, reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human diversity of all those made in the image of the creator.
“God’s politics reminds us of the creation itself, a rich environment in which we are to be good stewards, not mere users, consumers, and exploiters.
“And God’s politics pleads with us to resolve the inevitable conflicts among us, as much as is possible, without the terrible cost and consequences of war.” (God’s Politics, 2005, p. xvii)
Faithfulness to God expressed through justice for the poor, the social outcasts, the widows and orphans, and the refugees was the primary message of the Old Testament prophets.
Micah summed it up in his declaration to the people, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
In the preaching of the prophets, the spiritual health and wellbeing of the nation and the acceptability of their worship of God was directly related to their willingness to live in accordance with these fundamental principles.
The significance of all this in the biblical witness is given even greater emphasis when Jesus adopts a prophetic manifesto from the very beginning of his ministry, as he declares in the synagogue at Nazareth, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:18)
As a minister of the gospel (and as a moderator) I am not free to ignore the implications of how Jesus understood and practised his ministry. In the prophetic tradition this means at least two things.
Firstly, I must be faithful in my preaching and other public pronouncements to the biblical principles of justice for the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the marginalised. This may well mean confronting and critiquing from time to time the policies and practices of our political leaders, not least holding accountable those who publicly profess the Christian faith.
Secondly, I must also constantly remind the church itself that we are as much subject to the judgement of God for our attitudes and actions as was the nation of Israel in Old Testament times. We can so easily become too preoccupied with ourselves and too readily indifferent to our calling in Christ to be a strong, prophetic presence and voice in our society.
A personal faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord is vital, but it is not enough! Faith is not a private matter. Many of our politicians would prefer that it were, but it is not. Jesus, in the tradition and spirit of the prophets, calls us into the world to live, to speak and to struggle for justice.