Explorations in Theology

The series explores a theology that is human friendly! Jesus as the true human shows us who God is, and because of his consideration for us ('who are we, that God should make note of us?') defines who humanity was created to be. The nature of sin is to fall short of the glory of God. The glory of God as revealed in the truly human one - 'we beheld his glory full of grace and truth'. This volume is a foundation for the other volumes. And there are ZOOM groups available...
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Be engaged

In considering that the apostolic gospel is political I consider that such a long-term vision challenges:

  • Party allegiance. We might be aligned to a particular party, but we cannot be bought. There is no party that is perfect, no party that is Christian. The critique of the Gospel is that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. All parties and all systems certainly have! In a given situation we might always put our vote somewhere specific, the guiding choice has to be how redemptive we consider the vote is, how beneficial to a healthy, relational and equitable society the direction that party would move us in.
  • The apostolic vision is one that looks long term, and resists simple short term action that is justified by the outcome. Although in a time of crisis short term responses are always necessary. If a house is on fire we need to get the people out rather than leave them there while debating the best building materials to employ.
  • It challenges strongly the belief that change can only take place from the top, indeed I suggest that the apostolic Gospel suggests it rarely takes place from the top.
  • Challenging the idea that we have to be in power to be effective, it raises an interesting issue. Maybe (if there was such a thing!!) a Christian party would be best placed not in power. That is a challenge to the voter – vote for us, we do not aim to be in power! However bizarre that might sound the apostolic vision is a challenge to the power dynamic, and to the hope that someone elected will do it for us. Servanthood and a denial of vested interest has to be promoted and the empowerment of the grass roots, rather than power and an unconnected representative body.

An apostolic vision also recognises that:

  • Almost certainly with any party that we vote for, there will be policies that they endorse that we do not agree with. There is necessary compromise along the way. If God ‘allows’ we most certainly cannot legislate. The compromises that God is pleased with are the redemptive ones, the ones that might not be perfect but move it to a better place.
  • We also have to consider what are personal values and what are public ones. I might have a personal value that comes from following Jesus, but do not believe such a value should be imposed on society.
  • That our hands are not clean. We are all implicated in the system of destruction. The issue is that we are not clean, but in not being clean we do not have to be dirty. Our choices, our life-style has to be set through redemptive, though compromised, decisions.
  • That God works not to give people a guilt complex so that they might find him, but gives them a shape, a set of boundaries, within which they can find him. We likewise should not look to off-load righteous legislation but create a shape where people can prosper. All legislation should be redemptively creating shapes where people can best develop who they are. Sin is to not be the person I can be: a person in my skin representing the character, persistence and love of God. Sin is not avoiding through legislation a set of predetermined evils.

There are troubled areas for believers that often swing their vote. But as we cannot legislate in an absolute fashion we come back to the dirty world and the compromises that are required.

Abortion is often the single issue politics that determines the ‘Christian’ vote. Yet the issue is multi-faceted and the factors that surround it are complex, certainly including education and economics. It also sits on a spectrum of pro-life issues. What our response is to the current and pressing crisis related to climate change and global warming. Every response to this issue is a pro-life choice, ultimately determining who will live or not. Abortion and abuse of the climate are connected to the future of the unborn, and to those already born.

We could add xenophobia (and nationalism) likewise as they sit on that same spectrum. They are all positions that reflect on who we wish to prosper / live. The death of Jesus as a privileged male and a compromised Jew was for all, regardless of faith, gender and national identity.

The vote for a believer is indeed a challenge. We cannot simply vote along party lines. Also we do not carry a vision of getting our person to the top (the word of God came to John in the wilderness). We can though be governmental and help create a shape that pushes back the powers that control so that those who are equipped can come through to occupy in a humble spirit positions that are there. I consider that we are here to create and hold a shape.

In creating a shape – lifestyle, relationships, prayer, action… there are also those who we will partner with. Theologically we cannot simply partner with those who profess faith. Paul had friends who had a lot to lose, as far as wealth and status was concerned, on the basis of his vision, but were committed to be with him and support him. They had not recognised Jesus in the sense of at the level of personal allegiance to him, but they were simply convinced that Paul carried a vision for the future of this world. That vision was not one that was compatible with the structures as they were currently defended in his imperial world.

Who do we partner with? On a spectrum we are at times tempted to place, for example, atheists at the opposite end to that of Christians. I suggest we need to think again. There are atheists who are anti-God and there are atheists who do not believe in god. I too do not believe in god. I share my non-belief with a number of ‘good’ atheists. We have that in common, even if they do not share my belief in God.

More often than not there are those who are believing in a false god who are at the other end of the spectrum of those we can work with. Some of those might use our language, but fill it with other meaning. ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘the cross’ are words – the meaning we fill them with is what is important. There might be those who are ‘Christians’ that we cannot partner with, how they understand the cross (by this sign we conquer) might be in such a strong contrast to how we understand it (the instrument that we carry daily for our own death) that we cannot partner with them. Our connections might be those who do not believe in god.

Theologically we have hope and vision for this life… and beyond. And as eschatologically the age to come is shaped from this one we cannot not work in this age. Our political involvement at whatever level, whether fruit is seen now or not, is vital. It can produce fruit now, and even if it fail will become seed for the age to come. (Again I applaud where an atheist who has no belief in an age to come in which they will participate is committed to work for a better future. If they can how much more should I be willing to do so.)

Disruptiveness has to be part of the political involvement. Particularly given how privileged we are. Most of us do not have the context of the threat against our lives, and in that context Paul even gave a voice of caution. That is not our context so we have responsibility for those who are threatened. The current Extinction Rebellion is making a very real impact. People are willing to be arrested for their beliefs. Yet the resistance is overwhelmingly white. In our cultures a non-white person is rightly cautious about being arrested. This does not negate the movement, but we must be slow to pat ourselves on the back when our protest is a privileged one.

Practically drawing on the work of Roger Mitchell he suggests that from the life, teachings and example of Jesus there are 9 areas that should prioritise our energies and commitments. The notes below are mine, so I hope I do not misrepresent.

The making space for the feminine. Given that cultures, structures and societies have been formed by men and the masculine, holding space for a feminine voice and creative response is vital. The lock up in Cataluña is an example of this. The age old conflict is in lock up because of power. No one can back down. A person such as Ada Colau, the mayoress, is not weak, indeed has to have more strength than those who resort to power and endorse violence. She is also a good example of who we have to take care of by taking responsibility to hold back the powers that seek to ‘steal, kill and destroy’. There are those who can speak to this much more than I can. There are some males who probably can, but the best we (males) can normally do is to be silent but hold space so that the voice of the feminine woman is heard.

The prioritizing of children, to whom the kingdom belongs. To reduce the future for the unborn to the issue of abortion is simplistic and wrong. Jesus prioritised children. Health care and education are two aspects, for sure that come to the top of the list when making space for the future, as are the issues mentioned above when touching on abortion.

Advocating for the poor. This moves beyond the patronising of doing things for those less privileged, to doing it with them. We cannot be those who do things to the poor, sometimes we might only be able to do things for them as it can be hypocritical to assume we are ‘with’ those who find themselves economically marginalised. These issues hit home. We can demonise the top 1% and immediately baptise the next 4% as being OK simply because that is where we find ourselves.

Care for the creation. This is God’s world and it is our habitat, and the habitat of those who are yet to live. The original habitat was in order to create an environment where God could be at home. Planting trees could be our greatest contribution to the future. The tree biblically is what bridges the arts and practical sustenance – maybe this could be a factor in why humans are described as trees?

Freeing prisoners. Of course we spiritualise the words of Jesus who came to set the prisoner free. Yet there are prisoners at all levels in society, as all systems will imprison. There are no simple answers, but the level of imprisonment in certain Western world countries indicates something is desperately wrong. Restorative justice aligns to Scripture in a way that punitive justice does not.

Promoting health. Jesus healed and did good. Healing is multi-faceted, and each political response is a sign of who God is. I find it hard to see how health is a privilege that can only be offered to the wealthy, and not at some very real level a responsibility to provide for as many as possible. We live as aliens in Spain but have stood against private health insurance. Maybe in some situations that might be necessary, but our approach to health care is shaped by our beliefs in the Gospel.

Confronting the powers. This is one I like a lot! Confrontation is not simply to put something in its place but to give an opportunity for the person representing that power to act humanly.

Making peace. Blessed are… We live in a fractured society that has its divisions. Divides so often because a voice that comes from a different experience and perspective is so often not heard, other than in that particular circle. We can allow voices to be heard, that is the only way that we will hep people move forward without the felt need to shout, or the reaction through intimidation or inferiority to be silent. At a very small level Gayle and I had a good experience in having someone stay with us who took a different stance on the Brexit issue and a different take on money. We were enriched.

Publicizing the good news of peace. Politics and faith do mix! We can at al times be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us. How and what we share has to be shaped by the love of Jesus. This too cannot be ‘top-down’.

Until he come (parousia) we work, relate, disrupt and proclaim (ekklesia). What we do now will, if done in line with the patient apostolic vision of lives laid down in love for the world, will come through the fire. Are we politically involved. For sure, with a small ‘p’ or a large one. Everything we do is about shaping the future, the future here and now and the future then. The small responses we make are so vital. They too are political.

3 thoughts on “Be engaged

  1. Thank you for this Martin it is so helpful. With so many conflicting voices and prophetic opinions of what constitutes ‘God’s will’ it is good to systematically examine what should or could motivate us as Christians to vote. For me social care and an emphasis on serving and caring for the poor is imperative. Equally important to me is to welcome the refugee and the alien and also issues of racial equality and religious tolerance too. Any party which inflames racism or demonises any group (for example Islamophobia) is very much off limits for me. Of course as you say we can and should learn from people with different political views sometimes too.

  2. Oh Martin, if this is what it means to be a Christian, I think I could return to it. Amazing list of things to do. Wonderful. I tell all my students, no matter what the course of study, that if they do one thing in life it should be to plant trees. Whatever their job or profession they should do that. It is the most vital thing we can do right now. We should have competitions to see how many trees each of us can plant.

    And us boomers. . . we should go out with a bang. Make the last 30 years count big. Plant trees, enable new economic structures, engage politically to move us away from corporate domination that threatens all life, create new communities that promote regenerative agriculture and rewilding. Make your life count!

    This winter I will teach 3 courses at 3 different academic institutions all connected implicitly or explicitly with preparing post secondary students to survive and thrive through climate change. It has been a several year struggle to get this topic onto the curriculum. Academia is far behind on this issue. It is daunting. Every day I do and will look 20 year olds in the eyes and discuss a radically changed future. It is not easy to discuss catastrophes and disasters, heat waves, extreme weather, droughts, famines etc with young people. I try hard to focus on hopeful actions, on ways to both mitigate (there is still time to do much on this) and adapt. It requires a significant shift in our thinking and lots of problem solving.

    Each one of us has to find a way where we contribute positively to this shift. No sitting on our asses. The world needs people who have a vision of a more equitable, more sustainable future. And yes, one with women in the lead. Sorry guys, you had several thousand years to create this mess and we have about a decade to turn it around. Time for you all to step aside or at least help with the workload. Don’t be an obstacle to the shifts required. Embrace and enable.

    And honestly, who cares what anyone’s political or religious views are at this point. We don’t have time for that. That kind of sifting out of tribal loyalties is a luxury. Right now we are like children playing on a beach, building sand castles for a competition. All the while the tsunami is rolling toward us. We fuss over the aesthetics of our sand castles, compare ours to others, squabble over who has the best. There is no time for that anymore. Align with the folks getting the job done. Enable wherever you can. And above all don’t be an obstacle. Don’t ignore the tsunami and tell people to stay on the beach when they need to run for their lives. Move, move, move and try to do some good while you are at it. If nothing else, plant trees!

  3. I’ve copied and pasted the following UK- centric comment from thinktheology today. Chimes with the above.

    blessings all

    When it comes to lament we all tend to have our own personal areas of concern. Progressives fixate on climate change and social inequality; traditionalists about divorce rates. As Christians we should be able to see a broad range of issues and lament all that do not accord with the kingdom of God. This means we should be able to lament both antisemitism and the sexual brokenness of our society (that the leaders of both main parties are serial adulterers is merely a symptom of the latter); it means we should be concerned about economic justice and that 200,000 babies are aborted each year in the UK.

    This breadth of concerns may well mean that there is no one Party which we feel entirely comfortable offering our vote to – but what else would we expect when we are called to live as exiles in the earth (1 Peter 1:1)?

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