Gayle and I are in London for a couple of days, hosted by Adrian & Pauline Hawkes. They, their colleagues and friends are great to hang out with. Always challenging, inspiring and refreshing. I am not quite as young as I was, and they are not quite as young as I am, but when they talk about what they are going to give themselves to for the next 30 years it does kind of encourage one not to complain but to make a half-decent attempt at aligning with God’s direction.
Very graciously Adrian asked me if I would seek to address the subject of ‘theology and politics’. Graciously as I know almost nothing about politics, and on theology rumour has it the proverbial significantly sight-challenged bus driver was very confident of driving the double-decker through my various arguments without hitting anything in the process. As I explained last night my politics were shaped when I saw, in the 1960’s, a prime minister of the UK from Yorkshire smoking a pipe. I thought somehow that looked cool, so basically that party had my vote from then on. There are, dare I suggest it, deeper approaches to political issues, hence the graciousness of Adrian.
I will post here over the next few days the gist of what I shared. A perspective, a biased one, but nevertheless a perspective.
Of course a certain amount of what I adhere to is shaped by our social and geographic context, and springs from a clear sense some 5 years ago this month that the Lord was asking us to ‘take responsibility for the politics of Spain’. So often (did I hear ‘always’?) we do not understand what it means when the Lord speaks, as our great resource of knowledge does seem to get in the way, and we certainly do not know the journey that will entail. Five years later we are still pretty clueless and certainly do not believe we are qualified.
Crazy – not qualified, and as immigrants not even able to vote in the national elections. Just hope there is something in Scripture about not many smart people being called.
If I point to our geographic context there are some BIG negatives and a few positives in terms of what we see. Maybe the negatives are not so negative, maybe there are more positives than seem to be visible… and maybe the negatives are even BIGG… No don’t go there. My point is that it so difficult to assess. And sometimes there is little point in seeking to assess. If ever we gain a victory it is always time to push again, and if there is a real ‘failure’ time to push again. I like that as for someone fairly simple to condense things down to a simple activity is very helpful. And hopefully that is our approach.
My final disclaimers are that in what I will post I will use the term ‘church’ for shorthand for those who self-consciously follow Jesus – by using the term I am not limiting it to any specific expression nor am I denying it to other sets of relationships.
In approaching theology we can quickly make one aspect the whole and when we (as I will) suggest that the call of the church is sharply focused on shaping politics it can be easy to ignore other aspects of the call of the church. However, I make no apology in focusing on the issue of church, theology and politics as, for too long, the church has either:
- been silent on major political issues, or
- or complicit with the powers, or
- only interested in a narrow set of issues.
The church has also often chosen to support the party that has a proposed bias toward ‘family values’, or is pro-life, turning a blind eye to any criticism that could be brought against that party. No political party can be baptised as ‘Christian’, nor can we remain uncritical of those who exercise authority. The critique of power is essential to the Gospel and with the demise of Christendom (the supposed domain over which Christ reigns) we have a fresh opportunity to find new ways of engagement.
OK enough for now.
But finally… We do not have a vote in Spain. Elections took place on Sunday, and a dear friend sent us a note saying ‘you have voted’. I thought surely he understands that we do not have a vote. In various text exchanges he repeated this the following day. So eventually I wrote back with
we do have a biased vote in the court of heaven but not a biased vote on paper in the land.
Then he clarified – he did not vote based on his choice, but knowing we could not vote he put the cross where we would have put it. We voted!