Is There Room for Faith in Politics?

Is There Room for Faith in Politics?

In our post-modern twenty -first century living, is there a divergence or a convergence between faith and politics? Is there room for faith in politics and equally important is there room for politics in faith?

As our faith (ie what we believe, subscribe to or the lens through which we view the world)  determine our works  (politics), it ought to reflect how we, respond to situations and people around us.

As ever, our model of Christian living is Jesus, so it is certainly important that we look at how Jesus interpreted the politics of first century Palestine in the light of his purpose (faith) and how as He lived his faith (purpose), it impacted the lives and faith of those around Him, thus clearly demonstrating and reinforcing his politics. I am reminded of the scripture in James Chapter 2 which questions the validity faith without works concluding that faith without works is dead. James goes on to say that our faith should work hand in hand with our works.

I believe that Jesus lived at the cutting edge of the political arena. He was popular in an unpopular way.  He was disliked – in fact hated for some of the things He did and said – but he stood His ground. He was maligned, but never retaliated by putting others down. He was misunderstood, but it never phased Him as He always used the ‘Word ‘ as His defence therefore aligning His faith with His works.

There was no way Jesus could have lived in first century Palestine and not be aware of the politics all around him. The Jewish nation was under occupation by the Romans, so it was a breeding ground for politics right across the left /right spectrum. Add to the mix the religious leaders who wanted to ensure that people did not follow someone who could potentially undermine their position and authority.

How then did Jesus navigate this maelstrom of hatred where there was always someone wanting and waiting to drag him under the current with the sole purpose of exposing him as a fake, and not the awaited Messiah. There are several examples where Jesus explained in the simplest of way how to line up one’s faith with their politics or works without falling foul of the authorities- religious and political.

Lets start with the example where the religious meets the political. Jesus was asked whether or not taxes should be paid to the Romans.  Very calmly Jesus asked the questioner to look at the coin and tell him whose image it showed. When told Caesar’s, Jesus’ words were “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The verse ends “… and they marvelled at Him!. (Mark 12:17)

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall just to see how they looked as they marvelled. Did their jaws drop? Did their eyes widen in disbelief that they hadn’t caught Him out? They would have loved to report him to the religious authorities who would no doubt report Him to the political authority. They dressed up their question with flattery but Jesus saw through it all. They probably left saying “ What is it with this guy?”

Rather than starting a discourse on the evils of the tax system, Jesus gave a direct answer to the direct question He was asked. The Roman authority sets the level of tax, Caesar’s image was inscribed on the coin so therefore the tax belongs to him. If only our leaders would give bold and simple yet explicit answers to questions.  We see Jesus respecting the political authority even though life was probably quite challenging for the Jewish nation. He recognised their jurisdiction and encouraged others to do the same. I also find the last part ‘…and to God the things that are God’s’ thought-provoking.  Its almost as though Jesus is speaking in open code to them.  Reminding them that yes the tax belongs to Caesar but there are also gifts- monetary and otherwise that should be given to God.

There is also the account in Matthew chapter 17 when Peter was asked about His master not paying the temple tax. Jesus anticipating the question asks “Do sons of a king or strangers pay tax to the king. Peter’s answer is that it is strangers not sons who pay taxes. Jesus affirms him and confirms that He is indeed exempt because He is the son of God. Rather than cause offence though, Jesus instructs him what to do to get the money to pay the tax. Again I believe this reflects Jesus’ attitude in honouring the political expectation as he lines up His faith with His politics.

Another example of Jesus’ faith being merged seamlessly with his politics can be seen in the different way women were treated by society and by Jesus. Being a woman then meant being a second class citizen.  They had no legal rights and so had no voice and no choice. They were treated like children were in Victorian times.  They could be ‘seen but not heard’.

Jesus walks into this gender politics and turns things upside down. Not only does He have women disciples, he shows himself first to a woman after His resurrection. He showed society that in God’s kingdom everyone is of worth everyone is valued and has a special place in the father- heart of God. We know the story of Mary who lived a life of rejection because she was a lady of ill repute, and also of the Samaritan woman who Jesus literally went out of his way to speak with at a time when Jews and Samaritans did not associate. Both these women came to believe (faith) in Jesus through the way He demonstrated His politics.

What about the politics of status? Jesus often spoke about those people who saw themselves as being important and who loved to laud it over others. He told a story about those who loved to occupy the best seats at tables and also those who showed off with their loud and wordy prayers to gain attention.  When one of the disciples asked about who was the greatest in the  kingdom of God Jesus told them they had to become like children. Again in those days children had no voice and representation so Jesus was in effect saying you need to abandon your  earthly status and need for recognition.

These examples serves to show that the faith and politics of Jesus were intertwined and is often quite difficult to identify one from the other.  So rather than two separate entities, there is a convergence of both.  For us as Christians, when we make faith the vehicle we use to engage with others we will find that our politics falls in line enabling us  therefore more easily erase the tendency to place them in separate compartments.

The challenge of  walking the talk is huge but we remind ourselves that it is not by might or power but by the Spirit of God.

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