Preaching and Politics

September 2004

I was prompted to write this because I’m a good friend of Abigail Cressy, the 11-year-old writer with guts enough to take on an experienced journalist. I’d like to bounce off the discussion about the “Enough” rally and talk about the church and politics, ending with three challenges: for Christians, for the community, and for the media.

It seems that a lot of the rally coverage (especially the Dominion’s) has been a big fuss over nothing. Some of those interviewed called it Nazism. Why? Because the rally-goers wore uniforms, and marched, just like the Nazis. Let’s think for a moment. That’s almost as silly as saying politicians are like pancakes, because both start with P, and both lie flat out. Not very convincing. But if Destiny Churchers start gassing millions of Jews, then I’ll believe they’re Nazis.

Before I get to the tough stuff, I’d like to ask those who challenge Christians to attack the real thing, and not a straw man. They do this by ripping Bible verses out of their context to make whatever point they want. But we’ve got to read a verse as part of the whole Book, as part of the complete Christian story. (There’s an online “Skeptic’s Bible” devoted to this silly, straw-man scholarship. It’s easy to make atheism look stupid, too, but you don’t get anywhere unless you’re fair.)

Preaching and politics are big subjects, but I’ll be brief. I believe that when the church equals government, things get ugly. However, to say that religion is completely separate from politics is to ignore history. From the English Magna Carta (1215 AD) to the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776 AD), the distinction between politics and religion is hazy at best. And this is not a bad thing. Politics must be saved, but it is not our Saviour.

On the one hand, the church must be less political, because preaching is far more powerful than protesting. Protests are about taking sides; they’re about jumping on bandwagons. Sometimes those things are necessary, but good preaching is better: it teaches, it comforts, it challenges. God has made preaching potent enough to make brave men cry, and to change their lives.

On the other hand, Christ is King, and a king is political! When we become Christians we swear to serve no one but Christ. And, strangely enough, it is Christ who says to respect the government (and that was said in the time of Nero). This means—for all Helen-haters—even Ms. Clark. If we respected politicians, perhaps they’d start being respectable.

As an aside, maybe this king thing is why The Lord of the Rings is so well-read. Like God’s story, it’s a story of good and evil, of courage, virtue and kingship. And it’s the story of a king who cares for his people—the good kind of king you would give your life to serve.

I’d like to leave you with some challenges. As a Christian, I believe that I’m a sinner. I’m far from perfect in these areas, but I am working on them. I also believe that iron sharpens iron, and that’s my goal here.

First, I challenge Christians: We must practice what we preach. This is the toughest command of all. But if we preach about family values, we must have strong families ourselves. We must spend not just “quality time,” but quantity time, with our children and our parents. And we must not be narrow, concerned only about “saving souls.” God is too big for that. He created the whole world; how can we pollute it? He gives us all food; why do we waste it? He has written all of history; why do we ignore it?

Second, I challenge the community: I’ve lived in Masterton most of my life, and I love it here. I’m keen to see the town get more like heaven (and less like Auckland), but it’s not yet happening. Why are we more concerned about cars and money and malls than about friendliness? For every one thing we tear down, we should build up five others. I’m not talking about “being nice”; I’m talking about a real sacrifice for the important things. One last thing: please do support local churches. Despite their faults, they do more good than we’re aware of.

Finally, I challenge the media: How often do you stop and think about the contours and content of your words, and how they affect real people? When was the last time you told a story so the one you interviewed was more than happy with it? How often do you spend time to really hear what the “man in the street” is saying?