Messages of Hope

Religious but not political?

Published / by Andrew

In the second term of Barak Obama, when Putin was in power, and Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada, and Turnbull became Prime Minister of Australia, while Weatherill worked quietly in Adelaide, 2during the time Francis was Pope, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah deep in the Flinders. 3He walked the beaches, and the lawns of Elder Park, proclaiming a message of reawakening, seeking to reclaim and revive the soul of the nation,
and to learn again the great ideals of our beginnings.4

‘He was a voice crying out in the wilderness—
a fulfilment of ancient prophecies of a return from exile:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ‘

There was no division of religion and politics at the time of the Gospel text Christians read this week. The great political players and the priests in whose places I have inserted names from today, understood that Luke was setting the authority of God far above their own. The emperors of Rome claimed the name Lord for themselves; Luke contradicted them. Luke was preaching an overthrow of the political system. The dictators who have jailed the religious in our own time have understood this. Francis’ name is placed at a point of ambiguity— was he part of the political-religious status quo, or might the word of God still come to him? (Luke will make it clear, later in the gospel, that the high priests were Roman collaborators.)

To say that religion should have no place in politics is to say that religion is wrong about the nature of God. It is to say that God does not care about politics— the ordering of human society— and what it does to people. Or even to say that God does not exist anyway, so why should God be involved in politics. Christianity, contra such statements, considers the idea that God is not concerned with the ordering of the world to be a heresy.

Of course, most politicians would not say any of this— not publicly, anyway. They want to maximise their vote. So they step around religion, even publicly affirming it if it suits the audience of the day, but seek to disarm it by redefining it as “spiritual.” It does not work like that. The Christians who vote enthusiastically for such politicians are simply not being true to their own religion.

The reading for this week is Luke 3:1-6, taken from the larger story of Luke 3:1-20. You can read more on this text at Andrew’s site here, or other commentary at The Text This Week. Scroll down to the heading “Lectionary Reflections, Discussions & Weblogs.”

Andrew is hosting three studies around the Advent gospel readings during December. We will explore what it means to read the Bible as a “mixed medium of parable and history,” and ask how we can get beyond a dry right/wrong reading of the texts and let them question us. Any other questions are acceptable, too! The location will be here at Pilgrim. Dates and times are Tuesday 8 December, 12-2pm (Bring your lunchbox!) and Tuesday 15 and 22 December, 2-4pm. The sessions will be relaxed enough that only being able to get to one or two of them should still be useful.