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I have now updated my Feedburner RSS & Email feeds to reflect that this (Blogger) blog is now my main blog, and my old (Vox) blog will now be used less and only for more personal posts.

The updated Feedburner RSS & Email feeds are listed at the top right of this blog, below my photo.


My Other Blog

I also have a blog on Vox (here), although from now on it will be more of a personal journal

that said, you might like to take a browse through the posts up until now as there have been some less personal posts that might interest you


Christians and Politics

originally written by me for publication in 2004 by the War Cry magazine

Have you observed Parliament, perhaps on the TV News, and despaired for our nation? Daily Question Time, in particular, seems to bring out the worst in our politicians. Are you concerned at the vitriolic turn politics has taken over recent months? Does the poor behaviour of our politicians cause you to write politics off as having little in common with Christianity?

Throughout the bible politicians were involved in achieving God’s will. Moses challenged the political leaders to free the Israeli nation from slavery. Nehemiah tackled the political leaders of his day so as to achieve the change that God had placed on his heart – the rebuilding of Jerusalem so as to restore the morale and influence of the Jewish nation.

Likewise, we should tackle the political world of our day to achieve God’s desires for our nation, and our world. Many of the issues we are concerned about are public policy issues. In our society public policy is in large part driven by those in politics.

One of the themes of scripture is of God’s people being involved in the public affairs of their day. In the Old Testament the scriptures themselves were public policy. The leaders of the New Testament, notably Jesus and Paul, regularly challenged the political leaders of their day.

Major Campbell Roberts is Director of the Salvation Army’s recently launched Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit. He says “The real powerful moments of church history are when the people of God move beyond being satisfied with a personal relationship with God to engagement of God with the principalities and powers, the national and community life of the nation.”

In just the past year our parliament has included debate on our society’s response to the sick, the mentally ill, the injured, victims of sexual abuse, racism, housing needs, violence, the use of alcohol, care of the elderly, punishment of children, educational standards, the unemployed, censorship, euthanasia, the environment, prostitution, sex among teenagers, teenage abortions, the rights and obligations of children and parents, and our society’s definition of family and parenthood.

And, these are largely the domestic issues. I haven’t even started to list our country’s role in international issues.

In my own city of Wellington, debate is underway about how our city by-laws and city services cater for the homeless.

God and the church have long had a role in defining public policy so that it effectively encourages the behaviours we as a society value, effectively discourages those behaviours we as a society abhor, and defines the grey area between the two.

Social justice issues are very dear to the heart of God and form the underlying theme of much of scripture. They have always been at the heart of The Salvation Army. Public policy has a direct impact on how our society values and treats the poor.

Campbell Roberts also says “We believe in winning the world for Jesus. We echo this in our mission statement, history and writings but of late perhaps not so much in our practice. We, along with our Christian sisters and brothers have struggled to relate the themes of redemption, salvation, justice and love to the political, business, media and educational structures of New Zealand society.”

For God’s view to be heard Christians must be involved in the development of public policy. One of the most impactful ways of doing this is to be actively involved in the political process. There are a number of different ways we can do this.

In a country like New Zealand, all Christians should at least exercise their democratic privilege to vote. But, we should do so intelligently. It is no secret that politicians form policy partially in response to the changing public mood. So, we should keep ourselves informed of the public policy debates of the day, of what is being proposed, and assess how this lines up with the values inherent in Christianity. We should then vote accordingly. My father is a classic example of this – he is a regular watcher of the news and reader of newspapers.

Then, God needs some Christians to take a current issues advocacy role within the church. Every circle of Christians needs someone who can keep them informed of the issues of the day, and encourage discussion in a scriptural context. Even our sermons should consider the topical issues of the day. It is in this sphere that my personal interest in politics has taken me.

God also needs some Christians to argue his values more vigorously than simply through the ballot box. These Christians should be actively engaging in public debate – for example writing to the newspapers, writing to politicians, joining activist organisations, attending political events, becoming active in a political party, forming influential relationships with politicians, being active in the media. I have a number of Christian friends who are involved like this, and have considered it myself.

And then, God has called a few Christians to put their name on the line and seek election to public office. There is a range options here – from school boards of trustees, to city and district councils, to parliament. Elsewhere in this issue you can read of my father-in-law’s experiences of this.

Then, there is the role of Christians acting collectively through the church in the affairs of our country. The Salvation Army has a long history of being public policy advocates. Some of our finest stories, particularly in our formative years, are of directly influencing public policy. Our history contains inspirational war stories of improving the laws protecting children from prostitution, and workers rights.

To effectively minister to the poor we must also lobby on their behalf so that their needs are less. Working directly with the poor gives us access to information and stories that must be shared with those in power if they are to change how our society values and treats the poor.

We often hear of the convention of the separation of church and state. In the United States this convention is written explicitly into their constitution. Interestingly, there is no such convention in our direct constitutional lineage. In the United Kingdom the church and the state are deeply inter-twined. However, New Zealand’s constitutional conventions lean more towards separation than integration of church and state.

However, the convention is often mis-understood. The convention is that church and state should be separate – in the sense of being identifiable as not being the same. This does not mean that church and state should not engage with each other.

We should not be surprised that the Prime Minister makes a political speech when invited to speak in a Cathedral. The church needs to listen to politicians.

Equally, politicians should not be surprised when the theological microscope is applied to public policy. Politicians need to listen to the churches.

I recently spent an evening discussing these issues with Campbell Roberts. He describes his new role as “to engage in that scary mission call and try to bring Christian and biblical thinking to bear on the issues that are vital in the affairs of our country. The role of the Social Policy & Parliamentary Unit will be to engage with the opinion makers of New Zealand society in business, media, parliament, education and government.”

Also, we should pray. Scripture implores us to ‘pray for those in authority’. Prayer can change our world. God can change our world.

I still remember hearing Cyril Bradwell talk in the late 1980s of his decades long prayer quest for the people of Germany. He started praying when he fought against Germans in the Second World War. He continued praying through the long years of the ‘cold war’. Finally, he saw his prayers answered. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. The very symbol of the oppression of a people collapsed, just as the oppression itself collapsed. Hearing this experience of the power of prayer was inspirational for me.

So, what role is God asking you to play in the political life of our nation?

Will you vote armed with an understanding of how your vote will impact our nation?

Will you read and listen widely so you can discuss political issues with other Christians, and consider what scripture would say about those issues?

Will you become involved in politics – writing to the newspapers, writing to politicians, joining activist organisations, attending political events, becoming active in a political party, forming influential relationships with politicians, being active in the media?

Will you seek public office?

Will you pray for our nation, and its leaders?

UPDATE: after the above article was published a friend of mine who works as a policy analyst in the central government public service reminded me that his job provides a way for him to influence public policy using his God-given skills and professionalism within his Christian world-view

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