The Depoliticisation of Christianity
A friend of mine was explaining to me last night about how she feels that Christianity has too often been mixed with agendas to push certain political issues, and that people of this faith need to get back to the “fundamentals.”
I didn’t really ask what she specifically meant by this, but whilst I would agree that there are certain political directions which should clearly be avoided altogether within a Christian context, I think I might strongly disagree with the idea that Christianity as a faith should be entirely depoliticised.
Now to clarify what I mean by this, since I realise not everyone these days considers themselves “political,” we might need to get into a definition of what this term really means. When people think of politics, they tend to think of governments, parties, economy, etc. I’m not sure about anyone else, but these grandiose concepts all strike me as much larger examples of an even simpler pervading definition: politics is quite basically the dynamic of how humans interact and treat each other. I’m sure if I dug deep enough, I might be able to find a better and more effectively succinct definition than this, and I’m aware as simplistic an analysis as the one I’ve just written causes problems, but perhaps it would suit us for now. I mean, what does it mean to be “political?” I can think of those issues about which the far right focuses, such as family values, homosexuality, abortion, economic sustainability, etc; and then I can think of those about which the far left might focus, such as environmental protection, inclusiveness, war, social justice, third world poverty, etc. Despite where amongst the spectrum one might fall, are these examples not all of themselves examples about how we human beings view and act toward one another?
With that said, I see the depoliticisation of Christianity as something which simple cannot be done, as the faith makes specific demands about how we human beings treat one another. One could view a religious system as more having to do with the worship of God, but Jesus also comes to tell us that such worship requires a love toward humanity as well, neighbour and enemy alike. If we endeavour to remove the political dimension from the Holy Bible, I would fear we are left with somewhat sterile scriptures. To love our enemies, to look after the poor, to feed the hungry, and to care for the lost are political issues.
This isn’t just a problem within Christianity, either, I don’t think, because it seems that many people these days are so eager to not associate with political ideals that the politics of everyday life escape them. Recycling, the purchase of Fair Trade, and a lack of understanding about where our food comes from often seem to be treated with some degree of apathy. Or at least, such seems to be my own experience. For how many people must it be an issue to know whether the clothes they are buying came to them from a sweatshop? And more frighteningly, would they care if told?
The politics of everyday life, that is, the direct action opportunities available to us as the general public should not be ignored. As Christians, there are definite political ethics within the course of our mundane existence which most certainly ought to be addressed, especially if there are demands expected of those who would call themselves people of the Kingdom (a political term).
Now what of those “political” avenues I don’t want to see mingled with the Gospel? I don’t wish to see Christianity espoused by leaders of a state, I don’t wish for Christians to seek political change within larger governmental sectors (those prone to corruptive influence), and I certainly don’t wish to see Christianity used by politicians as an excuse to voice skewed opinions. Likewise, I detest seeing political parties or individuals associated with them lauded from the pulpit, a place reserved for a person to teach others about God, not about party political agendas.
What I have faith in (and yes, have faith in, not “believe”) is a separation of Church and State. Let the state be the state, I’m interested in the Church being the Church, and in Christians being Christians. Why must we feel our validation comes from being citizens of a particular nation, when we are called to the citizenship of Heaven? Jesus Himself told the disciples that they weren’t called to solve their problems through political office, but rather by making themselves the servants of all humanity (Mark 10:42-45).
So yes, let’s please “depoliticise” Christianity inasmuch as withdrawing the influence of partisan dynamics from it (and vice versa), but let’s not ignore the deep-seated political issues found within many of the Bible’s pages. And let’s not cease in having those discussions about how we apply such principles in our lives today.