With a provincial election on the horizon, the Chinook Winds Regional Council’s Executive has seriously pondered the implications of how our Christian faith calls us to respond to the social and economic issues of our times. From their conversations, the Politics of Jesus series was born. Please watch for faith-based opinion pieces written by Chinook Winds Council people on issues such as diversity, bridging political division, medical care, preferential option for the poor, homelessness, addictions, and energy. In these writings, it is recognized and honoured that United Church people can have many positions. It is also recognized that as Christians we consider other faithful approaches.
To start us out, Rev. Trevor Potter, McKillop United, Lethbridge, introduces the concept of The Politics of Jesus.
There are a lot of controversial social, political, environmental, and economic issues these days. People often seem to go to binary positions on these controversies and land in the world of duality: you are either for me or against me; there is no middle or different position. During the height of the pandemic, I was asked a few times why McKillop United Church, Lethbridge, was taking certain positions. For instance, we had a letter-writing campaign to oppose coal development on the eastern slopes, promoted wearing cloth masks in July 2020 and chose to be visible allies of trans and queer folks. I was asked, ‘Shouldn’t the church be unbiased and neutral and isn’t this showing a political bias?’
After I took some time in contemplation, I knew that whatever we do is going to be political. The word politic is derived from ancient Latin and Greek and literally means the public life or administration of the city. Politics is concerned with public affairs, the common good and the welfare of everybody and everything. The church is not separate from this, and pretending to be separate is deceitful or naive.
Moreover, I realized my political bias is the politics of Jesus. I believe that Jesus was explicitly political throughout his life and was crucified because he opposed the politics of the Roman Empire and those that colluded with it. Jesus was bringing the politics of God’s Kingdom: justice, equality, restoration, healing, wholeness, forgiveness and unity. Jesus preached and lived the greatest commandment (Mark 12:30-31). Love God and love your neighbour which includes nature too. Jesus practised the way of nonviolent love and action as part of his politics. Jesus was not apolitical; therefore, I am not apolitical.
In Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire was a system of oppression and domination that benefitted a few at the top. Roman public affairs argued peace came from war, victory, and domination of others for a few. From archaeological and sociological work, 85-95% of those who lived where Jesus ministered were peasants and 30-50% of those were slaves. They farmed rural land owned by wealthy city owners. Their basic diet was bread/grain with very little meat. They had almost universal iron deficiency leading to sallow skin, fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath. Average life expectancy was somewhere in the 20s with about every 4th birth resulting in the death of the mother or child. Various diseases and plagues systematically went through the general population.
Jesus responded to those who were oppressed with deep compassion. With his healing acts, some scholars joke that Jesus was one of the first to offer free health care. Jesus also went to the centre of Romanization at the Sea of Galilee to demonstrate a new way of life against the Romans and the Temple elites. Jesus was not a ‘nice,’ or ‘quiet’ mystic who asked people to come to synagogue, be good Roman subjects and then tithe, as well as support the purity committee. Jesus was inviting all to a transformed life.
I choose Jesus and Paul’s bias of not conforming to the current world’s socio-economic beliefs. (Although to be truthful, I am not as radical as them and still am growing into this nonconforming way). Paul wrote in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds … to the will of God.” Consequently, I feel that we are asked not to be beholden to a political system or party, nor make them idols. Instead, we are to see our current political models and parties as ever-evolving, adapting, and transforming. The Divine works through politics, but just not what ‘I’ think politics is. If we are not careful, we become blind slaves to a system we think is too big to fail and it perpetuates corporate sin and evil.
Because of following the politics of Jesus, my political biases are not for a particular political system or party. I believe all our political parties only have a piece of the truth, and consequently, they are all open to critique when they think they have the absolute truth. I feel it is a mistake to label each other because we may support this or that. Labelling can cause division. Instead, I believe in seeking the inherent wisdom coming from many different quarters which creates wholistic and adaptive evolution of systems towards love and wholeness. If a partisan force moves towards domination, fascism, hatred, and division, the politics of Jesus invite me to respond with nonviolent love, compassion, and energy towards the good of all. Jesus never shied away from confronting these forces.
My faith calls me to be in solidarity with the oppressed, the suffering, the cursed, the ostracised, and the wounded. If not, I am living a faith that is half asleep or just focused on personal gain and safety. As 1 Corinthians 12 states, if one of us suffers (including the earth), we all suffer. If one of us heals, then we all heal to a degree. I feel a church that commits to a neutral stance no matter what becomes embedded in the current cultural sin and evil. This is what the majority of German churches did prior to WWII and the Holocaust. German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller speaks of this neutrality and silence in the poem, First They Came.
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The United Church of Canada’s ethos is to both be present and vocal about political issues in its history. The United Church’s New Creed states: “to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil.” Our newest creed, Song of Faith”, states:
“We sing of God’s good news lived out,
a church with purpose:
faith nurtured and hearts comforted,
gifts shared for the good of all,
resistance to the forces that exploit and marginalize,
fierce love in the face of violence,
human dignity defended,
members of a community held and inspired by God,
corrected and comforted,
instrument of the loving Spirit of Christ,
God’s call for us to live in harmony and draw on the Earth’s sustenance responsibly. Churches are called to live this broad mission and values. If the United Church didn’t hold this mission and these values, I probably would not be part of this denomination.
I follow the politics of Jesus. The energy of the politics of Jesus is spiritual; it is profound love and passion that are embodied in the work of our lives. It comes through the work of the Spirit in our time. It challenges me to awaken to the love found in, through and beyond political parties for the welfare, the common good, and the public affairs of everybody and everything. There is much healing, mending, restoration, reconciliation, and wholeness that is needed now and the politics of Jesus is my guide.
Download a PDF of the full article, The Politics of Jesus. You are welcome to print copies.