Tag Archives: Politics

God and refugees

At Albury Bible Church, we hosted a meal with discussion – called Serious Eating – on the topic of God and Refugees.

The format included a short talk, about five minutes, as a thought-starter. Then, on each table, there was a menu for further discussion. For a lighter conversation, you would choose the entree. For more depth and difficulty, go for the main course.

I had a request to write up what I said. So here it is, expended from my brief written notes to make some sense on its own.

There’s a refugee problem right now. For example, quoting last week’s news, 10,000 people every day are fleeing Mosul. The stories we hear on the news are heart-breaking.

We care because of our common humanity. Common humanity is a biblical idea, but now so widely accepted we do not think of it as a ‘God idea’. But that’s OK, because there’s more to say about God and refugees.

When he was a child, Jesus became a refugee. In Matthew 2:12-15 we hear about the real risk to Jesus’ life. Herod then murdered of Bethlehem’s boys, and Matthew 2:18 could describe the TV shot of any modern refugee mothers in grief.

Furthermore, the Bible’s confronting message is that we all are refugees – though of another kind. We are refugees from God, running away not because he is bad but because we are. The way people respond to modern refugees does show positive humanity in compassion, but it also demonstrates our dark and evil side. As individuals and as a nation, we are far from perfect.

The real mind flip about God and refugees brings together these two points, about Jesus and about us. Jesus became a refugee to save refugees. We see this on the cross.

Jesus died as a Jewish man executed by the Roman empire – typical political oppression. Jesus’ death was also spiritually oppressive: his own national leaders abandoned him, as did the empire, and his disciples. Even God the Father was silent when Jesus called.

In his death, Jesus became the most excluded man in history. He said this was in order to include us with God. Jesus became the oppressed outsider to welcome outsiders to God. Romans 5:6 fits the idea that Jesus became a refugee to welcome refugees.

So to understand God and refugees, we need to take seriously God’s works to offer us salvation. Do we know and trust Jesus? All refugees have basic needs. Forgiveness is our basic need before God!

Within this huge overarching good news story, it’s clear also that God is all for refugee care. By looking at Jesus’ own cross-shaped love, we see the principles for refugee care – it is service that’s difficult, costly, patient, and not selfish.

What does that mean for you and me? I don’t think there are direct biblical political policies to apply to the world. I don’t see there’s a ‘Christian politics’ – but there should be action. Inaction and apathy just don’t fit what we see of God’s passionate love for the helpless.

Christians should be great at politics

I’ve long been convinced of the truth of the old saying: Politics is the art of the possible (attributed to Otto von Bismark – in German, natürlich – from 1867).

In other words, politics is about getting things done. It’s a rough tool for activity.

In other words, politics is not a place for pure ideology. It can never deliver 100% of any idea or plan. Its essence includes realism and negotiation. To place one’s hope for humanity and the world in politics is inherently foolish.

And that’s why Christians should be great at politics. Our hope is Christ (1 Timothy 1:1), whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). We know it is useless to place great trust in kings or war machinery (Psalm 33:16-17).

Because of all this, Christians are free to see politics as it really is – a useful tool. We’re free to engage in all sorts of politics: write to local council members, agitate for better laws, join a political party, become a parliamentarian, … as long as we remember not to get caught up in the imagined importance of this politics.

Politics is not life or death for followers of Christ. And that’s a great freedom to get involved and retain some objectivity. It’s not politics that lasts. What lasts is the love for neighbour that politics (at its best) can facilitate.



Politics: don’t get your hopes up

It’s election time in Australia!

If that did not excite you, try this. It’s almost the end of election time in Australia!

Many voters are tired of the campaign. One of my pet hates is when one politician repeats known untruths simply because they make an opponent look bad. I want to yell out, ‘If you and I both know you’re pushing a lie over here, why do expect me to trust you over there?’ (OK, that’s just me venting. Sorry.)

Another thing I’ve noticed is in the way we talk about political issues. We love to promise/demand perfect solutions.

Considering military action after use of sarin gas in Syria? ‘There will be no bombs.’

Responding to asylum-seekers floating to Australia? ‘There will be no boats.’ Or, ‘We demand all arrivals to be housed.’

Thinking about small business? ‘There will be no red-tape to tangle your productivity.’

Education? ‘Every child in Australia will reach his or her full potential.’

The kingdom

As a Christian, I recognise the shape of these statements – they are all eschatological. Eschatology is the teaching of the last things, the time when all God’s perfect standards are perfectly honoured. Eschatology looks ahead to the consummation of all things.

The prophets spoke of these days of completeness. Have a look at Isaiah 11:1-9, or Isaiah 65:17-25. They promised a sword recycling programme to provide what’s really needed – farm implements (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3). The Bible finishes with strong confidence in God’s promise:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)

These promises are affirmed and guaranteed by the ministry of Jesus. He who crushed sin and defeated death will take history to this long-desired end. This is the good news of Jesus the king! We pray, ‘Your kingdom come.’

Not the kingdom

Australia, despite having a royal head of state, is not to be confused with this kingdom. No mere nation can fulfil the hopes of these scriptural promises. Every nation is weighed and found to be like dust on the scales, too insignificant to move the balance.

No nation is the kingdom. Therefore:

  • no government, or aspiring government, can promise the kingdom
  • no voter can demand the kingdom

If either of these happen, move right along. This is not meant to bag politicians, by the way. The really important one of these is the second. That’s where most of us live. Politicians’ most extreme promises gain life from voters who listen to them. Hearers, by reception, provide life-support for promises that should die a peaceful death. We place our hopes in politicians. They promise to fulfil our hopes. When they fail – always – we blame the parliamentarians, rather than admit our foolish hopes.

The art of politics

This might sounds like a vote of despair in all politics (pun intended). Not so! It is, rather, a call to let politics stay as politics. Let’s not force politics to also be theology, eschatology, faith and truth.

Bismarck is attributed with the saying, ‘Politics is the art of the possible.’ Politics tries to get things done, it’s people trying to get organised. Politics comes with values and vision, but is open-eyed to the need for negotiation. Politics has to set priorities: we have to this this first; we can help, but our resources are limited; that good idea has to wait; etc.

The Bible does not call politics to bring in the kingdom – that’s the task of Jesus. The Bible principle that might best apply to politics – taking it somewhat out of its setting – is this, ‘be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.’ Do what you can. Do it well. In a democracy, that includes how we vote.



Quick review: Defending Constantine

Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of ChristendomDefending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happened when the Roman world gained a Christian leader?

What events happened to bring this leader, Constantine, to be Augustus of both east and west? What consequences happened for the Roman world? And, perhaps most contentiously, what happened to Christianity as a result of the change? Within a couple of decades, churches went from being persecuted under Diocletian to receiving official support from Constantine.

The answers to these questions have many implications for how we express history, politics, theology and theological politics.

Leithart’s book – to oversimplify – shows that a lot happened! The range of events and implications, however, are so complex that they should not be reduced to cliché summaries (eg. ‘The church fell in the fourth century’).

Each chapter of Defending Constantine is a fascinating essay on a particular angle of the history of events or theological implications of that history. At first, I found it hard to discern where the book was going, overall. Yet it all came together in the wonderful final chapter, ‘Rome Baptized.’ At the start of this chapter, Leithart summarises his conclusions about Constantine the man and emperor. Then the majority of the chapter considers Constantine’s lasting effect on Rome (and on politics). In Leithart’s terms, Constantine desacrificed Rome and baptised Rome.

Through the whole work, a constant sparring partner is John Howard Yoder. Yoder’s theological politics casts a long shadow over much contemporary thinking about society, but I am not able to say how fairly Yoder has been represented. Leithart treats Yoder with great respect: with some deep agreement, but equally with points of profound disagreement. Defending Constantine could serve as a follow-up to study of Christian social ethics or (as in my case) a spur to reading Yoder and others in this field.

It’s also worth nothing that this book has a most useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Conclusion: for its history and for provoking thought on theology and politics, recommended.


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