The debate about whether you can mix religion with politics is a constant one. Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts add his voice to this discussion, and concludes that it can be done. Find out his reasons why
Jesus was committed to politics. Not the political point scoring which takes place in the House of Commons, but the type of politics that sees something of Heaven come to earth.
Not surprisingly, politics has become a dirty word. Too many politicians have sullied the reputation of politics by getting embroiled in stuff that they should have kept far away from. So what is politics? It is the theory and practice of influencing other people, creating a fair and just society by actively seeking the eradication of social inequality. This is the politics Jesus was committed to. The New Testament is littered with examples of Jesus creating a just and fair society.
For example, Jesus disobeyed the authorities – turning over the tables in the temple, for example – for their practices were unjust. He worked miracles for the disenfranchised on the Sabbath. Jesus challenged the Jewish system of His day wherever he found it and its leaders to be out of keeping with the Mosaic Law and with God’s. He disobeyed Rome by claiming to be a king – the King to which His subjects must give ultimate allegiance. Even on the vexed issue of taxes, Jesus did not encourage His followers to pay taxes to the corrupt Roman Empire.
Indeed, it was Jesus’ commitment to politics, which eventually led to His death. The Romans killed Jesus as a rebel. This is what happened to Messianic figures who threatened Rome’s sovereignty. While Pilate found no basis for a charge against Jesus, the Jewish hierarchy were desperate to condemn this Man, who was gathering subversive followers and regaling against the politics of Rome.
So, how much more evidence is needed to convince some Black Christians that Jesus was committed to a political agenda, and that we too should be committed to the same agenda?
Despite the reluctance of many in the Black Church to get involved in politics, I do see some progress. I was unable to attend the launch of the recent Black Church Manifesto for Action, but I believe that it was a seminal moment.
A large gathering of mainly Black Christian leaders gathered in London to give the Manifesto a big push, and rightly so. The imminence of the May 7 General Election provided an opportune time to highlight the issues the Manifesto touched on: church and community, policing and criminal justice, prisons, mental health, voting and political mobilisation, family, marriage, youth and education, media, music, arts and culture, international aid and development. Surely this points to progress? Albeit incremental.
Politics in the ether
We might be uncomfortable with political saturation – desperate to turn off the TV set, because of the dominant rhetoric of politics, politics and more politics! But, as I have already written, the New Testament encourages us to be committed to politics and its outcomes. Of course, nowhere in Scripture do we have the directive to invest all of our energy and time into governmental affairs. Our mission lies not in changing the nation through political reform, but in changing hearts through the Word of God. Our Christian mandate is to spread the Gospel of Christ, and to preach against the sins of our age; political entities are not the ‘saviour of the world’. Yet, we do well to remember that the early Church did more than preach the Gospel. Jesus and the early Church also challenged the political and religious people of their times. Both Jesus and the early Church were aware of the need to change Rome through preaching and politics. My hope is that our Black churches will begin to see the importance of both preaching and politics in this day and age.
“The New Testament encourages us to be committed to politics and its outcomes.”
In my opinion, the rationale for Black political engagement speaks for itself. In 2012, nearly three out of every ten people in Britain fell below the minimum living standard set by society as a whole – twice as many as in 1983. One in 10 households lived in a damp home – a 30-year high. The number of those who could not afford to heat their home adequately had trebled since the 1990s, rising from three to nine per cent. In 2013, worsening austerity meant that one in four children lived in a home that was cold or damp; one in 10 lacked essential clothing, like two pairs of shoes, and one in 20 could not afford to feed their children satisfactorily.
Many of today’s working population faces not just a hardening political climate but a difficult job market, one which that has brought escalating joblessness, the spread of low income, and deepening insecurity at work.
Preaching about the Church’s role in this current climate obviously is important. But if our Black churches are able to combine preaching with a desire for political and social reform, the stronger the message, the greater the social changes, and the fairer the society we create for others.
If politics is about creating a fair society by speaking truth to power, I hope Black Christians didn’t hesitate to cast their vote on May 7, and will continue to find ways to engage in politics, long after the election has passed.