Sankofa – 31 December 2024

Sankofa – 31 December 2024

Over my many years in the ministry, occasionally I have been told, “That’s politics. It’s not faith.” Or “You are being political. Stay with the Bible.”  Frankly, I don’t know what that means, “Stay with the Bible.” I believe the Bible is a very political book.

Yes, I am political. Yes, I am interested in politics. But I tried my utmost not to be party-political. What that means is I don’t champion a particular political party. I tried my best to be apolitical. And I think when someone chastises me for being political, often it is because he/she thinks I am criticising the party he/she is supporting.

Definition of Politics
What is Politics? I think it’s important for us to define the term politics. It’s especially important because we see the rise in a distinctive ideology called Christian Nationalism, particularly in America. In a recent article written by Tim Alberta for The Atlantic, he warns Americans that “the forces of Christian nationalism are now ascendant both inside the Church and inside the Republican Party.” There are Australians who are Christians who support the ideology of Christian nationalism.

According to John Stott:

“. . . The words “politics” and “political’ may be given either a broad or a narrow definition. Broadly speaking, “politics” denotes the life of the city (polis) and the responsibilities of the citizen (polites). It is concerned, therefore, with the whole of our life in human society. Politics is the art of living together in a community. According to its narrow definition, however, politics is the science of government. It is concerned with the development and adoption of specific policies with a view to their being enshrined in legislation. It is about gaining power for social change. Once this distinction is clear, we may ask whether Jesus was involved in politics. In the latter and narrower sense, he was not.”

Political Jesus
Was Jesus political? I believe he was! Yes, Jesus did not form a political party. However, it is safe to say that Jesus was not crucified because he taught love and forgiveness or because he set about debating legal points with the scribes of his day. Jesus was crucified because he was seen as a threat to the powers that be. His brand of non-violent resistance, and his manner of stirring the people and empowering the poor, were correctly judged to be challenging the political power structures of his day.

None of this is to suggest that Jesus was a political rebel (a zealot), but it is to state that his mission of proclaiming the reign of God had profound political implications. Jesus’ death was no doubt motivated by the perceived threat felt by the religio-political powers of his day.

Despite the trumped-up charge of blasphemy that is brought against Jesus, it is important to recognize that he was sentenced to death by the Romans on the charge of political treason: “He claimed to be King of the Jews“. This messianic title had very clear political implications. Luke’s gospel expands on this charge: “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he is Christ, a king” (Luke 23:1). The point here is that, to the Roman occupiers of Israel, Jesus could well have been perceived as a would-be revolutionary. At the very least, Pilate and the Roman authorities had good reasons to put a stop to the Jesus movement based on its subversive possibilities.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus should always be seen in the context of his life and ministry. Although Jesus was not concerned with establishing a political kingdom, his teachings on God’s reign again were deeply challenging to traditional Jewish institutions and practices. Jesus took a dangerous path: he attacked power and wealth; he overturned social attitudes that oppressed ‘unclean’ or ‘unworthy’ people; he taught the need for prayer and self-sacrificing service; he called people to freedom and empowerment in the face of injustice; he named the religious elite a ‘breed of vipers’ for its manner of sponging off the poor and the needy. In other words, Jesus made enemies among the Jewish leaders and their Roman overlords. These wealthy and powerful elites came to be threatened to the point that they needed to do away with him.

We are all Political
All are political, whether they realise it or not.  But especially when they don’t realise it. We need to be involved because we believe in a God who cares passionately about God’s world and her creation, and consequently how it is run.  The Bible is hugely political – in that it is about how God wants people to behave and act towards God, and towards each other.  This involves economics and law because these tools need to be used to build justice.  So often it is injustice that dominates God’s world, and this grieves God.

Whether we are aware or not, to advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers is to be political. Because it means that at times, we need to criticise the policies of the prevailing government that are detrimental to refugees and asylum seekers. To speak against more mining, to support zero-admission targets is political because we are concerned for “the whole of our life in human society”. We can’t say we “love our neighbours” if we ignore the fact that our neighbours are “sinking” because of climate change. These are deeply moral, religious, and theological matters. Likewise, immigration. At its heart, immigration is about how we treat “the stranger,” which Jesus says is how we treat the Lord himself.

I don’t know whether you would agree with my reflection. You don’t have to. I know I will continue to be political because I care about “the whole of our life in human society”.

… in the meantime, blessed be.

Rev Swee Ann Koh