Thoughts and prayers are often rightfully conveyed by our political leaders in the event of unfortunate occurrences, but little appears to be actioned afterwards to remedy the cause of the disaster. Christians in Bible study often want to pray for our leaders and the world but fail to seriously grasp the politics let alone policies at play.
With the Australian federal election now complete and a new, at surface level, more progressive government in charge, some Christians may feel disappointed while others see this change as an opportunity for social justice. The question of how followers of Jesus engage politically goes to the heart of who we are as people not just of faith, but a faith that is alive and active in our diverse communities.
At the time of writing this piece, a journalist had just sought my comment regarding my local Council’s decision to introduce a short prayer break during its public meetings. Such prayer break had been triggered by the needs of a particular religion, which appeared to be a stumbling block for opponents of such a decision.
Reflecting on the thought that every human is religious – in the sense that we all believe as well as hold certain things and values to be true.No matter if a thought is collectively labelled as Christianity, Islamic, atheism or otherwise, I gave the following comment that was not published being that “faith is an important pillar of our society”.Apart from being supported by the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Western world, I was reminded of such when I had the opportunity to ask in person then Prime Minister Julia Gillard who was a self-professed atheist of what were some of her values that underpinned her decision making.
Prime Minister Gillard despite not being a person of faith responded to me by paying homage to her Baptist upbringing in acknowledging that “having spent all of that time in, Christian teaching, I do take those values with me. I think that there are Christian values which are really universal values about how you treat people”.It’s been nearly a decade since I had this conversation with the Prime Minister, but it is evident both that faith has become increasingly the elephant in the room but also the ever so more necessary.
Australia in its current post-Christendom culture often ignores the role of faith or relegates it to something dear to ethnic communities. But whether you have been raised in a Christian home and/or are from a culturally and linguistically diverse background or otherwise, it is time to take faith seriously especially if you identify as Christian.
Prayer is not enough, reading the Bible and attending Church on Sunday isn’t your ticket to heaven. But rather we as Christians are called to have living faith which includes advocating for the common good and focusing on the interests of others, especially the marginalised. Politics has a real impact on our neighbours and every person (literally) that we are called to be loving towards.
Going back to my other comment on Cumberland Council’s prayerbreak being that “faith in action should extend beyond prayer and be demonstrated in everyday life, especially how we care for the weakest, poorest and least among us” may be construed as pure support for the decision, but is a call upon not just elected representatives but everyone in the body politic to not just be giving lip-service to their religious beliefs.
No political party is perfect or will ever be for Christians, not even the Christian Democrats or another group with Christian in its name. But we should not be solely relying upon existing groups to hopefully represent our faith. Instead, we as Christians, ought to be the ones that each of us strive to be working for the good of our communities.
Jesus took the time out to care for the sinner, the lost and forsaken, and so should we be giving voice to those who don’t have a voice. When Christians don’t know what to pray for about government, it is a sad predicament that we are not involved enough in our communities. It is time that people of faith especially the followers of Jesus paid more attention and lobbied for the least among us.
Christian engagement with government and politics should not just be when the local church requires planning permission to expand its carpark or to hold a public event in the town square. The local church despite the overall decline in regular church attendance if organised properly remains an influential aspect of the community. Not many organisations can attest to having a broad age range and demographic of local members that a healthy church can offer.
Pastors and church leaders need to seriously consider whether their services both congregational worship, and preaching but also throughout the week are meeting the needs and interests of the community in which God has placed each one of us. Churches cannot be bastions of conservative politics but rather a place which is open and hospitable to all.Our politicians included, like each one of us ought to be able to find rest and solace when gathering together in fellowship.
Churches cannot simply aim for a revival that sees seats filled on Sunday, but what we need is an outpouring of Christ’s love onto the world starting with our local communities. We need to love those who disagree with us politically and even those who advocate the antithesis of Christianity. It is time that the labelling of others from the political spectrum takes a backseat to the power of true Christian faith in action.
Let us not forsake meeting up with one another, nor forsake exhorting one another, but also live out our faith by inconveniencing ourselves in serving, loving, and speaking up for the poor. It is through care and concern for the least among us (or perhaps in political speak “the quiet Aussie” or the “battlers”) that Churches need not overlook.
Putting our faith into action is not about picking a side in politics but is the difference between simply sending thoughts and prayers, in contrast, to underpinning the how and why of us in giving a hand up to those in need.