It’s easy to be cynical. Politics is frustrating, disheartening and downright embarrassing sometimes. Just watch a session of Prime Minister’s Questions and it looks like a lesson at school when you’ve got a supply teacher with no clue.
For years turnout at elections has been abysmal, especially amongst the 18-24s. If a government gets into power on 35% of the vote, but only 60% turnout to vote, we’ve effectively got a government that only just over 20% of the country voted for. We are disillusioned and apathetic about politics. Why bother voting when you don’t like any of the options, or if the one you like has no chance of getting elected? Why bother taking an interest, when your interests aren’t even considered?
What would Jesus do?
It’s easy to caricature Christianity, as any religion, as being interested in ‘spiritual things’, in life after death, in getting to heaven. And if life is all about getting to that ‘other place’, and about the state of our souls, why should we bother engaging with a messed up world?
Simply because when Jesus came proclaiming “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15), this was a deeply political statement.
Our word for gospel from the greek ‘euanglion’, is generally translated ‘good news’ but before it was used by the church, it was used by Roman Emperors. The messages issued by Roman Emperors were called euanglion regardless of how ‘good’ or cheery the message was. They saw themselves as lords and saviours of the whole world and proclaimed saving messages of their purpose for the world. Therefore Jesus and his followers’ use of the word were deliberately suggesting a reality beyond empire power games.
Jesus was proclaiming a manifesto, leading a campaign that had ramifications not just for the ‘spiritual’ but for the world. He did have a hand in creating the world, so this claim was surely fair enough. By proclaiming the Kingdom of God, Jesus was saying that God was King, God’s reign was here, God’s rules are back in force, and God is saving and redeeming this broken world.
At the start of his ministry he laid out his manifesto commitments:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
But once the campaign trail got under way, Jesus’ opponents rallied. There were many who were expecting the messiah to come on a white horse, sword in hand and drive out the foreign occupation. But although Jesus didn’t lead a violent uprising, his ministry wasn’t any less engaged in social upheaval as he challenged ethnic barriers, religious elites and institutional corruption.
But what difference does that make to our politics today?
Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God means to be cynical is to ignore the reality of God’s reign and power in our society. This is God’s world, and he is in the business of redeeming all of creation, therefore we have reason to be positive and constructive. It is no coincidence that following the evangelical revival in the 1700s led by Wesley and Whitfield that great social reforms followed, led by the likes of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury reforming schools, prisons and neighbourhoods. This is because the gospel is ‘good news’, it is life-changing and world-changing.
However, we must also be careful not to pin our hopes on our own very human messiahs. Just as people had their own expectations for liberation crushed by Jesus’ divine calling, we must be careful to hold personalities and political parties lightly. Jeremy Corbyn or the modern conservative party are not the way to salvation. Jesus is, and he’s already paved the way. When our own political interests are scuppered it’s easy to turn back to cynicism but at that point we must not forget that God’s reign is still a reality in this world.
Have you ever heard the phrase “being so heavenly minded, you’re of no earthly good”? As Christians we must keep our heavenly perspective, in order to keep going when it can all look so bleak, and to instead of cynicism and apathy choose hope and action.
Where to start? Here are some suggestions:
1. Find an issue you are passionate about and do something about it, talk about it, get involved in an organisation that does something.
2. Join a political party. There are some Christians in all the main political parties, no party is perfect, but party politics is potentially the easiest way to influence.
3. Go local – how can you, your friends, your church be good news to those around you?
4. Choose hope over fear. So much ‘political talk’ and ‘social commentary’ is filled with scaremongering, spin and suspicion. Choose conversation and action that brings God’s reign and the mind of Christ into that situation.