Friday, February 12, 2021
As Sallux we work on the crossroads of Christian faith, society and politics. That means that a good understanding of ‘Christian politics’ is foundational for our work. Johannes de Jong
There is both in Europe and the US a crisis when it comes to the role of Christian faith and Christians inspired by their faith in politics. This is beyond the discussion on whether there should or should not be explicit ‘Christian parties’. The answer to that question by and large depends on the context. However it is clear that specific Christian parties are forced to think and rethink this issue more explicitly. This may help to maintain a balanced stance on this question and a higher degree of transparency and recognition towards the electorate as well as a clear representative function in a democracy. Nevertheless contexts are different and may lead to different choices in this particular question. As said, the issue of the role of Christian faith and Christians inspired by their faith in politics is much broader and deeper than that particular question.
Many Christians in the US voted for Trump, many in the UK voted for Brexit. This has delivered mixed results in both occasions. As Brexit is only a month old it is too soon to give a final verdict. In the case of Trump many Christians will point to specific pro-life policies and Supreme Court appointments. Many other Christians will point to the deep moral failures of the Trump presidency which was seen in his personal behavior, the attempt to reject the election results, pandering to white supremacists, the degradation of measures that protect the environment and the cruel treatment of children of illegal migrants. Nevertheless many Christians continue to support Trump, many out of fear for the alternative. Whether that is justified or not is not for us in Europe to decide. Rather it is for President Biden to disprove these fears if he is indeed intending to bring unity. This situation does show however that we in Europe cannot follow the patterns in the US as the dysfunctionality of the two-party system in the US has too much infected the discussion on the role of Christianity and Christians in politics.
There is however one element that clearly has driven voting patterns of Christians in the US and UK. That element is nostalgia. Here in Europe there is as well a tendency to equate unspecified ‘tradition’ with ‘Christian politics’. Too often Christian politics seems to be about either bringing back the past or about maintaining today’s status-quo. The latter we see often in the large traditional centre-right parties that are therefore lacking profile and direction as they seem too often focused on keeping the current vested interests in place. The problem with unspecified ‘tradition’ as hallmark of Christian politics is that it is impossible to define what time in the past and what elements from it is referred to. Nostalgia is an understandable emotion and the present is certainly not always better than the past but nostalgia cannot be a basis for Christian politics. The past cannot be our future.
The gospels tell us that Jesus referred several times to ‘bearing fruit’ as a measure of truth and true faith. The beauty of His word is that we can see that both the roots and the results matter. Jesus challenges us to really implement the roots of our faith in our life and society and ensure that there is a result that really helps the whole society. That is why Christian politics cannot be centered around single issues, it has to have meaning for the whole of society and politics. The whole of Christian faith needs to come with us if we engage in politics. We cannot ignore social justice and we cannot ignore pro-life. Standing up for both should come as a natural attitude for Christians engaged in politics. We should aim to strife for the wellbeing of the whole of society. The image of Christian politics as ‘nostalgic’ or ‘status-quo’ is ultimately a dead end. Important issues as global economic justice, climate change, income inequality, racism and oppression of women are obviously part of our agenda and have to be communicated as such. We should not be afraid to challenge the status-quo of vested interests where this is blocking a better society for all. There is a good reason that the ECPM has advocated for an economy that works for people long before the current European Commission adopted that motto.
The various strands of Christianity have reflected on this challenge of Christian engagement in politics. If we see how Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Evangelicalism have reflected on this question it is clear that they all point to this unity in standing up for all life and all of creation. As Sallux we try to bring these strands of reflection together and we also try to renew this reflection. There is a commonality that underscores that human dignity really flourishes if we respect and protect and support relationships (including our relation with the whole creation). And vice versa that we can only have a balanced approach in all our relations if we respect, protect and support human dignity. In this way we try to translate Christian faith to such engagement with politics and society that it challenges the current status-quo by presenting a way forward that is helpful for our whole society.
To delve a bit deeper in this issue we recommend to read ‘Political Wisdom’ or ‘A Relational Agenda’ which reflect further on this question of Christian engagement in politics.
With sincere Christian greetings,
As Sallux we work on the crossroads of Christian faith, society and politics. That means that a good understanding of ‘Christian politics’ is foundational for our work.
Johannes de Jong