The sniping sound-bites of left vs. right. The “I’m always right-You’re always wrong”
mentality. The trotting out of gotcha politics. These fireworks of political division can entertain (in a guilty pleasure way), but quickly grow exasperating for citizens and politicians alike.
In the current U.S. election campaign and the perpetual campaigning of Canadian politicians over the past three years, candidates and their spinners try hard to distinguish themselves from their opponents. In my work I get the chance to reflect on the call to justice and to talk with leaders and citizens who are passionate about it. I get the sense that many feel a call to peace and justice that’s far deeper than groan-inducing partisan shenanigans.
As a person passionate about justice, I’m interested in getting beyond this fracas to meaningful service for shalom (peace)—and it begins with humility, testing the spirits with our eyes open, and a passionate, Christ-inspired hope for the world.
“The line between justice and injustice . . . can’t be drawn between us and them. It runs right through the middle of each one of us” (Simply Christian, p. 6). Bishop Tom Wright penned those sentences as part of an explanation of the Christ-inspired impulse of justice that is alive in the world today.
Many of us are passionate and opinionated about justice issues. Mea culpa: I know I’ve said some unkind things about people who disagree with me from time to time. Giving in to that temptation does little to raise the bar of respectful debate and love of neighbor or enemy. The humble posture Wright implies should shape the way we pursue justice.
You and I live in a culture shaped by many forces. Individualism, material prosperity, and security concerns dominate our media and political worlds. Even Christians’ attitudes about politics, economics, and society get influenced by these forces. Christians in both Canada and the United States identify with parties and ideologies across the spectrum: from libertarian to radical socialism. My friend and mentor at Redeemer University College, David Koyzis, has taught a generation of students that these ideologies are at best a pale reflection of God’s intention for justice, and at worst are violent attempts to put something or someone in the place of God.
You and I may appreciate elements of a political party based on ideology, but our eyes need to be wide open to a broader truth for the sake of the world.
Being for the World
That broader truth is the good news that Christ brings for the world. As co-laborers with Christ, the church is called to be for the world and not of it. As the Simple Way guys Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw put it: “The peculiarity of the church is not for its own sake but for the sake of the whole creation, for the cities and neighborhoods in which we find ourselves” (Jesus for President, p. 237; www.thesimpleway.org).
Being for the world begins with the love ethic woven through Scripture and many noble confessions. Christ’s command and example of neighborly love is without a doubt the foundation of an impulse, longing, and conviction for justice.
Loving our neighbors is not just a warm sentiment. It means recognizing something basic about reality: all is not whole; too much preventable suffering exists and persists. This message can disturb our cozy lives, so it’s not always welcome in our culture and churches.
What makes matters worse is that we seek justice from a clear faith perspective—which is usually understood in a secular context as weird or controversial. A consumer culture
of comfort and a political culture that prefers to ignore faith—as if those challenges aren’t enough! Add some stark realities: 50,000 people die from preventable causes every day; wars and climate change displace thousands and ruin livelihoods; the halls of power are usually beyond our reach and influence. . . .
I could go on. Pursuing justice seems impossible.
Our Audacity of Hope
But God’s Spirit opens the way to make possible what is impossible. Our faith and hope in that motivates all Christ-driven ministry, including the good news call to justice. We are called to an audacity of hope that is countercultural and counter-intuitive: to tackle the impossible even if we lack the eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr. or the courage of Mother Teresa or Bishop Tutu. The lives of such saints tell a story: they are regular folks who’ve testified freely of their utter reliance on the power of Christ to move mountains. According to politics-as-usual, their success seemed impossible, but because of Christ they were builders of shalom.
We, too, can do the impossible because of Jesus. The good news is that even in our weakness the light of life is reflected when we remain faithful to our calling.
“God is dreaming of a world where all people, black and white, rich and poor, clever and not so clever, are drawn into one family, a world where all of us participate as agents in God’s inexorable transformation of evil into good. How can we lose?” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the foreword to Hope in Troubled Times, p. 11).
Living the Good News
The Christian Reformed Church has said and done some good things for shalom recently: a bike tour to help end the cycle of poverty (seatosea.org), ground-breaking synodical reflections on peace (crcna.org/pages/synodical.cfm), widening the circle for racial reconciliation (June Banner, p. 22), and tangible work on HIV/AIDS and hunger (crwrc.org and crcjustice.org).
In addition, great people in our circles (farmers, business people, academics, activists) are working for the integrity of creation. These important actions cannot be one-time efforts. For justice to roll down and roll on (Amos 5:24) we need to live out noble ideas continually: in sacrificial giving and service; in relationships with prisoners, troubled youths, and politicians; in passionate prayer for the world. Living the good news in these and other ways is a profound testimony for justice and peace.
Evangelical Christians in Canada and the United States are known for voting on moral issues in the social conservative category—abortion is a prime example. The passions that drive us to vote on one issue or another run deep, but you and I should consider a variety of issues in the tasks of citizenship. Here’s why:
Biblical justice provides a moral framework for a huge range of causes. One of the neatest examples of this broad moral enterprise is the commercial of Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Pat Robertson (polar opposites on most things!) working together for the “We Can Solve It” campaign on the climate crisis.
Evangelical and mainline church organizations in Canada have been encouraging governments to adopt a coordinated plan to reduce poverty, but progress has been slow. In conversations on this, one Member of Parliament has expressed a dream: that Christians will get active on poverty like they did around the definition-of-marriage debate (from 2003 to 2005, Canadian politicians were swamped with materials on this topic). A prime lesson from this anecdote is a subtle point: Christian engagement in politics needs to be broader and deeper. Chronic poverty in our cities and overseas causes brokenness and loss of life every day—a moral crisis that demands energetic work and prayer.
Governments are called as God’s servants to do good (Rom. 13). As a close observer of Canada’s political scene, I’ve come to respect this demanding call as one that requires wisdom, integrity, and long hours. Each political leader must balance conflicting ideas and demands on a dizzying range of issues—including the ones you and I are passionate about. Our citizenship actions need to respect this reality.
So if we feel compelled to criticize, we can reflect love and justice by doing so in a respectful tone and by trying to dialogue on constructive alternatives. The good of our local and global communities is a complex moral enterprise, and our political concerns and our love of neighbor must reflect this.
Politics and the Pulpit
Justice and worship are tied together: The Old Testament prophets declared that worship was contemptible when there was injustice in the land. Christ proclaimed good news to the poor. James said that true religion consists of looking after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27).
Yet we find linking justice and worship a little uncomfortable in our affluent culture, even controversial in the face of secularism and the separation of church and state. Pastors and worship planners can rise to these challenges with a little prudence and a good measure of joy. Here are a few pointers:
- It’s been said that God is not a Republican or a Democrat. In a sinful world no party platform can capture the breadth of the good news. So, regardless of our personal excitement for a Republican, (New) Democrat, or Green platform, it’s important to avoid endorsing candidates and parties from the pulpit. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life offers excellent resources on this topic for the 2008 U.S. election (pewforum.org).
- Integrating justice in worship and preaching is delicate. Just as people in our pews have different gifts, they have different ideas about the connections of faith and justice. This demands sensitivity. Shane Claiborne puts it this way: “The church is a place where we can grapple with difficult questions with grace and humility. And I believe that, even more important than thinking identically on every issue, we must learn to disagree well” (Jesus for President, p. 234).
- Remember and rejoice that Christ came to make possible what seems impossible! This gives us courage and joy for the journey of justice and peace.
- Sing it out! Songs from the global church often center on justice issues. Sharing in these expressions of justice and worship can help us learn the struggles and joys of our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. The CRC’s Sing a New Creation! songbook is a great place to start. The Iona Community and others also have great resources on justice and worship.
- Relationships: We can know facts about justice, but we understand issues much more deeply by being in relationship with those who are victims of injustice. Bill, a long-time resident of a local men’s hostel, has taught me more about poverty than anything I’ve ever read. Knowing names and faces, struggles and joys, makes passion for justice much less abstract: it’s about loving people—and that’s a rich perspective for Good news storytelling in worship.
For the Journey of Justice
Check out these sites for helpful ideas and blogs as you seek justice in the fracas.CRC Ministries: www.crcna.org/ccg, www.crcjustice.org, www.seatosea.org, www.justiceseekers.ning.comPartners: www.kairoscanada.org, www.evangelicalfellowship.ca, www.bread.org, www.micahchallenge.org and micahchallenge.caReally interesting folks: www.jesusforpresident.org, www.sojo.net, www.wecansolveit.org
- What do you appreciate about political debates? What drives you crazy?
- On what criteria do you base your vote?
- Discuss the “broader truth” that Mike Hogeterp says should guide our political decisions.
- Where do you find hope amid the complexity of the world’s needs and the constant give and take in the political arena?
- What do you see as God’s dream for the world?
- How can you contribute to this dream on a personal level? On the level of your citizenship? In your church?