Jarrod McKenna’s Wednesday’s with Gandhi:
“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics understand neither.” -Mohandas K. Gandhi
“God will judge you for what you did today!!!”
If phone text messages could yell, I think this one I received might have been screaming. It was clear, not just from this sentence but the whole message (which I will not repeat) that this brother or sister (Identity withheld under the “I’m not being a fantastic witness” protection program) wanted to ‘open up a can of correction’ on me. What provoked this responce? The day of the last election we had in Australia I sent the following message to friends on my mobile phone:
“G’day, was think that while many don’t care about today, maybe if we live today for “the least of these”, the poor and the marginalised, today could be an act of worship. Grace and peace, Jarrod.”
While it sparked some amazing conversations with people who aren’t Christians, it really upset this one Christian. Another friend message back:
“So I guess you’re voting for [insert party]? :)”
“Who’s talking about voting for a party? I’m just talking about daily following Jesus. :)”
Political options in Australia: Howard, Rudd or… Jesus?
Both major parties in Australia are kissing more than babies in the hope of votes. In an interesting twist it looks like political parties are “finding religion”, in the faith that this move will find them votes. As the political master minds are plotting how to capture the Christian imagination to win their vote at the next election, I wonder what would happen if the church had it’s imagination captured by the politics of a suffering servant that saves not through tickling ears, the way of the sword, scapegoating others or by enforcing what is ‘right’ on others. Rather who saves through the suffering love of a crucified God. I wonder what would happen if we would let the Holy Spirit empowered the church to live the politics of the kingdom of heaven instead of in our own power seeking to be ‘a force for influence’ in running the violent kingdoms of this world?I’m not talking about retreating into a holy huddles and letting the world go to hell. While Ammon Hennacy words ring in my ears, “When choosing the lesser between two evils people often forget they still chose evil”, I must admit I’m a “lapsed-Christian-anarchist” and I do vote. But I don’t think voting is my primary form of ‘political engagement’.
My political engagement happens daily living as church in community, by housing those without a home, hanging out and making food for local kids without a meal, welcoming refugees to live in our home, visiting people in prison, growing food in the garden, getting to work on my skateboard and bus, teaching the practicalities of nonviolence. And other ways God lets our lives be a megaphone of amazing grace despite the fact we’re cracked vessels (or crackpots!)
We are to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. So what are we to be of? We are to be of the way of Jesus. The way of the kingdom of God. The politics of grace. The politics of generosity. The politics a new age where it’s not the rich but the poor who are blessed. The politics of the ministry of reconciliation. The politics of the weightier matters of law. The politics of the trust of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The politics of forgiveness. The politics of peacemaking. The politics of hungering and thirsting for the healing justice of God. The politics of sharing so ‘no one is in need’. The politics of being a colony of heaven. The politics of seeking first God’s Reign (or kingdom) in all things. For the early church, you could look at their life and see their politics, see who they were ‘voting for’ as their authority. Thier words and lives spoke a different politics to the violent ruler Cesar being Lord (maybe the closest thing we have today is Prime Minister) but the crucified and risen Jesus. Maybe the early Christians today wouldn’t say “Jesus is Lord”. Maybe they’d say, “The nonviolent Jesus of the Scriptures is Prime Minister. Come and join us in community where we can daily vote for him with our lives!”
- For the early Christians politics wasn’t a personal decision alone in a polling both. It was a communal practice with your sisters and brothers as you together lived as church. The community of God’s grace-filled alternative to the ways of greed, lust, oppression, violence, fear and exploitation.
And while many want to say Amen to the above the question comes ‘how’ do we do that. Politics classically isn’t about just who’s in ’government’ but how, (or the way) groups interact, organize and make decisions. (I think this is important to remember not just to keep democracy healthy but to keep church healthy! ) For the early Christians the only way you witnessed to Jesus being the Way is by living the Way (or ‘politics’) of Jesus. By seeking the Spirit’s empowerment to live a Christ-like life, AS A COMMUNITY. To live lives that speak of God’s great clean up of creation that God has started uniquely in Jesus.
This is where I think Gandhi can be the greatest assistance to Christians today. In showing us that being obedient to Jesus is not only faithful, it’s effective in bringing real and lasting transformation. For those that think our only options is retreating into holly huddles or alternatively those who seek to put in power a Christian version of the Ayatollah to kneecap everyone so that “every knee bows” (Calvin and others have tried it), Gandhi shows us, as Martin Luther King puts it, “Jesus gave us the means, Gandhi showed it was possible.”
Gandhi freed a nation from the biggest superpower of his day without a militia, without weapons, without running for parliament or holding a political position. How? By the sheer force of his character that had become obedient to Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. The politics of love are practical. Oddly enough I think Gandhi as a Hindu had a better understanding of the Christian paradigm for political engagement than most Christians seem to! The Christian paradigm is found at Calvary while trusting in resurrection power. For it’s impossible to take up our cross and take up the ways of coercion at the same time.
Oh… for those who are interested I agree with the person who sent me the text, God will “judge [me] for what [I’ve] done”. And after reaching out and trying to hear where they’re coming from and offering to meet with them, pray with them and study the bible with them I told them I agreed:
“I too think God will judge me. And in Matthews gospel, chapter 25 the criteria seems pretty clear, how we respond to those with little or no voice, “the least of these”.