The Political Imperative
"Justice is everything." That phrase has been sticking in my mind.
Justice is everything when it comes to being a Christian and living a life of faith. What kind of faith can we talk about having if we do not have a concern for justice? James says (2:18,19,26) "But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith... For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.... faith apart from works is barren.... For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead"
Paul, especially in his Letters to the Galatians and the Romans very strongly argued that we are not made right with God ("saved") by doing the right thing or by keeping the law. Salvation, he said was a gift. We are given our salvation: saved by faith through grace (gift). But James was having to point out that real faith entailed a response.
And I am saying this too. Faith apart from works is barren.
I am also saying that faith apart from compassion is barren. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus told people to go and learn the meaning of the word compassion. He used the phrase God said " I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Keeping the law and making sacrifices in the temple was the "right thing" a good Jew of Jesus time did to keep the law. Compassion is the modern word for mercy. It means to walk in the shoes of someone, or to feel how a situation feels to them. God desires mercy or compassion, not rigid keeping of the law. He was alluding to the words of the Old Testament Prophet Hosea who says as God's word, "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."
Our society has a notion of belief that means we can give intellectual assent to something but not act on it. It is reputed that the tight rope walker Blondin showed a sceptic he could walk the cable slung across Niagara falls. The bloke said "I believe you now!" and so Blondin asked him to cross over with him. He carried people on his back an in wheelbarrows. Apocryphal story or not, this is the meaning of "belief" in true Christianity. A belief that acts out and lives out what it affirms.
What do we affirm as a Faith? What is our heritage? It is justice and peace and mercy. The Old Testament prophets were damming of those who kept religious observance and yet did not live out justice. Jesus was damming of those who kept religious observance hard heartedly and had no compassion.
To live the Faith is to have concern for justice for all people, "the strangers and widows and orphans" the old testament called the oppressed and nobodies of the time. It is to have compassion... to feel with. Not that law disappears but that law is interpreted through compassion. One should look to see what is the right thing to do from the point of view of compassion. The Christian Faith is against keeping a set of rules and then deciding if we can also be gentle or compassionate.
Inevitably this means to be involved in the politics of the land. The fundamentalist right in the United States and even Australia (e.g. Fred Nile) have been so politically active that there can surely be still no serious claim from conservative Christians that Christians should stay out of politics. But outlining the argument in any case: To really live compassionately and justly one cannot avoid politics. Compassion involves not walking past the starving person. How can it not also involve petitioning government for more money for poor people? Is not merely saying and believing that the poor should be assisted the "just believing" condemned by Jesus and the prophets? Is it not the "work of faith" to do something about helping the poor person? And to talk to the politician.... to seek the upgrade of footpaths for those in wheel chairs in our town.... to question the need for yet more poker machines.... to vent our disapproval of the EFTPOS machine at the door of the pub. All this is politics.
It is said in the Bible that The Son Of Man will condemn those who did not help him when he was poor and naked and in prison. And they said, Lord when did we ignore you? He said, "When you ignored the least of my brothers and sisters." Not to be political at least to some level, is to ignore them. Perhaps our politics will be simply to speak up in church, or not to laugh at a racist joke, or to talk to our local councillor. Some of us though, have the means to be involved in much more. It is our calling as Christians.
Posted December 2001