Our American cousins are insane. This isn’t news, we’ve known that since they threw off the pleasant yoke of our tyrannical monarchs and forged out on their own with the bizarre notion of forming a nation around an idea.
It’ll never catch on.
I suspect they feel much the same way about us.
We are, as the cliché runs, divided by a common language.
So what? Our casual national xenophobia means we roll our eyes at their crassness and hope that one day they will grow up, but how does that affect the church?
It can’t have escaped your notice that the American church exerts a big influence here in the UK. They have a lot more money than we do, which is partly scale but its also because their cultural Christianity is still strong. Church-going is much more normalised than it would be here.
This means we absorb some of their church culture, though we adopt much of it in uniquely British ways, but it also means we know what’s going on over there. We’ve heard of their leaders even when we haven’t heard of leaders in other parts of the British church. It’s a similar phenomenon to the way we hear about American politics until we’re sick to the teeth. They’re better at theatre. They know how to put on a show. Their scandals are entertaining.
May we be indicted for our interest.
It can’t have escaped your notice then that they do politics very differently to us. They endorse candidates from the pulpit, fly national flags in their churches and speak in messianic terms about presidents and supreme court justices, or at least enough of them do that we see it. It’s exactly what Revelation warns us about, but we all keep falling for it. All of that is abhorrent, though unsurprising when you think about their history. For me, the jury is still out on whether the country has worked, we’ll see in another few centuries, I guess.
That’s all easy though. Shooting fish in a north Atlantic barrel. What about us? If our American cousins are too tightly wedded to politics, where are our political sins?
I think our problem is the complete opposite. In an effort to never be seen talking politics we give our churches the impression that the Bible has nothing to say.
It’s fair to assert that the Bible won’t tell you how to vote, as I’ve been told many times. But, the Bible will show you the path of wisdom to deciding which of the options in front of you will earn your support. I have never heard anyone in church tell me this. I have never (in church) told anyone this. We don’t equip our people with this wisdom because we shy away from the topics.
There are good national reasons for this. We remain wedded to the idea of a secret ballot. It is none of anyone’s business how I voted. Most people are not registered members of a political party, and politics is still not something you discuss in polite company. These are all being eroded by our slow Americanisation and the influence of social media, but they are still present for now as cultural winds.
We do our people a disservice if we make them think that the Bible doesn’t have a politics. It creates and describes a polis, a city, that will descend from the clouds; so of course it has a politics, a way of living in that city. And, of course that politics has an influence on how we live now.
Political theology is a complex subject, and there are different approaches to applying these principles, but we should teach them.
I think we are right to not endorse candidates or parties, but I think our fear to address issues is a terrible weakness. The Bible speaks to all of our lives, not just the ostensibly ‘spiritual’. I’ve never heard preaching that touches on a political issue of any sort or draws out an application point that would say ‘our society should be structured like this’.
We will have to do more of this as identity politics of all stripes take a firmer hold, but the fact we haven’t got a track record of addressing issues will make it look like we’re attacking people who don’t fit. Our congregations will struggle to see it as anything other than taking sides in a culture war the longer we take to speak.
If I’m honest, I don’t know how to speak to political issues in my preaching. I don’t have any models to call on that would make any sense in our context either. I wouldn’t know how to begin.
But begin, we must.