Article by Rev. Peter J. Blackburn, published in full in the Brisbane Courier-Mail on June 15, 1978, titled "Let's hear it from... The OTHER Concerned Christians" (Emphasis and Captions of the CM editor)
"Churchmen who make statements or take actions which have political implicatons should anticipate correction and even outright opposition," wrote the Rev. Dr. Noel Preston (C.-M., May 18, 1978).
That is also true of churchmen who try to gather and express some of the basic concerns of other concerned Christians who personally adhere to a variety of party-political persuasions.
The Christian message centres on the Kingdom of God. But Jesus was not crucified for civil disobedience. Judge Pilate declared him innocent of any crime. He put the inscription, "King of the Jews," on the cross out of spite for the Jewish religious leaders.
Both St. Paul and St. Peter in their letters speak of respect for and obedience to the State authorities of their day. This by no means implies that they condoned the evils of those times. Tradition holds that both apostles died at the hands of the cruel Emperor Nero.
This, in part, is why some have said that the Church should keep out of politics.
On the other hand, we would have a much-reduced Old Testament if the prophets hadn't spoken out against the political leaders of that time.
A good deal of our problem today arises because we have a system of government related to political parties which express a variety of ideological options. We accept this system as preferable to dictatorship (benevolent or otherwise). We accept that all of us should exercise our rights and responsibilities at the ballot-box.
The difficulty is that, since all of us must periodically exercise this elective right, we come to assume that some form or other of the political State must be the ultimate good for this world.
I disagree. The Kingdom of God cannot be identified with any particular social, economic or political system. There is no form of society against which to some extent the Gospel of the Kingdom does not stand in judgment or within which it must not speak with redeeming power. This same gospel affirms that every earthly kingdom will finally fall before the rule of Christ at the end of time.
To be more specific, I believe that it is not possible to identify either capitalism or socialism as being more truly Christian, though I do know folk on either side of that political fence who seem to think so. Of course, at the ballot-box I must make my choice of what seems to be best at a given time.
In many ways any social, economic or political system would work quite fairly and well, given people of Christian principle. Likewise, any system has the potential to be unfair and oppressive. The problems don't just lie with the politicians, but with all of us.
Materialistic values motivate so much of our life. They are the reason equally why some want "free enterprise" retained at all cost and why others have pressed for a socialist utopia. It is striking to me that my fellow-Christian, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, having exposed cruel repression within his native Russia, is now speaking against the decadence of the West.
The investor wants a fair return and the worker a fair wage. The definition of "fair" depends on your point of view. Because we talk of fairness, we kid ourselves that it is the other bloke who's responsible for inflation. Meanwhile, the people who suffer the real injustices within our social system miss out every time.
The Book of Proverbs in the Bible constantly reminds us that we are guilty if we fail to act when someone else is being unjustly treated. It is this sense of responsibility in the act of caring for people that has led individual Christians and wider Church groups to campaign actively against particular social evils.
At the end of the eighteenth century, John Wesley penned his last letter to William Wilberforce: "Go on, in the name of God and the power of His might, till, even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it". Wilberforce was motivated, as were a number of other social reformers, by his Christian faith.
In our system of party-political ideologies, we face the danger of thinking that political activism will bring in the Kingdom of God. But it cannot and will not! In fact, it may sometimes be a hindrance by confusing within the Church and in the public mind the real issues of Christian faith and discipleship.
Here, for example, I take issue with expressed attitudes and actions of some with regard to the street-march issue.
In October last, the Uniting Church Synod passed its most publicised (and misquoted) resolution on this issue. The motivation and intention seemed to most of us in that assembly to be concern at two groups "shouting" at one another. Politically, some people may be ratbags. Yet as a Christian, I must treat each with the dignity of a fellow-human being, a person for whom Christ died and for whom God has a plan.
One section of that resolution was used by elements whose aim was solely political. The second condemned "the policies of persons and groups seeking to increase the polarisation of our community". The third requested "the Heads of Churches to attempt to mediate between the Government of Queensland and the Human Rights movement to achieve more constructive ways of expressing their differences."
Little or no publicity was given to the helpful meeting of a delegation with the Deputy Commissioner of Police soon after the Synod. Media publicity, however, has seemed to give the impression that some Christians, including some within this Church, are not setting a lead in seeking "more constructive ways" of expressing their dissent.
Try as I will, I have been unable to trace down the origin of this new concept of "the right to march". I know of no such basic human right. Given the mobility and density of modern transport systems, any street-marching must now be seen as a privilege rather than a right.
It has, of course, been used as a weapon of the extreme Left, and, on occasion, of the extreme Right. But where it has led to calculated revolution; such street-marching has been completely banned except when organised and sanctioned by the State.
Quite a number of Christians have spoken to me with concern that the name "Christian" is associated with this kind of protest. That individual Christians are actively involved as members of a variety of political parties we are well aware.
For individual Christians to express preference for the moment towards one political system over another is to be expected, given the premises stated earlier. However, to identify that involvement or preference as "Christian" (in a way that implies that others aren't) is, I believe, both false and dangerous. It does nothing but confuse the Christian message within the cacophony of political wrangling.
This is why I believe it is most unwise when Christian Ministers are seen to be publicly espousing the causes of particular political parties.
True, we're citizens like everyone else and should be expected to have some viewpoint consistent with our Christian conviction. Yet by our special role we can never cease to be representatives of the Gospel, and those who want us to hand out their "how-to-vote" cards are really wanting us to add a little "divine" authority to their cause, whether they are believers or not.
© Peter J Blackburn, June 1978