The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Whether the election results swing left or right, the church will always steer its own course. And she will not be afraid to be critical of the government where the gospel would require. A manifesto by theologians Janneke Stegeman and Alain Verheij.
Concerned with how some politicians have been using the Christian tradition as a stick to chase migrants away from Europe during the Dutch elections, two theologians recently drafted a manifesto now signed by many other theologians, church leaders, publishers, broadcasters and prominent believers.
Janneke Stegeman, ‘theologian of the fatherland’, and Alain Verheij, self-styled ‘theologian of twitterland’, noted the flirtatious behaviour of politicians towards Christian culture. While appreciating the renewed interest in politics in ‘our beautiful tradition’, they wanted to clarify some points to these politicians before they could see how much common ground they shared.
Freely translated, their manifesto (which inspired parts of last week’s ww) reads:
1. Bosom pals we will never be (fortunately).
A church is not a political party, a political party is not a church. That’s why we have the separation of church and state. When those two sit on each other’s laps, you get a political or religious dictatorship, where neither God nor the people, but only those in positions of power, are well served.
Whether the election results swing left or right, the church will always steer its own course. And she will not be afraid to be critical of the government where the gospel would require. In the Bible, the best prophets lived far away from the palace for everyone’s sake.
2. God’s kingdom is not from here.
Christians are not to follow politicians like sheep. Their kingdom is not from here; their king is not of this earth. You may call it ‘otherworldly’, head-in-the-clouds, super-spiritual or even dangerous to the state (because Jesus had no message to Caesar).
We see it a little differently.
We will always use our hands and words to create a better version of the land on which we stand.
We will always work towards this promised kingdom on earth in the country where we live.
We will always seek connection with our neighbours.
And yet the fact remains that it is impossible to mobilise Christian culture as a political force.
Our kingdom is an outrageous utopia – too radical for the compromise of your coalitions, too embracing for your borders, too demanding for responsible policy makers.
3. ‘Christian’ is an invitation, not a rejection.
Anyone may belong to the Christian culture: Jew, Gentile, woman, man, slave, king.
So said the apostle Paul, one of our founders.
This Christian Jew with a Roman passport wrote that in Greek.
You don’t become a Christian by race or birth or because of your history; but rather by the gracious adoption of a loving heavenly father.
This invitational character is deeply rooted in the Christian culture.
Everywhere the term ‘Christian’ is used, it needs to sound a welcome.
Excluding whole groups while calling yourself a Christian is not an option within our tradition.
Even if that person is regarded as a competitor or as a threat.
‘Love your enemy’ is a rule of thumb that we have wonderfully (sometimes painfully) learned from our Lord himself.
4. Christian culture is compassion.
Jesus explains who may be called ‘Christian’ through the story of the sheep and the goats.
The sheep (Christians) are at Jesus’ right hand because they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give a home to the foreigner, give clothes to the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison.
This, more than all creeds, all the church buildings or church history, this is the foundation of all Christian culture: compassion.
Love God above all things and treat one another as you want to be treated – this is the heart of the Law and the Prophets, and so the heart of the Christian tradition.
5. Christian morality is virtually impossible to translate into a political programme.
Those wanting to apply the Sermon on the Mount or other words of Jesus to a political programme will sooner or later start tearing their hair out.
Revenge is subordinated to turning the other cheek!
Forgiveness needs to be repeated ad infinitum!
To those demanding something from you, you should not refuse but rather give double!
No politician can convert this into policy!
Realistically, Christian morality is an open invitation for violent opportunists to exploit a defenseless culture.
Century after century, followers of Jesus have said, ‘You can’t be serious!’
But he was indeed serious enough to put it into practice, to hand himself over to be mocked, spat upon, tortured and crucified. Political flirts should also reckon with the example of the ‘first’ Christian, Jesus Christ.
6. Finally, we as Christians refuse to be used for this empty campaign rhetoric.
We refuse to be the symbolic stick by which others are being chased away.
The heart of Christianity has compassion beyond borders, is far above local political affairs, and should be ‘a blessing to all peoples’.