The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger published a portrait of Christian politician Marc Jost.
This article appeared on Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger1 on 11 July 2015.
“If we simply push religion into the private sphere and don’t allow it to be a matter for discussion, it’s dangerous.” This is why Marc Jost (41) makes no secret of his faith: on the contrary, the former pastor is active in politics as a lobbyist for God, since 1 June as President of the Grand Council of Bern, with its 160 representatives. He already stood twice as candidate for a seat in the government of Bern, in 2011 for the Council of States. In the autumn he aims to enter the National Council, as the top candidate of the EVP2. Jost is something like the foster-son of the former parliamentarian Heiner Studer; for four years he was the latter’s assistant, researched and worked on policy briefs for him. “That was a decisive factor for me in entering politics.”
Though, in Jost’s case, the E stands more for ‘evangelical’ than for ‘Evangelical’ meaning ‘Protestant’3. Although he also belongs to the Landeskirche4, his biography has a strong free church bias. Having grown up in Spiez, from an early age he was involved in the Evangelische Gemeinschaftswerk5, which he later served as a pastor in Thun. The ex-primary school teacher did not study theology in a state university faculty but at the theological seminary of the free church Chrischona. “I looked for a place where, alongside my studies, I could combine living out my faith within the community of students.”
Together with his wife and four children, Jost now belongs to “BewegungPlus”6 in Thun, a classic free church with a wide range of activities on offer, including for young people. Here he finds what he feels is sometimes lacking in the Landeskirche: lively worship services, a strong commitment and ‘a clear profession of Jesus Christ as Lord and friend.’ Unlike the average evangelical, however, Jost does not claim a conversion experience. In his life, without interruption, his personal relationship with Jesus has always been on his CV and motivated him to do his work. His main job now is Co-General Secretary of the Schweizerische Evangelische Allianz SEA7, in charge of social issues.
With the umbrella alliance of free churches and regional churches as well as Christian organisations, he shares positions on moral and political issues. Recently, in the ‘Arena’, on the topic of ‘Marriage for all’ he defended the privileging of traditional marriage, saying that, arguing from the child, you have to be against the right to adopt. According to Jost, as a man, you cannot replace the mummy. “Why move away from the ideal of children experiencing parents in sexual complementarity?” That is why, he added, we have to treat homosexual partnerships differently. Jost would like to broaden the current solution of a registered partnership to include those who live in communities.
Jost said that he has contact as a friend and pastor with many homosexuals . According to Jost, some are content with their lives; those who are suffering because of their sexual orientation – they have to be helped. He said that this was common amongst evangelicals. “I know men who used to have homosexual feelings, who today say that they are happy in a heterosexual relationship”, says Jost and adds, “I know that this is not politically correct.”
Jost also advocates a ban on assisted suicide, with the usual arguments: “To legalise this would mean stepping on to the slippery slope and slipping into the rôle of God, making our own decisions on life and death.” Because he sees life as a gift of God, he rejects the laws permitting abortion and campaigns for the protection of life. On 19 September he is giving a sermon at the “March for Life”8. He said that the initiator, Daniel Regli, had responded to the concern of the Alliance to behave in a less provocative manner.
Nonetheless, Jost does not see himself in the category of marginalised fundamentalist; those who know him do not do this either, he says – on the contrary, many are curious to find out more about his work. With his Council colleagues, there is often a good exchange of views, going as far as conversations involving spiritual counselling. “Conservative in values, but open-minded towards others” is how Jost describes himself, as a politician of the centre: “The EDU9 would never have been my party.” The theologian does not belong to those contemporaries who practise their religion but for whom only the inner experience of faith counts. Since his fourth year of university studies, which he spent in civil war-torn Colombia, he has devoted himself to issues related to global justice. “Church is only church if it is there for others” - this maxim of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is also his.
Until he took on the presidency of the Grand Council, Jost was director of the association of Christian aid agencies ‘Interaction’ and today heads it up as President of the Board. Through the aid projects of the 26 alliance agencies, Jost has gained an insight into the world of asylum. In December he visited Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. “When you see that appalling misery, you simply cannot comprehend the placard-like asylum policy of the national SVP10,” he declares indignantly. And he is all the more delighted that within the alliance there are already 450 individuals who are prepared to support and accommodate asylum seekers. Currently he is involved in a project in the Canton of Bern which operates a home for immigrants from the Arab world.
After all, as Jost says, the Christian God promises to help all people, including Muslims. Unlike the EDU and SVP, he voted against the Minaret Initiative (an initiative against the construction of mosque minarets) out of respect for religious freedom. For him, this is consistent with the SEA’s promotion each year during Ramadan of the initiative ‘30 days of prayer for the Islamic world’ and with praying for the conversion of Muslims to Christ. “If I take to heart the commission of Jesus to the church, I have to appeal to the whole of God’s creation and all people. Our wish for all people is for them to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.”
At the same time, Jost tries to avoid using the word associated with manipulation and coercion – ‘mission’. He prefers to speak of a loving exchange of ideas, within which transformation can happen. “What I believe and live out is not unimportant,” he says. Unfortunately, however, he adds, political correctness nowadays prohibits assessing and evaluating differences in the concept of God.
Translator’s notes :
1 Name of a Swiss daily newspaper
2 EVP – Evangelische Volkspartei der Schweiz (Evangelical People’s Party of Switzerland)
3 ‘Evangelisch’ has both meanings in German
4 Regional state Protestant Church
5 Evangelical Fellowship Organisation - an independent renewal movement within the Evangelisch-reformierte Landeskirche (Evangelical Reformed Church)
6 ‘Movement Plus’ – an evangelical free church denomination
7 Schweizerische Evangelische Allianz, SEA
8 Marsch fürs Läbe
9 Eidgenössisch-Demokratische Union – Federal Democratic Union, a Swiss political party of the Christian right
10 Schweizerische Volkspartei – Swiss People’s Party – right-wing political party