I can recall a time in my teens when people respected politicians,at least those of their own party. True, there were some unpopular ones, but on the whole the populace trusted their leaders. But nowadays there seems to be declining trust in political leadership and lack of respect. This is probably due to the media, which exposes defects once hidden.But there can be and certainly are honest politicians. In this article I set out Christian ideals for politicians of whatever rank.
The Christian View of Political Leadership
To exercise political authority is a worthy task, but you need to be properly prepared.
The establishment of the people of Israel at Sinai was a landmark in human history:a community set aside by God under a covenant for following his law. A great ideal! And at first it had no kings. It was a tribal confederacy known to scholars as the Amphictyonomy. It was only under pressure from Philistine attacks that the prophet Samuel agreed to anoint a king, and he did so reluctantly, anointing Saul. But Samuel was adamant that kings were subject to God's law and soon swapped his allegiance to David, and thus we came to the ideal of the Davidic kingship, a ruler who was under God and subject to his law. This principle was affirmed when the prophet Nathan berated David for leading Uriah the Hittite to his death to take his wife, and David accepted the criticism. For the Hebrews the king was the shepherd of Israel, the one who leads his people to well being, but God was the true ruler. Despite Israel's failings, the ideal that it represents stands for all time.
Yet it was not only Israel where a just ruler was sought. The ancient Greeks had had their share of bad rulers, men who seized power and were called tyrannnoi [tyrants] as opposed to true kings who ruled by right, who were called basileoi. In 380 BC the philosopher Plato reflected on the ideal society and concluded that there should be three classes of people: artisans, lower level guardians, such as police and soldiers, and higher level guardians, whose leader would be a philosopher king, the greatest philosopher, one who had through reflection and contemplation attained knowledge of the form of the good, the principle at the basis of all moral knowledge. Only one such as he was truly befitted to rule. It is fair to say that Plato was advanced in thinking that a few women might have the talent to join the higher ranks of guardians.
Jesus told the apostles in Mark 10:42, "Among the Gentiles their rulers lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt.Among you this is not to happen. The greatest among you must be be your servant." This means that the ruler should not use their power to get rich or acquire possessions or sexual favours, but should only take what is theirs by right and he/ she should be focused on the well-being of their people. Following the example of Christ means that the leader should make sacrifices for their people,and for this reason not only wisdom but courage is needed.
Greek thinking has combined with biblical thought to contribute to Christian thinking. Those who aspire to rule in whatever office must be as wise as they can and accept that they serve the people under God. Wisdom combined with service to the whole people rather than to merely a section of it is the Christian ideal for political leaders.
Leadership and the Moral Life
December 2019 and I am not happy, for the UK general election has not gone the way that I wanted it to. So what's new about that? But I and many others are deeply concerned about the moral quality of the election winner, Boris Johnson. He has a reputation as a liar, having once been fired from a journalism job for lying.His political career has been permeated with accusations that he is unconcerned about truth and can lie on the spur of the moment and do so without any apparent compunction. Moreover, he has driven his three wives into divorce with his persistent adultery, and his mistresses fair little better. He won't even tell us how many children he has. We know about the ones with his wives, but we are unsure of how many with his mistresses. A man who will so hurt his womenfolk will have no scruple about hurting or discarding any of his people. Many Britons believe that he is morally unfit for public office. Everything that I have said is in the public domain already, having been repeated often in the press and on-line..
Jesus says, "By their fruits you shall know them. Can anyone produce grapes from thorns and figs from thistles." [Matthew 7:16.] A Christian view of the man discussed above would begin with a realistic recognition that we are all sinners, but also a realization that there is so much seriously wrong with the man that he is likely to produce harm to the people that he leads, for the harm will flow from his inner darkness.
So a key requirement of a Christian leader is avoid lies, especially lies about other people, which constitute the grave sin of calumny.Conduct yourself according to the commandments. This will lead to a Biblically based leadership.
Christians who aspire to public office should pay close attention to their inner life. This involves trying to conduct their lives according to the gospel. To do this necessitates examining one's conscience on a daily basis,practising self-criticism and having a strong prayer life. Prayer is absolutely necessary , for it is the power house that drives the Christian life.without prayer the Christian spirit withers and the energy to live in a Christian way is lost.All leadership involves courage, which is difficult at any time, and prayer empowers courage.
But there is more than morality, for a true Christian must be humble enough to realize the limits of his/her knowledge and skill. We never know enough, so one who aspires to Christian leadership must take time to learn more and more. Being prepared to absorb new ideas is vital, especially when they challenge one' own preconceptions
Serving the Whole People
I currently despair over the state of politics in my own Brexit-torn country. And it is not just Brexit that is the problem. It is the conditions in which so many people live that concerns me.We have people sleeping rough on the streets as the government has not produced affordable homes. Why? Because the governing Conservatives are the party of capitalists, including landlords, who are waxing rich on excessive rents.In the Britain of my childhood there was little hunger, but now we have the poor queuing at food banks to beg for sustenance. Why? The minimum wage is too low, rents are too high and the benefits system makes life difficult for claimants.Justice is lacking.
"......This is what Yahweh asks of you, that you act justly, that you love tenderly and walk humbly before your God." [Micah 6:8] Micah, like his fierce contemporary Amos, who railed at the injustices of Israel, focused on the sacred heart of Judaism and Christianity, the need to create a society of justice living under God. So all Christian politicians must be committed to justice as a goal and a means of progress. Along with justice comes peace. No Christian politician should take war lightly or strive to make profit for themselves or their country from foreign conflicts. "Blessed are the peacemakers"said Jesus [Matthew chapter 5.]
Favouring the rich is unjust. Currently in the UK billionaires, including foreign ones, buy access to senior politicians by donating to Conservative Party funds. There they can lobby for policies that suit their interests. The ordinary people do not get this access. This kind of injustice should have no part to play in the life of a Christian politician. Society should be for everyone,not just the rich and powerful.A Christian political leader should ensure that male and female,upper and working class, all races should have equal rights.The Christian leader should respect the divine gift of liberty to all and not ensure that all citizens are free and have their rights respected.
Catholic social teaching believes that there should be a balance between the individual and the state, so it is essentially moderate centrist, allowing for moderate left and right, but eshewing extremes. Neither extreme liberty or equality are just.Moreover, the appalling growth of nationalism in my country is scaring immigrants away. That also is an injustice.Love your country,yes, but not to the exclusion of other races and nations.
My political career peaked in 1992, when I came third in the general election in Stretford constituency. I sometimes miss not getting into parliament, but that is water under the bridge now, I am too old to stand again for election, though legally I could. I realize that all Christian politicians serve under the true ruler, Christ, who alone has the virtue and the wisdom to rule. Christians believe that Christ will come again. Until that kairos [ appointed time] we do his work and live in hope.
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