Thoughts : Progressive Christianity (Politics) : Easter Morning Protests

Protesting at an Easter Day 2002 'Free the Refugees' rally at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, Australia

This Easter morning, I spent my time with hundreds of other activists outside the Villawood Refugee Prison/Detention Centre. This was my first time ever demonstrating against the government. We were all here to protest “Australia’s barbaric anti-refugee policy.”

It was indeed an eye-opening experience. In Singapore, such demonstrations aren’t allowed and are illegal and thus I had never participated in any. Therefore, I was really looking forward to this morning.

When marching to the prison from the train station, I managed to talk to 2 other Christians. It was a delight to know that there were other Christians who, like me, were spending their Easter morning demonstrating on the streets rather than celebrating in Church. I knew this wasn’t a normal thing to do for Christians. Not only was it not usual for a Christian to spend Easter morning doing such a thing, but in the first place, finding a Christian who is politically active and involved in demonstrating against the government is such a rare thing already!

But I felt it my duty as a Christian to do what I did. Although one should obey one’s authorities as much as possible, God doesn’t want us to obey the authorities when they are sinning. We only obey our authorities as far as our conscience allows us to. To obey our authorities when they are wrong is to partake in their sin. But many people are afraid of going against the system when it is wrong because they are more concerned about the praise of man, than that of God. It takes guts to go against our authorities, but it is imperative to do so when our authorities are in the business of oppression. To not be involved in civil disobedience in such cases is simply to fail in our calling as Christians.

Here’s what Tim Costello, President of Baptist Union of Australia, has to say about the Christian and politics. In a section of an article under the heading of “Civil disobedience: Questioning the system”, he writes:

I must admit that growing up in an evangelical church, I often struggled to understand why I was being exhorted to be law abiding and a good citizen when the one we followed was executed by the state. Indeed, it was a mystery to me how Jesus could be crucified and we, his followers, seemed so tame, uncontroversial and apolitical. Upon theological study, I was to discover that religion and politics were impossibly interwoven in the time of Jesus. The Messiah was not just a longed for religious figure but a political liberator. The law of Moses was not about religious doctrine but the criminal and civil code for Israel. For Jesus to say “Moses said unto you, but I say….” was to question whether the legal system served justice, people and ultimately reflected God’s concerns. The temple was not just a place of prayer but the stock exchange for the whole Judean economy. Overturning the tables was reminding us that economics also must serve the people and God. The religious leaders in Israel were also the judges and leading politicians, so disputes with them were intensely political and, indeed, subversive. The Gospel Jesus preached was that God’s society is near and breaking in. This provided a transcendent political opposition to the political establishment, whether Jewish or Roman.

He writes in another section (under the heading “Constructive engagement”) of his article:

It is my view that the task for the church in Australia is to constructively engage political powers in shaping public policy, influencing outcomes that protect the poor and to advance prosperity, multicultural equality and tolerance. At times, the Anabaptist history of being prophets standing outside parliament and shaking our fists is vitally necessary. However, the more complex and, perhaps, more important task is to allow a Christian vision of God’s society to persuade policy shapers and the policy implementors. To do so is to be about binding together religious and cultural symbols that advance the well-being of the nation state. Symbols of a fair go, mateship and common cause between bush and city need to be retrieved. This is both deeply religious and political in a biblical way that does not simply accommodate itself to the dominant political vision and status quo. Neither does it reject politics as evil, sinful or something to be eschewed and separated from.

I talked to the 2 Christians a while and they told me they were happy and proud to be on the streets rather than in Church this Easter Sunday morning. We also talked a while about a Christian’s role in the world and the need to live out one’s faith holistically – which includes the political realm.

Iin an article in (the normally conservative publication) The Briefing entitled Putting your faith into politics Jim Crosweller writes:

Believers know that God isn’t a private matter. We feel we ought to be able to introduce him into any topic. But the truth is, evangelicals haven’t had much practice at speaking about him in the midst of society’s debates for about a century now.

We speak ably on creation, sin, and salvation. We are comfortable with the word of God. Unfortunately, society rarely obliges by making such matters front-page news. Immigration, reconciliation, gambling-this is the sort of thing society talks about.

At the end of the article, he says:

We speak because the church lives within society, and we live within society as society’s only hope.

As part of the Church, we need to speak. And we need to do so because we are in society and we are the hope of society. Our calling as Christians is also to transform society. May we understand more clearly this calling of ours.

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