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A Question of Allegiance: discerning God’s voice in the election season

Sunday, 15 May 2022  | Cameron McAdam




Two weeks ago, our church ran an election forum for the marginal seat of Dunkley in Victoria. Six of the nine candidates were present. This is the third forum we’ve held over recent Federal elections.

Our church is engaged in politics and, although people might make assumptions about our political leanings, the church includes people with diverse political views. We regularly sing a song that includes the lyrics, The strong and the scared come from left and right, we’re not so different seen in this light’. Our vision is to encourage questions and wondering, but also integrity in Christian faith and life – that we live what we believe.

Prior to the forum, drawing on an article by Peter Gunders (ABC News, 18th April 2022), I suggested some reasons as to why we might involve ourselves in the politics of the day. Gunders quoted Christian leaders saying things like,

...if religion is about faith, and faith is about every aspect of life, then politics is how we shape our society. It's all about life...

Not just my self-interest, or my personal cost benefit equation; the Christian person who takes their faith seriously should be oriented towards the common good.

And so, we organised a forum with diverse questions to candidates, not to get everyone to think the same, but so that we could engage in community and consider how best to shape society so that it is life-giving for everyone.

As we had done previously, we set clear rules at the outset of the forum – we spoke about respect and being an expression of the kind of politics we want to see across our nation. Most importantly, we spoke about this being a place of peace and prayer, and that we had an expectation that this would be respected.

However, unlike other forums, this one was packed. People came, they wanted to be heard and there was a particular group of people who were angry. Whilst mostly well-behaved, this group at times called out, and they heckled one candidate in particular. As the facilitator, I was required to settle them down and remind them to be respectful and of the importance of listening even when we don’t agree.

After the forum I purposefully engaged in conversations with some of these people. I listened very intentionally as they expressed their anger at our political system. It was very apparent that they felt controlled by that system and constrained by the limitations of our forum; the reality is that we just couldn’t provide room for every question.

Whilst confronting for those of us church people who were present – our rules in previous years had led to very civilised political conversation - I went home feeling good that as a church we experienced the reality of what is happening in our community. It was good for the church to be in this space, welcoming, encouraging, but most of all listening. The church cannot be cocooned away in its safe religious ideology, spaces and buildings; it must be in the mire of the marketplace. Faith must be tangible, felt, lived, engaged in the world.

Our faith must influence our politics. The challenge we all face as followers of Jesus is to allow our faith to shape and influence our politics and vote, but never the other way around. Politics should always be spoken of in the context of faith, for the gospel itself is political. Those who claim faith in Christ follow a faith that calls us to acts of justice and mercy:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
    and to walk humbly with your God?”
(Micah 6:8)

In John 10 we read of Jesus finding himself, not in the marketplace on this occasion, but in the very heart of his own Jewish faith: the Temple. He’s challenged by a group who gather around him to declare that he is the Messiah. For Jesus, the words are not important; it is his actions, the ‘works’ he does in his Father’s name, that testify to his identity. Others can call him Messiah if that’s what they desire.

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly”.

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one”.

Here, Jesus draws on the image of sheep and shepherd, of those who listen and know his voice and follow. In the Easter season the mainline church often reads sheep and shepherding stories. Indeed, the fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Shepherds conjure pastoral imagery, which in green temperate climates is understandable, but in the harshness of biblical times the imagery might more appropriately be conflict and pain.

We all know of the shepherd King, David, from the Hebrew scriptures. Lesser known might be the visions of the prophet Ezekiel where he calls out the political leaders of his day, the shepherds, for neglecting their flock:

“Woe, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat; you clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatted calves, but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak; you have not healed the sick; you have not bound up the injured; you have not brought back the strays; you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd. (Ezekiel 34: 2-5)

Ezekiel goes on to speak of a shepherd leader, a messiah who would rule in justice and peace. As biblical scholar Bill Loader suggests, ‘Shepherding was a big metaphor which could encompass the vision of the reign of God with the full range of political, social, and personal dimensions which that entails’ (see Easter 4: 8 May John 10:22-30). This is way more than what we might term ‘pastoral’ – that God will comfort and look after us. To invoke the image of shepherd is to challenge one’s allegiance.

As Jesus confronts his dissenters, we can well imagine why John includes these verses, writing late in the first century when Jewish Christian communities (the early church) confronted dissent and division. John and his contemporaries would have understood this conflict Jesus experienced. They would have felt it, given it was their experience too. There’s a power struggle for the leadership of God’s flock. Sheep are being gathered from other folds as the gates open to Gentiles. Who is the shepherd?

As voices swirl around us in this election season calling for our allegiance, claiming the path to life, which voice is it we hear? In this Easter season, who is the one that will lead us and all people to life? Who is the one that offers eternal life, who is one with the Father? Where does our allegiance lie? Most importantly, how do we discern his voice and follow him in the midst of so much noise and distraction?

As we live through another election campaign, as well as world events that include war, climate crisis and displacement; as we find our way as individuals in our education, workplaces, retirement and ageing; as we seek justice and reconciliation for our community; and as we rebuild our lives post COVID lockdowns and upheaval and seek to rebuild our church communities, we are challenged to witness to the resurrection in our lives. We are called to express allegiance for the one we call Lord, and to live into and point to the mission and way of God in our world.

Our hearts and minds are to be on all God’s children, God’s creation and cosmos, rather than on our benefit or need. We are to seek the betterment of the whole, the common good, the way of God.

It is good to hear the hurt and anger of those around us. It should shake us from our complacency and help us realise there is work to do. The church has a purpose and calling. We need to be looking for the needs in our community, the hurting and broken places. These are the places where we are called to share life, for we are the people of resurrection.

 

Cameron McAdam is Minister at The Village Church in Mt Eliza, Victoria. His church community and teenage children help him wrestle with faith and politics and how we can leave our world a better place.

Images: Images of courtesy of candidates’ forum and climate change banner courtesy of The Village Church.


Comments

Peter Dixon
May 15, 2022, 9:46PM
I find Psalm 72 very compelling also.

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