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Nurturing Justice for Christianity?

Monday, 10 October 2011  | Bruce Wearne

We have been discussing the need for Christians to get beyond denominational self-interest to find meaningful political expressions to their faith. We've examined the problematic for the Fijian Christian community and the brute idolatrous fact that the military dictatorship of Commodore Bainimarama has elevated itself against Fiji's True King, God's elected Prince of Princes. It is Jesus, Christians are privileged to confess, who is coming to establish His Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. With all our neighbours, we live as the bearers of His image. Despite continual compromise and our total failure to live in obedience to His rule, we are still called to give cogent expression to this Image in how we serve our neighbours with justice. Among all the many things we are called to do in this life, it is a privilege to give political expression to the patience and mercy of the Lord in our lives as citizens.

I fully grant that the sceptic, not least the Christian sceptic, could justifiably complain that Nurturing Justice, like many efforts to promote a Christian political option around the world, spends far too much of its time arguing its case by reference to what a Christian political option isn't! We don't have to look far for examples of this. Take the case of the chilling mass murder in Norway perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik this last July. He is quoted as having said: "Myself and many like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural social identity and moral platform. That makes us Christian."

So what do we say in Christian political terms to this fraudulent piety? How can we respond by exposing the inner fallacy basic to this self-identification? These words have a chilling resonance in the midst of the global debate about multi-culturalism. Do we appeal to "our personal relationship with Jesus" to put some distance between ourselves and this person who says he is a "fellow traveller" with Christianity? There are many "fellow travellers" perhaps but what nominal Christian you know would take up one-man terrorism?

How are we to respond without adopting some or other reactionary posture? How do we avoid getting entangled in complex threads of public contention that wind their way through this cold and calculating disbelief? It's not so hard to counter Breivik's views by simply recalling what Jesus said about following him. But how do we effectively confront the problematic that is raised by this devilish pious fraud? I suggest that Breivik is a latter-day nihilist - Friedrich Nietzsche castigated Christianity as the pious fraud par excellence, but Breivik's nihilism is based "in Christianity as a cultural social identity and moral platform."

Clearly the Christian political response to such an attempt to co-opt "Christianity" does not make much sense if it is merely an argument, an apologia for the "good guys". And in that sense we would have to grasp the nettle and say openly that a Christian political option is not a matter of following "Christianity". So how is Nurturing Justice seeking to nurture justice for how Christianity is understood? My short answer is to refer to Archbishop William Temple's well-known statement that the Christian church exists for those who are not yet its members. But to fill that out as an appropriate response, it would be wise to reflect historically, not only upon what we mean by "Christianity" but how it is that Breivik's practical nihilism can presume to associate itself with the life lived by those who have "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God". Such historical reflection is very important. It is not only for ourselves as Christians, but also for our neighbours who may not identify themselves as such. It is also from such historical reflection that we need desperately to derive insight in order to confront the nihilism identified here.

Let me "fill out my answer" by getting close to the bone and posing a question about Nurturing Justice: "What question of base-level spiritual significance has Nurturing Justice sought to answer?" This question is put over against all the "questions" and "answers" Nurturing Justice has formulated as a political broadsheet. The aim is to encourage readers to ask political questions in order to find public justice answers. That is a short-hand description of how NJ tries to promote a Christian political option. But there is also a prior question, a question about these questions and answers. Maybe it is better to speak of it as a challenge lying behind, or at the basis of the framework in which Nurturing Justice is developed. The philosophical framework of political-question-and-public-justice-answer arises from, or is an attempted answer to the question "What is a Christian political option?" But what sense could that question have if it is evaluated separately from Jesus' prior invitation to be His disciple, to take up the cross and follow Him?

That is what a Christian political option must "be all about" as it seeks to affirm in word and deed the possibilities for Christian political engagement. The "how" question of Christian political engagement has to be asked as part of a prior answer to the question of whether and how it is possible to live a Christian life!

We will not get very far in promoting a Christian political option if we are not deepening our understanding about the historical circumstances in which we are now called to live out our faith. Why does a Christian political option not gain traction? Has it got something to do with the historic failure of Christians to understand the times in which we live? I guess so.

At this time many Christians around the world, just like ourselves, are trying to stare down the cultural dilemma that faces us as we try to give a good account of the faith we hold. There is continual agitation in this country and elsewhere from Christians who suggest that political life is effectively unjust if a Christian "world-view" isn't paramount in Government. I can imagine that many might even read this broadsheet and imagine that nurturing justice for Christianity is the base-line of any Christian political option. I trust that by now readers will appreciate that Nurturing Justice does not support Christian political engagement in such terms.

The Enlightenment's enthroning of reason and scientific investigation as the rule for life in this world has seemingly run its course through European and western societies. It is also well on the way to arriving at its post-modern and ultra-consumerist apotheosis in the frontiers of the "west", now that the East and the "rest" are included in the global market-place. The earlier humanistic attempts to accommodate biblical religion in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries came unstuck and has given way to an in-principle rejection of biblical religion as merely an outworn theory that had staying power in earlier, pre-scientific times as long as the churches ruled the roost. And meanwhile, ancient and modern ecclesiastical attempts to accommodate Greek philosophy with biblical religion continues on. Where it is not showing signs of persistent decline there are ambiguous efforts to reassert ancient "Christian civility", or accommodate East spirituality, or the latest po-mo fad. It is in this same context that the fears of many westerners about asylum seekers, migration, and multiculturalism, coincides with the ferment in Muslim lands. It is in this historical context that Breivik divined his nihilistic "Christian" mission!

The Christian way of life (Christianity) has been accommodated to pagan ways of thinking as a religious adjunct of "grace" to a Graeco-Roman-Renaissance-Enlightened "nature". It is embraced by humanism as one form of a religious tendency which is evaluated as a very powerful and subtle human invention, or accretion, aiding human evolution from its earliest origins. Many assume that because religion predates the technological and industrial revolutions it will persist because religions are not arguments but ways of life, generation to generation habits of the heart.

So Christians intent on political service are still confronted with the question: What is this biblical religion in its own terms? This question is actually inseparable from another question: Is there anything to Christianity at all? Can it be set forth in its own terms?

If we are to live our political lives as Christian citizens it will not only be in the face of that challenge but also to confront the barrage of crucial and stunning developments, that have continued to unfold themselves globally since, say, 1914 right up until the present day. There are spiritual earthquakes which continue to rock life on this planet. Clearly, the question of Christianity cannot be answered by an arrogant assertion that Christian civil religion will do (Near enough is good enough! She'll be right!). That kind of politics ignores Jesus' own word about the service His followers are commanded to provide. A commitment to Christian civil religion is a too easy evasion of the challenge of Jesus Christ: "Follow me!" "If you love me, keep my commandments." It is this that Christian politics has to address and from the heart, what the prophets of old called the new heart that God's own servant would bequeath to those who followed Him. If we believe that Christianity can indeed be lived in its own terms, then the question for us will be how to respect the distinctive God-given integrity of the political task in order to love our neighbour with justice. _______________________________________________________________

Nurturing Justice is written by Bruce Wearne, Point Lonsdale, to encourage a sustained Christian political contribution by seeking justice in the gentle and merciful rule of Jesus Christ, the ruler over all of the earth's political regimes.

September 2011 © The contents of this article are copyright. Editions may be photocopied or retransmitted in their entirety but not otherwise reprinted or transmitted without permission. "Nurturing Justice" is a project to encourage Christian political reflection based upon wise and loving civic participation. Comments are welcome and should be sent to

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