Monday, July 28, 2008

Can Christians Be Politicians?

We thrashed out a number of election strategies for the ACDP over the weekend, with a teamwork and strategy workshop for the KZN provincial executive councils (PEC's). It was a productive weekend where we highlighted a wide set of areas we can work on in the party, including more affirmation of those who are doing a good but unseen job, and more in-depth discussion on emotionally sensitive topics.

One very interesting view was the apparent clash of Christian values and political strategy. For instance, should we be blowing our own trumpet? The Bible seems fairly clear in suggesting that "the right hand should not know what the left is doing", but if you work hard behind the scenes, will people vote for you? When we were manning an ACDP stall at Pietermaritzburg's Royal Show, we had people coming and saying: where have you been all these years? What!? We've been working hard, running our administration, planning for the elections, etc, etc. But it hasn't been visible.

In the same way, we've had to admit that if you want to get into the media, you have to be controversial. You have to grab the headlines with outrageous statements and actions that grab people's attention. It seems like a nice, well-rounded media release that makes perfect sense is not good enough - you have to exaggerate, use strong words and be "larger than life".

This has led to the suggestion that we should be leaving our Christian principles in church and walk a different talk in the political realm. I beg to differ.

The political arena is notorious: it attracts powermongers and thieves and it quite rightly aggravates the public. Not only that, but the worldwide voting audience are instinctively critical, and no administration passes unscathed beneath the vengeful eyes of a public who will remember your one failure more than your ten successes. This forces political parties to take a short term view and to make promises that will win an election rather than preserve long-term good. Frankly, the word "politician" has quite rightly earned the personal application of a cattle branding iron across one's forehead.

I believe that Christian values are exactly what are needed to transform politics. Honesty means telling the public what they need to hear and not what pleases them. Personal responsibility means acknowledging failure instead of pouring out weak excuses that further discredit yourself among the discerners. Fear of God is what keeps you on the straight and narrow when nobody is watching. To suggest that we shed aspects of good Christianity along the way is what will rob us from being the very solution that our country needs.

Having said that, politics does give us the opportunity to re-evaluate church practices. For instance, to say that prayer is the answer for everything might be seen as a Christian principle, but the Bible imparts personal responsibility for action in addition to prayer (see the book of James). Perhaps if we look more closely at the Bible, we'll find that all the qualities needed to win an election are well prescribed. Perhaps we just need to work harder, improve our strategies, stop blaming our failures on our Christianity and do exactly what the Bible recommends: step out in faith ... and prayer helps too!

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