Presidents, Prime Ministers and Messiahs

Creative commons license: Picture: AFP

With Tuesday’s US Presidential Election having been conducted, we have an opportunity to reflect on the rhetoric and hubris of the politics of the 21st century. Keep in mind that I am a political science major, I am passionate about political theory, and I love investigating the cross section of religion and politics. I like politics. I just think it needs to be placed into perspective. Lets consider some recent political rhetoric.

Obama’s campaign slogan in 2008: “Change we can believe in.” Perhaps. If by change he meant committing to place his nation further into crippling debt then, yes. Change. Perhaps not the kind “we can believe in.” Depends upon where you stand, I suppose.

Rudd’s 2007 campaign: “Kevin 07.” John Howard was the bogey man, and after the election, some second class rapper wrote a song along the lines of “The King is dead.” I think that gives Howard far more credit than he deserves. Rudd also; Rudd did not slay a King. He won what now amounts to a glorified popularity contest.

Fast forward to Romney 2012. In the third presidential, Romney says that America is the great hope of mankind, or something to that effect. His reasoning was along the lines of: because America is the last, best hope for mankind, you should vote for me because I’ll keep it that way.

Rewind 2500 years, and Plato dreams of the perfect ruler: the Philosopher King. It seems that Plato deemed himself to be the last best hope of mankind.

These sentiments are astray, to say the least. As Christians we should be actively involved in the political process at various points, depending on our capacities. We should be working for godly change in society, godly influence on governance, and we should seek to see Jesus honoured in the public square. To that extent we should hope to see certain things occur in the political realm. But what actually occurs in our societies is that we place our soteriological and eschatological hope in a sinful politician. We look to be saved and finally delivered by a person who is at the bottom of it, mired in the filth of their sin. Barack Obama is as lost as we are.

Many conservatives were gunning for a Romney victory on Tuesday. Local Christian social commentator Bill Muehlenberg has written a helpful post on the wash up from the election, and it includes these wise sentiments: “[Even] if Romney had gotten in, it would not have been the beginning of the new heavens and the new earth. It would in many ways have been business as usual. A Romney administration would not and could not usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Very true.

Jesus is the only person we should place our ultimate hope in. Regardless of political affiliation, we should recognise that he is King. Jesus Kingship over this world should be our starting point and finishing point for thinking about politics. Our hope is not found in Barack Obama, it is not found in Kevin Rudd, nor in Mitt Romney. It cannot be found in any politician, no matter how charismatic or brilliant. Jesus is the last and only hope for mankind, both for this life and the next.

5 thoughts on “Presidents, Prime Ministers and Messiahs”

  1. Hi Simon… Thanks for your post. I have to be honest though that it takes a lot faith and trust in God’s sovereignty to be at peace with the state of our nation’s political parties. To see how they behave and treat one another with complete disrespect in parliament, is a disgrace and show no leadership what-so-ever. It comes across as people trying to gain and hold onto power rather then doing what all prominent and effective leaders should do… serve others.

    I like how you turn our focus to Jesus. He alone has the the power to save and set our hearts and minds at rest. Although we should do all we can to be godly influences in this world, we can rest in the fact that in Gods time Jesus will come again and set things right. What a joyous time that will be for those who have trusted their lives to him… What a frightening time that will be for those who have chosen to seek their own desires and reject the salvation that Jesus offers to everyone.

  2. Yo Simon!

    Just wondering, when you write, “Jesus Kingship over this world should be our starting point and finishing point for thinking about politics, ” would you apply this to other religions or ideologies as well? Say, if Christians should seek first and foremost Jesus’ Kingship in politics, should Muslims also be granted this ‘right’ to seek Allah’s kingship over politics, or any other ideology?

    I thought that, perhaps, we should be seeking the freedom of conscience (etc) and equality of political participation among citizens first and foremost? Do you see any clash of principles here?

    Yours sincerely,
    Adam

    President of the Tolerance Brigade
    1300 GREY-AGENDA

    1. President Adam, you have posed an excellent question, and one that I have spent some time pondering. As a matter of fact, my research into Abraham Kuyper’s political thought covers that very topic quite thoroughly, so I’d be happy to forward you a copy of that paper if you’d like.

      In an ultimate sense, the principle of Jesus’ kingship must be applied to other religions and ideologies as well. Christians have no choice but to apply it in that way, or we are being half-hearted in our political theology. However, there is more nuance to my position.

      I also think that e.g. Muslims should be granted the freedom of conscience and equality of participation to seek their own agenda in politics. This is the reality of a pluralistic society – there are competing comprehensive claims, which are not finally compatible. Add to this that there is no such thing as neutrality, and it becomes inevitable that comprehensive claims are unavoidable in the public square. I would argue in light of this that there should be no state coercion, as such, into any sort of confessional or philosphical uniformity in politics. People should be free to argue from their own standpoint as robustly as they please, and people should be free to listen or not listen to what they say (contra the Rawlsian liberal’s conception of “limited public reason”). Likewise, people should be free to agree or disagree. I would hope that others would allow me that privilege, and therefore I hope Christians would give others the same, regardless of differences. The “Do unto others . . .” principle can be applied here, I suppose. As Kuyper says regarding participation in the public square, “equal rights for all, regardless of their situation or religion.”

  3. Thanks Simon for your reply.

    I don’t think I have any disagreement with the points you make. I am not familiar with Rawls’ principle of limited public reason, so I cannot comment. However, from what the title implies, I would imagine that a limited public reason makes sense insofar as what is considered ‘reasonable’ by the public is limited and, therefore, limits the types of language or reason that may be constructively employed in the public square. E.g. Is there a place for words like ‘infidels’ in public debate? I assume that whatever principle maximises political freedoms is what concerns me most.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading your paper. I’m sure I’ll have more to ask when I finish reading that.

    Thanks,
    Adam

    1. I’m no expert on Rawls either, but your sense of limited public reason is the same as mine. The language of ‘infidels’ would likely be struck down in a Rawlsian schema, but I think a proper Christian response to such language is to accept its use, ie. to be charitable towards difference, without necessarily expecting agreement on all issues.

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