Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Faith and Politics in a Fallen World

Jun 26, 2010

Plenty of people have become quite cynical about politics in general and the Labor Party in particular after a small cabal of political assassins deposed one Prime Minister and installed another. This coup d’etat was as ruthless as it was efficient, and it has left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many.

And Christians are especially upset, with the result that many will once again write off political involvement altogether, claiming it is all too grubby, too worldly, too dishonest, and too much of the devil. Many believers have already been quite suspicious of politics, and this seems to further justify their concerns.

Much ink had already been spilt on the activity of the past few days. So I will not spend too much time on the actual events that led up to this incredible regime change. But let me mention a few aspects before looking at the broader issue of Christians and political involvement.

As to the dumping of Rudd and his replacement by Gillard, this is sadly part of political life, although it seems that the Labor party has in many ways perfected this art of political assassination. And the manner in which the new regime seeks to justify all this is quite amazing.

How much have we heard in the last few days the new leaders telling us how great Rudd was, what a hero he had been, and how we all owe him such a debt of gratitude. Yet these same people are insisting that the government was losing its way, that a change of direction was necessary, and that Rudd had to go. Of course you cannot have it both ways.

If Rudd was so great, why was such a drastic change needed? And of course Gillard and Swan were fully committed to all the policies they now are condemning Rudd for. The hypocrisy is alarming. So too is the treachery and disloyalty. All the current crop of leaders were just days ago pledging their undying loyalty to Kevin Rudd.

A few other commentators are worth calling upon here. One major concern is how a few powerful unions and party hacks can determine the leadership of a nation. As John Izzard writes, “Kevin Rudd’s fall, which could be best described as ‘the night of the long stiletto’, seems to have begun in that arcane world of the loyalty-lite Labor party faction system and powerful union bosses. It was their first ever attempt at queen-making. Subservient Labor members duly fell into line and, hey presto, we have a new Prime Minister.

“Not the one that millions of voting Australians chose, but the one picked by Bill Shorten and David Feeney from Victoria, Don Farrell from South Australia and Mark Arbib from New South Wales. Don’t you just love democracy? But at least the media was on the job with various descriptions ranging from ‘Labor’s shadow men stuck knife into Rudd’ to ‘Hit squad behind Deputy’s push’.”

He continues, “The whole business, as described by Tony Abbott, was the old midnight knock on the door. It was also, like her namesake’s, Julius Caesar’s exit , a nasty, bloody business. Ministers and Labor members singing the praises and vowing the loyality to Kevin Rudd one minute, wiping the blood onto their togas the next. No matter how much a person disliked his manner and his policies, as a Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd deserved better. He deserved respect.

“With John Howard, at least his colleagues stood by him to the end  – even though the polls, and their instincts, told them of an impending loss. John Howard never had a et tu Brutus moment. Julia Gillard is, without doubt, Kevin Rudd’s Brutus.”

And Paul Kelly notes the real reasons for the regime change: “The coup that installed Julia Gillard was driven neither by policy nor ideology; it is about image, party management and election survival, and constitutes a new method of Labor rule. Gillard’s vision for Australia is little different from that of Kevin Rudd. But Labor’s spinning wheels will work to conceal such embarrassing truth. Indeed, Gillard endorsed every significant decision made by Rudd during his brief period in office.”

He states further, “This reveals a party governed not by ideas but powerful interests that span networks of factional, trade union, family and special interest group connections that thrive on the patronage, finances and appointments that only incumbency can deliver.

“It raises a fundamental issue: is this method and structure of Labor self-aggrandisement consistent with Australia’s national interest? Put another way, is the power structure that king-made Gillard also the power structure that works for Australia’s policy needs in today’s globalised world?”

Faith and Politics

But what about faith and politics? I have written many times elsewhere about the biblical mandate for believers to be involved in the political system, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that in a fallen world, everything is tainted. That is certainly true of politics.

In many ways politics is a grubby game, based on compromise, and seeking to stay ahead at any cost. Of course it need not be this way, but many politicians put self-preservation ahead of principle. So can a Christian enter the dirty world of politics and remain unscathed?

I think they can, and I think they should. One thinks of someone like Fred Nile in NSW who for decades now has sought to be salt and light in a very dark and corrupt environment. He has been able to maintain his Christian principles, and not compromise on either character or policy.

If anything, the events of the past few days show the importance of having committed, strong and biblically-based Christians in all spheres of life, not least of which, the political sphere. That politics is corrupt and filled with megalomaniacs and those thirsting after power should come as no surprise.

In a fallen world, all the institutions which God ordained have been greatly marred. But government is an institution which God has established, and instead of letting it go to the dogs (or the devil) we should seek to be salt and light in this area as well.

Every aspect of life should be brought under the Lordship of Christ. We believers have a huge responsibility to seek to faithfully represent Christ in all realms of life, including the political realm. It will not be easy. Indeed, it will be a terribly hard slog.

The temptation to compromise on principle, to sell oneself to the highest bidder, to put power ahead of that which is right, will be a constant risk we all face, especially those in the political arena. Now more than ever we need Christian men and women of integrity, of character, of conviction, of honesty, and of courage to stand up and be counted in the halls of power, and in every other area where the light of Christ needs to shine.

So I urge all believers not to throw up their hands and fall for the enemy’s lie that politics is irredeemable and beyond the pale. For too long evangelical Christians especially have taken a hands-off approach to politics, believing it is the devil’s work.

In many ways we have allowed the political sphere to be fundamentally tarnished simply by pulling out and refusing to be engaged. We have lost many political battles by default, because we have disengaged from all our social and political obligations.

So instead of seeing this latest example of political ugliness as a good reason to steer clear of politics altogether, why not let it serve as a challenge that good men and women of faith are sorely needed to reclaim this institution for Christ and his glory?

That does not mean we will bring the Kingdom of God to earth through politics alone. The Kingdom will never arrive fully until the King returns. But we can take seriously our biblical responsibility to be salt and light in a very needy and a very broken world. This is true of the political arena as much as any.

At the very least, remember our calling as Christian citizens to pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2). At such a time as this we dare not withdraw from the world, but engage it with the love, wisdom and purity of Christ. It will ever be a difficult and thankless task, but one which we are nonetheless called to perform.

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28 Responses to Faith and Politics in a Fallen World

  • I don’t have a problem at all with what happened. In fact, I think it has demonstrated one of the advantages of the Australian system.
    The people elected a party, not a person. When the party became aware that the people were not happy with the person leading, they dumped the leader and installed another. They realize they have to face the people at an election soon. The whole process was quick and painless (at least for the running of the government). And it reflects the mood of the people reasonably well.
    However, with a presidential style system as in the US and many other countries, the leader cannot be disposed of that way by his party. So, even if he performs terribly and does some gross things he is not able to be touched. The only way to try to remove him is by impeachment, which is a long, drawn out, divisive, disruptive and paralyzing process. How many times do you see this sort of a process begun in countries that have a presidential system.
    I think our system is better. One day and the change is made and the government gets on with the job and is judged by the people in a few months’ time.
    Tasman Walker

  • PS: With John Howard, I think if the Liberals thought they had an alternative leader who could give them a better chance of wining then they would have switched.
    Tasman Walker

  • Hi Bill,

    This is as good a time as any for me to ask about one THE most difficult of Bible passages – Romans Ch 13: 1-7. That’s the text concerning submitting to government authorities as he suggest that there is none that exist that has not been established by God. I appreciate that he goes on to say that rulers hold no terror that do what is right. I won’t write out the text here. I can understand when it was written that no one would want to upset the Roman governors.

    But where does one draw the line with let’s say Russia in the 1920’s and 1930’s? I could also ask where was God when Lenin, Stalin and so on executed and rid the country of its entire religious population and making just the practice and the teaching of Christianity illegal to their children, riding the country of it’s priests and so on. I will use this as the only example as we can write a whole list of terrible despotic governments over the years. But Communism has been really barbaric when it comes to religion. This is one text I feel like throwing back at St. Paul’s face.

    Carl Strehlow

  • Thanks Carl

    You ask some vital questions, and for what it is worth, I am right in the middle of an article on “God and the Nations” in which I address some of these concerns. So stay tuned for that one. I also address these issues elsewhere, for example, here:

    In that article I also mention that there will be times when a government cannot be obeyed, and I link to an article on civil disobedience which I have written. So you can check out those articles in the meantime.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Carl, you might also have a look at that passage in Romans (and the similar one in 1 Peter), to ask yourself “To what range of tasks does the Scripture limit those governing authorities?”

    I would suggest that law and order, civil and military defence are about it. The Scriptural mandate certainly doesn’t go as far as defining or re-defining truth, error, good or evil.

    If you have a think about government activities about 120 years ago, compared to what they have come to embrace now, you might be very surprised.

    John Angelico

  • Thanks Carl and John

    The article I mentioned that I was working on is now posted:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill, Do you believe that a Christian Theocracy would be the best political system for Australia given that you disapprove of the current parliamentary system?
    Nathan Brown, ACT, Australia

  • Thanks Nathan

    There is no such thing as a Christian Theocracy, and where exactly do I say I “disapprove of the current parliamentary system”?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, that question was put forward under my own interpretation of the article and perhaps a wrongful assertion. To rephrase, what changes would you like to see in Australia’s political system, if any?

    And when I say “Christian Theocracy,” I mean a theocratic political system loosely based around a Christian Monarchy. Of course, what exactly entails “Christianity” is open to debate; I’m merely suggesting a possible form of Religious Government or State in general terms.
    Nathan Brown, ACT

  • Thanks Nathan

    As I already stated in this article and others, in a fallen world we will have no perfect form of government. The best we can hope for is one in which there is a sound system of checks and balances, and power is limited as much as possible. Christians of course should get involved in government like other spheres of life, and seek to have some godly influence. But unlike Islam, Christianity affirms a proper separation between church and state, as Jesus pointed to in Matt. 22:21.

    As to changes, this piece was more or less focused on the recent coup, so obvious immediate changes would include a means to limit the influence of powerful unions and political heavyweights who can in effect determine who our nation’s leader is, instead of the will of the people. Thus I am not talking about a major change to the form of government so much as dealing with the many corruptions and abuses of it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    Under the Westminster system of government which we have in Australia, the leader is chosen by and serves with the confidence of the majority party, not the direct vote of the people. The process that destroyed Rudd, and which Abbott has criticised, is exactly the same process that Abbott used to take over from Turnbull, and by which Turnbull took over from Nelson. If the Liberals had been smarter, Howard would have been challenged while in office, and the 2007 election outcome may well have been very different.

    Rudd may have been undermined by factional politics, but that was only possible because he had lost the confidence of the electorate, and no longer had majority support within his own party. The fact that Rudd’s Cabinet colleagues publicly supported him to the death is hardly surprising. That’s what Cabinet solidarity is all about.

    So I find it odd that anyone would get upset that Rudd was forced out. He had become a liability to the party since he seemed to lose his way after the defeat of the ETS, and public support for him was in a downslide.

    I can only surmise that those who are expressing outrage now are those who were hoping for for Abbott to win the next election, and now see that prospect as less likely.

    As for Gillard, the people of Australia will judge her on her performance as Prime Minister, not on her lack of religion, children, a penis or a marriage certificate.

    Marion Hunter, Brisbane

  • Hi John Angelico,

    I have a reasonable knowledge of history and will have to soon do some research on the good books to read on all the bad governments like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, fascist Spain and Italy, Mao’s China, South Africa, Pol Pot. The list goes on. Even what lay behind the French Revolution.

    I am also bemused on what Castro’s Cuba and I want to know who this Che Guevara was and why people today like wearing his image in t-shirts.

    So when you write “If you have a think about government activities about 120 years ago, compared to what they have come to embrace now, you might be very surprised.” I find that fascinating as I would like to know more behind what you wrote.

    Carl Strehlow

  • Thanks Marion

    Most Australians are rightly disgusted by the way a few unions and party apparatchiks can determine the nation’s leadership. The fact that you find nothing wrong with this simply tells us a lot about yourself and your particular prejudices.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Tasman,
    Regardless of what has happened in the past few days politically, what we have in Labour Leadership now are leaders (Gillard, Swan) who formed part of the ‘inner core’ of the Rudd Government, which is spectacularly losing its popularity in this country. You can’t tell me these leaders weren’t instrumental in creating and supporting policy development which has obviously not been widely supported by the Australian public. (eg mining tax, insulation scheme, CTES, Immigration, BER etc) The change of leadership is a last-minute attempt to create a ‘new image’ for Labour, and has the added advantage of being executed by a female, the whole debacle being milked for all it is worth (first female PM blah blah). Gillard behaviour is hypocritical and nothing short of bitchy. It was all summed up by her first snarling comments to Tony Abbot as PM – “Game On”. Even if I did respect her in the past, I certainly don’t now.
    Jane Petridge

  • Bill,

    You quote Paul Kelly, “This reveals a party governed not by ideas but powerful interests that span networks of factional, trade union, family and special interest group connections that thrive on the patronage, finances and appointments that only incumbency can deliver.”

    I would say more than that, we are witnessing a body committed to a worldview, whose aim is humanistic socialism. Kevin Rudd became dispensable in order to move toward that goal.

    Appreciate the articles.
    Greg Cadman

  • Thanks Greg

    Yes you are quite right. Ultimately this is a worldview battle, in which the secular humanists are working overtime to eradicate any Judeo-Christian presence from this land. And they are making great progress, mainly because so much of the church is asleep at the wheel.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • With due respect to Marion Hunter, I seem to recall the last federal election was replete with pictures of Kevin beaming down from many lamp-posts, and I personally saw many Kevin 07 t-shirts both prior to and on election day.
    So I think most people who voted for Kevin that day though they were voting for Kevin Nov 07 – Nov 10.
    Stephen White

  • Carl, you would find in broad-brush terms that prior to the twentieth century, governments were much less interventionist than now.

    First, they did not have anything to do with health or welfare, and only to a very limited extent with education. There is about one-third to half of the total of government expenditures across the nation, and in fact around the Western world.

    Next there is all the intervention in human rights and equal opportunity areas.

    Thirdly, there is the vastly expanded economic management area – so significant that it is accepted as a defining characteristic of “good” government these days. Previously, the biggest headache was “bi-metallism” 🙂 in currency. Now, along with the Reserve Bank and currency management, there is tax and superannuation policy, trade and industry policy, regional development, government business enterprises – it’s huge.

    Fourth, international aid, although in money terms it isn’t obvious because big lumps of it are hidden in trade treaty kinds of links.

    Fifth, employment law, unions and wage fixing/arbitration.

    Sixth, population policy.

    And I haven’t even got to local government!

    🙂 or 🙁 really.

    John Angelico

  • Dear Bill

    Thank you for your commentary on the political upheaval. One of the wits on talk-back radio commented, “New dummy, same old smell!”
    The late Dr Glenn Martin encouraged Christians to join political parties. He suggested that by considering their platform statements one could chose the party they could best align with. He claimed that the one thing politicians hate more than an election is pre-selection. By attending party meetings we can not only influence politicians but we can help ensure that a better quality of candidate is put forward. I encourage other Christians to take up his challenge and to help make a difference to our nation.

    Eric Frith

  • Thanks Bill, as always a great article.
    You write, “Now more than ever we need Christian men and women of integrity, of character, of conviction, of honesty, and of courage to stand up in be counted in the halls of power, and in every other area where the light of Christ needs to shine.”
    In a previous article you reminded us that Julia Gillard is a long time member of Emily’s List, a radical pro-abortion political group. This organization encourages and raises campaign funds for women from the socialist left who support abortion to enter politics. They helped Julia, Jenny, Tanya and Penny to where they are today. I know of no Christian organization that actively encourages Christians with strong biblical world views to enter mainstream politics. Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.
    Des Morris

  • Thanks Des

    Yes you are quite right. I am not aware of such a group in Australia either. However there is one in the US. The Susan B. Anthony List was set up to counter EMILY’s List, and help pro-life women advance in politics:

    Just as Australians copied the American EMILY’s List, so we need to copy the American SBA List.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • After the 2004 election Kim Beazley became leader of Federal Labor party only to have Kevin Rudd building a profile by making all their announcements.This was followed by his challenge for leadership and the American style election propaganda of “Kevin 07” where people were conned into believing that he was a political conservative.The way Rudd, Swan, Gillard and crew turned a massive surplus into an unbelievable deficit and still claim to have saved the country from the GFC, how could you trust any of them again.
    Keiran Klemm

  • Well said Bill, thanks for continuing to bring these things to light amongst the Christian body, and I pray they go further than words and thoughts in the Body into full scale action. I have heard Fred Nile refer to sitting on the opposite side all alone when a vote is made, and those opposite telling him he’s all alone, he then replied, there’s plenty of angels on this side humourously. I often wonder just how much of a witness that had to of been to those opposite, to see a man who clearly and unashamably represents Christ, the Bible and Christianity. Their conscience had to have been pricked. But I’ve also often wondered where all the Christians are in the political game. For Bob Brown the leader of the Greens Party he is unashamed about his policies and his homosexuality, yet we cant seem to find more Fred Nile’s who are ‘not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ’. It’s time for things to change, its time for leaders to engage their flock with teaching regarding how to vote, rather than being frightened that they might have a leftist tither in their midst and risk losing them. I for one will tell the people the Lord has given me the oversight of to vote for the party that is the seeks to uphold the greatest weight of Biblical morality for the Nation, State and Local area, for that is what the Bible teaches us. Imagine if all Christians did that, and many also took a stand for a career in politics.
    Dorian Ballard

  • You are absolutely right Dorian. And one day Fred Nile will receive his well-earned reward, while many other Christians, including so many who have criticised him, will only be able to hang their heads in shame.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    You state that “Christianity affirms a proper separation between church and state, as Jesus pointed to in Matt. 22:21” which says “… render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” I hardly think that this implies separation of church and state. And you (and I) obviously do not want the church (members) to be separate form the state (political system), hence I am confused as to why you seem to hold 2 seemingly contradictory ideas.

    Graeme Cumming

  • Thanks Graeme

    You misunderstanding rests on a confusion of two separate issues. The separation of church and state is altogether different from the separation of faith and politics. As to the latter, everyone has faith, everyone has a religion, and everyone has a worldview, so it is impossible to keep faith out of politics. Everyone involved in politics has one sort of faith or another. Thus religion cannot be kept out of the political realm, and anyone familiar with my writings knows that I have repeatedly urged believers to take their Christian responsibilities seriously, and be involved in all levels of politics, government and the like.

    The former has to do with the fact that God has created various spheres of authority. Family is one, the church is another, and the state is another. These are separate spheres, but obviously overlap in many areas. Each sphere has its one jurisdiction, its own calling, its own limitations, and so on. For example, the state deals with crime, while the church deals with sin. Again, the two can overlap, but they are often not synonymous. That is, not all sins are crimes, and not all crimes are sins. As I said, in Islam there is no such separation of spheres, but biblical Christianity has always maintained such separation.

    Again, I have written all this up numerous times on this site.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    “The separation of church and state is altogether different from the separation of faith and politics.”

    I think this a very “fine” distinction.

    You state “… that God has created various spheres of authority. Family … church … state … separate spheres, but obviously overlap … ”

    If they overlap, they are not separate.

    Can you give me a link as to where you have written this up further so as you don’t need to repeat yourself. I don’t (can’t) read all your stuff and probably average reading 25-50% of it. If a topic interests me, i’ll read it in its entirety

    I chuckle whenever I read the term “Biblical Christianity” as I always feel the writer (myself included) means “my Christianity” and even if our (Bill & Graeme) versions of “Biblical Christianity” largely overlap, they certainly are not the same. A Catholic friend in the pro-life movement said “everything in the Catholic church is firmly based in the bible.” I bit my tongue … apologies to any Catholic readers here! I hope I haven’t written too much here. Should I have bitten my keyboard?

    Graeme Cumming

  • Thanks Graham

    But I don’t see how it is a fine distinction. And obviously all sorts of things overlap in life but are separate. Your comments and mine are separate, but they overlap here on this page, on the same subject matter, etc. Protestants and Catholics are separate denominations, but there is clear overlap (common beliefs, heritage, etc.). Men and women are separate but they overlap: both are human. Dogs and cats are separate, but they overlap: both are mammals. Think about Venn diagrams and set theory for example if you need more clarity on this.

    As to other writings on this, a few articles would include:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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