Religion — in public?? (13 September 2015, Year B)

Readings
Proverbs 1.20–33
Mark 8.27–38

Wisdom cries out in the street.—Proverbs 1.20a

Do religion and politics mix? Should people keep their faith to themselves, or should they let their religious faith inform their political opinions?

And what about members of parliament? Should they keep quiet about it? Should they keep their faith at home, and only let it out on Sundays? Or only display it in the company of consenting adults?

The (online) Australian edition of The Guardian newspaper published an article just last Monday by Kristina Keneally. You may recall that Kristina Keneally was the Labor Premier of New South Wales before their last state election. You may not know that Kristina is a Christian, a member of the Catholic Church.

This article is entitled Of course my faith influenced my political decisions, as did my gender. So what?

In some circles in Australia today, this is a provocative title. I read recently of a suggestion that politicians declare their religion, just as they declare their commercial interests. (Or at least they’re meant to declare them.) This person wants religion to be declared so that a religious politician’s views on things like euthanasia or same-sex marriage can be discounted. What else would you expect a Christian/Catholic/Moslem/insert other faith to say?

There are forces in society today that are determined to push ‘religion’ out of public life.

To them, Kristina Keneally says: Of course my faith influenced my political decisions, as did my gender. So what?

What she’s saying is that her faith is part of what makes her her; it’s as much a part of who she is as her gender. So of course it’s going to influence her political decisions. How could it not?

It’s always disheartening to look at the comments that people write after an article such as this is published. For example:

Your gender is something for which we have tangible proof. On the other hand we can see you have an absurd belief in something for which there is absolutely no proof. The very worrying thing is that you let that influence your decision making. I can’t see that’s anything to be proud of.

Or this one:

sorry Kristina religion has no place in politics, it is a personal thing and no one particular belief system should have any effect on policy decision for the community.

Does religion belong in politics? I ask this question today because it struck me that in Proverbs 1, Lady Wisdom cries out in the public arena. She doesn’t confine herself to the home, or the church, or to the ladies’ knitting circle.

No,

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks…

Lady Wisdom is concerned to teach wisdom out in public, out where it’s really needed, out where it really matters.

So we have to ask questions when people say ‘religion has no place in politics’.

If Wisdom cries out

  • in the street;
  • in the squares, where things were bought and sold;
  • at the busiest corner;
  • at the entrance of the city gates, the place where law cases were heard;

if Wisdom cries out in these public places, then we have a responsibility to also cry out in the world where political decisions are made.

We can’t just cry anything out though. There are Christian politicians who seem to be Christian lobbyists, promoting a ‘Christian’ agenda at the expense of other groups. That’s not wisdom. We have a responsibility to speak wisdom into the public conversation.

And not just any wisdom.

We must speak the wisdom of the cross.

Do you remember what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1.23–25?

…we proclaim Christ crucified,… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

God’s power and God’s wisdom are seen in the cross of Jesus Christ.

We can’t speak just any old wisdom. There is a wisdom of this age, which is where the guns and the bombs come from. But the wisdom we must speak is the wisdom of the cross.

On the cross, by faith we see the victory of God over sin and death. Through the cross, we can show kindness and compassion and forgiveness in the face of hardship and anxiety.

That’s part of what it means for us to ‘take up the cross and follow Jesus’. It is the wisdom of God.

Not everything that Christians say and do in the political arena is wise or even helpful. In the USA,  marriage licences are issued by county clerks. In Kentucky, a county clerk—a woman named Kim Davis—has become a kind of celebrity by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though that is the law there.

Is she right to disobey the law? After all, it’s against her religion. Let me ask you—what would be the response if a Muslim working in a sandwich bar refused to serve ham sandwiches? Or if a Mormon refused to serve coffee? You may say that these are trivial examples, but it’s the same principle. It’s against their religion too, but they have to do it if they have a certain job.

Sometimes, religious values need to be set aside in a secular society.

Unless those religious values are the core values of seeking mercy and compassion on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged or the displaced refugee. We can’t set mercy and compassion aside, because they embody the wisdom of the cross.

We’ve had a welcome outbreak of compassion in Australia in recent days. The President of the Uniting Church, Stuart MacMillan, has commented:

I sincerely hope we are seeing the dawn of a more compassionate, bipartisan humanitarian approach to people seeking asylum in Australia.

I hope so too, I really do. This is the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom that seeks to love and serve Jesus Christ as he comes to us in the last and the least.

But there are other, worldly forms of wisdom that are still alive and well. We will bring in people from Syria while other Syrian men, women and children remain in limbo in squalid, dehumanising, and massively expensive detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. There is a horrifying irony here.

Wisdom cries out in the streets because that is where Christ’s word of grace and peace belongs. Not everyone wants to hear. The wisdom of the cross sounds like foolishness to them. It will always sound foolish to those whose ears are closed.

Kristina Keneally said her faith influenced her political decisions; how could it not?

Faith is part of politics. We need Christian politicians who are influenced by the Christian faith. Not Christian politicians who are Christian lobbyists or even bullies, but Christians whose political hearts are formed by the wisdom of the cross, wisdom that loves and serves the world in Jesus’ name.

That is a very difficult calling indeed. Our politicians need our prayers.

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Filed under Church & world, church year, Lord have mercy, RCL, sermon, Uniting Church in Australia

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