Presidents, Principalities, Powers and Prophets
Today President Obama takes his second inaugural oath for the second time, due to the vagaries of the 20th January falling on a Sunday. This is an event of immense importance for me, even though I am an insignificant blogger bashing away on his keyboard in the backwoods of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and could have no part in the election of this man. But there is no doubt that his decisions ultimately make as much, if not more, difference to my life as do those of the politicians I am able to elect who sit in the big white house on the hill little over a mile from where I am writing, or the contentious clowns we have managed to elect to the council that sits in Belfast City Hall down the road... There has been some controversy over who will lead in public prayer during the inauguration, but I was encouraged this morning by this prayer by Scot McKnight for the President, and perhaps I could do with using a variation on it as I pray for my political representatives at a local, provincial and national level.
But in the run up to Mr. Obama's re-election in November, I chose to read Shane Claiborne's book "Jesus for President". I had also planned to read Barack Obama's "Audacity of Hope" which I've had lying around since his first election... but I still haven't got round to it. But whilst Claiborne's book is aimed at addressing some of the fault lines in American politics and the twin cancers of conspicuous consumption and the myth of redemptive violence that shape all political decision-making there, there is, within this book much to say to our dysfunctional province and its politics...
As I said in my review of his book, I am not one of those who would rush to canonize Shane Claiborne, nor, like Rachel Held Evans, attempt to emulate him, his is an important voice to hear against the clamour of those who have allowed their Christian faith to be subverted by their political beliefs, national loyalties and addiction to material consumption. As I said in a review of his earlier book "The Irresistible Revolution" the church, and particularly the western church needs prophetic voices like his. I went on to say:
"I am not overstating things when I call him prophetic... he is a 21st century hair-shirted John the Baptist, calling us back from the catastrophic culture of Christian consumerism and the modern manifestations of evangelical imperialism."
His appearance and his radical lifestyle may put off more traditionally minded Christians, but his message needs to be listened to, because it is straight from scripture, and, more importantly, straight from the life and message of Christ. If you are dismissing what he has to say then, in large part you are dismissing what Jesus had to say.
Jesus encouraged people to give to Caesar what was legitimately his... but also to give to God what is his... He never endorsed any particular political power or movement... He had violent men among his followers, but never endorsed the use of violence to achieve anything in his name... He met regularly with members of a puritanical religious sect for food and discussion but publicly criticised their hypocritical judgementalism, and physically challenging the blasphemous money grabbing of the Temple authorities. He encouraged people to look beyond their national and religious boundaries and see erstwhile enemies as neighbours to be loved.
I don't look to Shane Claiborne as my inspiration, nor to Barack Obama, or to any other political or religious leader on this side of the Atlantic... I seek to follow Christ, and Christ alone as my King... but that has implications not only for my religious life, but for my political, social and economic activity.
It means that I must be prepared to do not just what is to my personal advantage, but what is right in God's eyes... that my words should be based not just on what is popular, but was is true... that my attitudes should be shaped, not just by the culture I was brought up with, but by seeking to see things as others see them.
Whether in Washington or in Waringstown, East Tennessee or East Belfast, Christians have to make a call on where their loyalties lie... Not just in terms of political loyalties... but spiritual loyalties. Not only a question of what is more important, the flag of the United Kingdom (or of the United States), or the Kingdom of God? But also are your loyalties to you and yours... to your tribe, your social class, or simply to your immediate family? Or are they shaped by God's priorities - the care of the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the voiceless, the hurting, the lost?