Beyond Left and Right
Beyond Left and Right
16 May 2017
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, is credited with saying: “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
This is a harsh statement, but it describes the frustration many people feel about politics and political figures.
In many parts of the world, the political landscape seems to have turned into bad reality television. Watching or reading the news leaves many of us wondering if there is prophetic truth to Plato’s words.
Sometimes, The Salvation Army uses the word “apolitical” or the phrase “politically neutral” to describe its stance on politics, but these terms aren’t entirely accurate.
Oxford Dictionaries defines “apolitical” as “not interested or involved in politics”. By this definition, we are not apolitical – we are both interested and involved in politics.
In the Christian view, God is the source of political authority (see Romans 13:1-8). Governments are charged with exercising this authority – providing just conditions and acting to protect the poor and marginalised – as servants of God.
Of course, the political process is human and flawed. So the Army is keenly interested in political decisions that affect the vulnerable as we seek to live out the gospel.
As James described: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Early in our history, the Army was involved in a campaign to raise the age of consent in London, England, helping to protect girls from abuse and exploitation.
Recently, my territory (Canada and Bermuda) submitted a brief to the Canadian Federal Government outlining our opposition to new legislation around assisted dying. We regularly host MPs, respond to government consultations and provide feedback on the federal budget highlighting areas of concern for our clients.
So we are not apolitical. A better way to describe ourselves is “non-partisan”.
The Salvation Army does not endorse or promote one political leader or party over another, so we are free to speak to everyone with credibility.
Our role is to represent those in society who are often overlooked – to ask questions and express values that are more than self-interest.
The Christian tradition is full of examples of people who were political but nonpartisan: William Wilberforce, William and Catherine Booth, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu.
They engaged with the political context of their times, working for justice and the common good. If they had been “apolitical,” the lives of many people would have been very different.
We don’t know much about the political beliefs of Jesus’ followers, but they probably didn’t agree on everything.
Matthew was a tax collector for the Romans; the second Simon may have been a Zealot, a group that opposed Roman rule and wanted to overthrow it by force. Perhaps they had heated debates about politics.
Jesus cautioned his disciples to respect and submit to the ruling authorities, but also called them to a new way of living.
As The Salvation Army, we must speak into the world of politics on behalf of those on the margins, to amplify their voices.
But we do so from outside the political system, as people whose loyalty belongs not to a political leader or party, but to God.
Derek Webb, a Christian musician, puts it this way: “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It’s to a King and a kingdom.”
Captain Mark Braye is a corps officer in The Salvation Army’s Canada and Bermuda Territory.
This article first appeared at salvationist.ca