The Greens are right: Easter is political

The Australian Greens have announced they won’t join a tradition as old as the World Wars  — joining a cease fire over the Easter weekend(ok, so it was Christmas in World War I, but there are modern conflicts where the combatants lay down arms for the Easter weekend) — but they will hold back their political cannons over ANZAC Day.

This is fascinating; one, because it reveals that in the ‘post-Christian’ landscape, the new national ‘holy day’, recognised by all parties, is one connected to our national mythology, ANZAC Day, not to our Christian heritage. Two, because the Greens point out that Easter has already been de-sacralised in our national calendar (even if our retailers keep a certain sort of liturgical year that marks out the period between Christmas and Easter as ‘hot cross bun’ season).

Greens Leader, Richard Di Natale, says:

“We’ll be campaigning hard through the Easter period and be doing everything we can to make this a climate change election.”

The major parties have agreed not to campaign over the Easter period as a mark of respect to its ‘sacred’ nature. There’ll no doubt be many Christian, or conservative, pundits who’ll cry foul at this sacrilege. But there’s something fundamentally real being recognised in the Green’s approach — it’s not that ‘nothing is sacred’ any more, in our secular age, it’s that everything is religious. Every day is sacred; which is something Christians can agree with — because every religious action is political. Every act of a religious person, every word, is an articulation and embodiment of a certain vision of a political kingdom. Christians, as we live in the world, as we speak and proclaim the lordship of Jesus and obey him as king, are living out a political vision; which means that rather than being ‘not political’, Easter is profoundly political — it’s the moment that Jesus, our king, was crowned and enthroned as king of the Kingdom of God.

It’s not that no day is ‘sacred’ — it’s that there’s a growing realisation, or revelation, that every day is sacred. That we live in a time where the soul of our nation is being contested and contended for, and where we’re trying to figure out how to live together with different holy days; different understandings of what is sacred and what is profane.For the Greens, digging up coal and destroying the environment is an act of sacrilege, of desecration, of destruction of their material ‘god’ — the natural world. It would be easy for Christians to see the Greens choosing to protest the Adani coal mine as an act of ‘sacrilege’ that cheapens the holiness of Easter, but many Christians will see their actions being in line with the Lordship of Jesus, the king appointed by the creator who called humanity to steward his good creation.

What’s changed in our culture that brings about political campaigning on Easter — brazenly campaigning for other gods — is a loss of consensus in our institutions and our calendar that Jesus is king; this is contested — political contests (religious contests) don’t just happen at election time; because every moment is sacred, every moment is also political. 

There’s a challenge here for Christians as we engage in the politics of our nation — to have our participation shaped by our primary political identity; our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, where the call is for us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, before working out how we love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We have a larger view of the sacred than our neighbours, one that might allow careful participation in their political institutions, but we need to be careful not to become polytheists. God’s people were, from even before the 10 Commandments — but specifically in them — called to live political lives that articulated a certain vision of a kingdom, and behind that, a vision of God. Their neighbours were doing the same — the first two commandments deal with this reality.

You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” — Exodus 20:3-6

Part of the nature of the prohibition in the second commandment is that we humans are meant to be the images of God — living, breathing, ones — and to make other images and then worship them distorts who we are, and how we understand God. The other part of the problem with worshipping created things is not that they aren’t sacred, the ‘heavens declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19), it’s that their sacred purpose is being profaned and cheapened by false worship. Israel failed to live out this distinction; their commitment to God’s kingdom was undermined by their worship of foreign gods, and their buy in to the politics and way of life that came from that. Man made religions — the ones that replace God with things he made, or with other gods — always lead to damaging systems of power that ultimately, as they stop God being God, stop humans being seen fully as humans. Distorted politics ends up not just desacralising, but also dehumanising. When Paul talks about this in Romans 1 he argues that false religion — taking that which is sacred (created things), that which is made to ‘reveal the divine nature and character of God’ and worshipping those things, leads to broken humanity and, ultimately, death. The decision to worship ‘other than God’ in systemic terms, leads to politics and political kingdoms that reject God, and reshape humanity to different ends. This was the problem with the nations surrounding Israel in the Old Testament, but also in the New. Kings in the ancient world consistently set themselves up as ‘the image of God’ (using the same words the Bible prohibits, the claim of the Old Testament is a polemical claim against ancient political visions where other humans were plebs for the powerful to use and abuse as they saw fit). Nobody did this more than the Caesars — Augustus turned ’emperor worship’ into a new art form, and by the time Jesus was tried and killed, the Caesars, by then Tiberius, had mastered the art of promoting their divine image (Jesus’ statements about coins with Caesar’s image on them are particularly pointed and political against this backdrop — give Caesar what his image is on, and give God what his image is on — our ultimate ‘political’ allegiance belongs to the God who made us). When Jesus came he came making claims that put him specifically at odds with the Caesars; and with all other would be ‘images of God’ who were not worshipping the God of the Bible, the God of Israel. He came making political claims. He came calling people into a kingdom. He came announcing that attempts to divide the political from the sacred were nonsense… because the sacred has always, and will always, be political. The people who killed him, and the people who wrote about that, were very clear on this. Here’s the political Easter story, as told by John.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” — John 19:1-6 

This is political, not just religious.

Pilate has a chat with Jesus at this point, trying to figure out why the Israelites are so keen to kill Jesus. The same Israelites who are meant to be God’s representatives, his kingdom, turn on this king, and turn to another one…

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. — John 19:13-16

Jesus was killed on the basis of political claims — he claimed to be king, and Rome — the leading political vision of this world — wasn’t interested in a ceasefire. Its politics was also religious… and so is ours.

So if there are political parties who are honest in their desire not to participate in that kingdom, but to work towards some other religious agenda, we should welcome that — rather than those who pay lip service to Easter and its essence, without political fidelity to the Lord Jesus. This isn’t to say there aren’t Christians in any of these parties, but that so long as these parties aren’t lining up their agenda with ‘the kingdom of God’ their ‘politics’ — especially when they want to distinguish ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ — are fundamentally religious, and are in competition with the Easter message — the coronation and enthronement of ‘the King of the Jews.’

I’m not ceasing fire this Easter. I’ll be proclaiming the very political message that Jesus is Lord, and that Easter isn’t just about his death bringing about some obscure spiritual transaction where my personal sins are forgiven (though it does do that), it’s about his resurrection and then the pouring out of the Spirit, being what launches a new kingdom in this world with a new politics that we get to be part of as his kingdom of priests, his ambassadors, his nation.

Would you like salt with that?

My WebSalt article about the Greens is now up. You should go over there, read it, and argue it out with me in the comments… It’s much more balanced than my regular blogging fodder because it’s not polemic – it’s balanced… I hope.

“But there is much in their policy platform to celebrate – an Australian Christian Lobby media release issued prior to the 2008 election praised the Greens for their strong stance on climate change, refugees, overseas aid, work life balance and poverty. These are important issues – and should be serious concerns for biblical Christians.” “The criteria that determine an individual’s political preference will come down to personal convictions – that’s the fundamental freedom offered by a liberal democracy. So voters need to decide for themselves whether caring for the poor should be the government’s concern or the church’s? Or whether we should impose a Christian ethical framework on non-believers? Can we vote for a party that purposefully pursues an easing of restrictions in the circumstances surrounding the termination of the lives of unborn children? Just how much of a concern is the environment?”

#00AF33 is the new #000000

For that title to make any sense at all you’d need to google the hexadecimal codes. Go on. Do it. You know you want to…

It’s clever. And it recognises the fact that I’ve truly scraped the bottom of the barrel when it comes to writing headlines about the Green debate.

I’m still working on my WebSalt article – and thought I’d bring you – and the debate – up to speed with my progress. Our local perennial Greens candidate, Jenny Stirling, also happens to be an Anglican chaplain/minister/social worker. I sent her an email with some questions about how she sees the Green party in relation to her personal faith. Here’s a summary of her responses:

I am a Green because of my Christian spiritual values including a strong belief in social justice; respect for God’s creation and the certain knowledge that  all creation groans from our misuse of what is essentially a custodial role; the grass roots nature of our organisation which is  respectful of difference and mindful of marginalised discourses; and last but not least because it talks about peace and non-violence.

In my activism for the Greens and on Green issues (which encompass  all of people’s issues and not just the environment) I employ what I understand to be  the Jesus model of  working with people, that is; compassion; giving respect; opposing oppression; speaking truth to power; standing along side people who need support; listening; acting out of God’s strength and not my own and being mindful that it is  better to be the ‘salt than to have power’ – this quote comes from Bonhoeffer’s  “Seize The Day” which is a daily reflection on the bible from his cell in a Nazi concentration camp. I try to read it most days.

I mentioned the standard “Christian” criticisms of Green’s policy – in fact I sent her a copy of the article so far – which you can find in the comments section of this post. Here’s what she had to say about that:

I belong to the Anglican church and we do not oppose people having the right to express being gay.

I strongly suggest that the public perception is wrong in understanding that we are  soft on drugs. Our policy is in line with most organisations that deal with the link between drugs and crime, including the police. We favour decriminalisaton because it takes away the lure of  the anti-social, robs crime bosses of much of their power to corrupt and we basically want to make drug abuse a health and medical issue. I say that with full confidence because my son is a detective with the CIB and  deals with the standard approach and its failures to make any difference to the drug culture and crime. It is not working and kids lives are going down the drain because we have our heads stuck in  the  sand. Prohibition has never worked. Along with decriminalisation of drug use we support harm minimisation programmes and would continue to throw the book at hard drug dealers.

As for abortion, I am against it personally.  That said I cannot justify putting my values over someone else’s. There will always be women who are abused, raped  and abandoned in pregnancy. I cannot force them to have a child they do not want or leave them to back yard abortionists. I do not see abortion as an acceptable form of  contraception and would vote against that and late term terminations.

I am really impressed with two things – her willingness to speak and act for her convictions and the fact that she took the time to answer my questions (which went over a few different emails).

I don’t however agree with her on some points of theology – or at least the emphasis. But I’m sure some of you – my valued readers and commenters – do. So let me know what you think the most important things she had to say were and what you agree/disagree with. I’m also thinking that I should read some Bonhoeffer.

Sub edit fail


The Townsville Bulletin’s sub editors have made a slight mistake today – incorrectly identifying the Member for the Burdekin – Rosemary Menkins – as Gandhi. Obscure political statement? Warranted kudos? No, I say mistake. Or joke.

It appears next to this comment by perennial political bridesmaid (and never the political bride) – Greens candidate Jenny Stirling.

“Jobs, justice, climate. That’s the theme of the protests at the G20 conference of world leaders and it hits the mark fairly and squarely. In Britain alone, 35,000 people marched and there was no violence, no ramaging crowds or damage to property, just real people fed up with a system that ultimately sees ordinary people’s lives and well-being as expendable. The only way we have ever had any sort of real and lasting social progress has been through non-violent expressions of people power: Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King and civil rights movement in the US, Gandhi in India and so on. And if all things are equal, the ballot box. ”

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