As Australia becomes more secular, it is tempting for Christians to withdraw from politics to keep the peace. But the example that Jesus set and his followers have left us is positive engagement in the culture, for the benefit of everyone.
“Australia isn’t a Christian country.”
“Religion and politics shouldn’t mix.”
“What about the separation of church and state?”
The idea that Australia is secular — and that faith should be kept private — has made many Christians shy in forming or voicing political opinions. It is common today for followers of Jesus to support a ‘neutral’ viewpoint on any topic that could cause division.
Why? Partly it’s because we Christians want to be good citizens. Living a “quiet and peaceful life” is part of our calling, after all (1 Timothy 2:2). From the gospels, we also have images of Jesus as a compassionate and caring figure whose love overcomes division and hostility.
But the truth is that Jesus is much more than a nice guy — and his calling on our lives is far higher than just social harmony. Remember that Jesus stepped down from heaven to transform this world from the inside out. And he wasn’t afraid to call out sin, unrighteousness and injustice.
Yes, Jesus urged us to pay our taxes (Matthew 22:21) and submit to rulers (1 Peter 2:13) — and he certainly didn’t lead an armed insurrection against the Roman Empire. But through his teachings, his example, and the church that he established, our Saviour revolutionised the world. Consider these spine-tingling words from theologian Philipp Schaff:
Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mahomet, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and schools combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke words of life such as never were spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of any orator or poet; without writing a single line, He has set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art and sweet songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.
Born in a manger, and crucified as a malefactor, He now controls the destinies of the civilised world, and rules a spiritual empire which embraces one-third of the inhabitants of the globe.
Yes, nations like Australia are increasingly secular. And the revolution Jesus leads is a spiritual one. But when we look at the legacy that Jesus and his followers have left — whether in literacy and education, democratic freedoms, the discovery of science, or the value of human life — how can we stay silent?
Though Christians don’t have a monopoly on virtue, we have so much to offer our societies because of the One who lives in us.
In a world that grows more hostile, it can be tempting for Christians to speak up and feel emboldened only when our opinions match those of the world. But as pastor Chris Centola quips, “Jesus commands us to love our enemies, not adopt their ideologies so that we have no enemies.” We are called to bring transformation and to be a voice for righteousness.
From the Scriptures and the legacy of Jesus, we know that every life is precious, whether the unborn, the elderly or the foreigner. We know that there is beauty in every culture, but also sin that must be confronted. We know that the natural world exists to be stewarded for all, not exploited by the powerful. We know that sexuality is a gift from God that turns destructive when taken outside of a husband-wife covenant. And we know that human nature is corrupt — so we will flourish most when power is distributed and kept in check, not concentrated in the hands of a few.
Many other examples could be summoned. But the point is clear: following Jesus means having passionate beliefs about the world we live in that will motivate us to action for the benefit of others. Dr Martin Luther King Jr was right when he said, “The Church must be reminded it is not the master or the servant of the State, but rather the conscience of the State.”
When we allow our political engagement to be shaped by Jesus, we will likely be viewed as compassionate, but also out-of-step; a strange combination of inspiring and intolerant. Like Jesus, we may be something of a walking contradiction to the world around us.
And that’s okay, because we’re not here for the world’s applause. Australian Christians live for an audience of one and the flourishing of all.