Christians and Politics: Engaging A Wider Community [2]

Continuing our discussion from Part 1 about some of the key issues, that part addressed some of the matters arising from Dominionist theology. Another theology which has long been justified by evangelicals in support of conservative political outlooks is, of course, Dispensationalism. It is quite different from yet similar in certain respects to Dominionism; both draw their support from interpretation of the Biblical book of Revelation into contemporary contexts. The key understanding and relevance to be gained from a knowledge of Dispensationalism is that there is no need for a long term outlook for society at large, because Jesus is going to return in the very near future, so all effort should be expended on growing the Church and not on anything to do with wider society.

Of course, all considerations of politics for Christians at some point have to engage with our relationship with the rest of society and the world we live in. Since we do not live in a separate nation from the rest of the world, and that is not even a situation that exists in Israel, where their government system is a democracy rather than a theocracy, we have to work within society as a whole. It then has become super relevant for us to consider how Christians should exist within society: whether we advocate to seclude ourselves from the community and operate completely independently of it, or incorporate ourselves within it and seek to influence it. The former view has in itself been the subject of much theological controversy culminating in the establishment of many sects, one of the most well known and active in many western countries being the Exclusive Brethren. To date, Dispensationalism has not succeeded in proving its many claims to be able to predict the second coming of Jesus Christ and the onset of the millenial rule of the Earth that is a key focus of Dominionists, so for all intents and purposes it is highly relevant for evangelicals to challenge this type of thinking within their church communities.

It is also extremely valid for us to question whether there is in fact widespread theological agreement on eschatological interpretation of the Book of Revelation. As it turns out, there isn’t. Dispensationalism, despite its widespread following particularly in the US where it ties in so conveniently with Dominionism and groups seeking political influence through the Republican Party, is a minority theology in the worldwide context. It is not taken very seriously outside evangelical circles and is rarely championed openly within them, generally being confined to the most conservative denominations, and within them, handed down mostly by tradition rather than intellectual rigour, which they usually oppose. This ignores the great heritage of theology as the cradle of higher learning that went on to inspire the development of the tertiary education system in the Western world. So the questions remain entirely valid as to whether the Bible does support millenialism in any shape or form, and thus the key principles of Dispensationalism and Dominionism. These are key reasons why evangelical political conservatism should be challenged. What this challenge should translate into is widespread challenge as to whether Christians should focus on dispensationalist and dominionist eschatological teachings, which are predictions of the future that have so far proven not to be imminent, or the more pressing and unarguably much greater priority of working to evangelise the world by all possible means, including by promoting a society that reflects Christian values more.

Another factor of why it is important to question evangelical support of conservative political causes is that these in general in society are focused on a very individualistic approach and try to avoid recognition of any form of collective interest being developed. In the US, as we already examined, there is more support particularly in white evangelical circles for Republican Party principles of small government and lower taxes, and this also translates into supposedly important principles of free speech and other personal freedoms. But there is no real ability to acknowledge the huge inequalities that have resulted in US society, which when compared with many Westminster democracies, is a country that overwhelmingly concentrates political and social power in the hands of its most wealthy citizens with only token recognition of the vast majority of people living there. This has been the forefront of concern lately with the BLM anti-racist protests that have shone an unflattering spotlight onto the racist history of the US and the perpetuation of racist beliefs and historical events down to the present day, as one contemporary illustration. By backing the Republican Party and the cause of predominantly white evangelicalism in the US, evangelicals in other countries represented by groups such as Family First / New Conservatives, Christian Concern and Australian Christian Lobby are sidelining and ignoring the immeasurable concerns of black evangelicals in the US who have a much greater level of support for the Democrats; and it follows by extension, also ignoring the concerns of ethnic minority groups within their own countries. They are thus promoting a divisive and exclusive view of the Christian church in the societies which they belong to.

Part 3 of this series will take a closer look at the relevance of the overall political scene in NZ to Christian politics, as we are based there and have a lot of knowledge of politics that is relevant.