Christians and Politics: Engaging A Wider Community [3]

So far we’ve taken an indepth look at the key theologies that influence the evangelical church to mostly support the right wing of politics. We’ve highlighted that there is a division between the white evangelical and black evangelical communities in the US. This division is probably seen between different segments of the Christian church worldwide where there is a majority-minority grouping, where the majority position supports the conservative form of Christian politics and the minority position supports the progressive form. This is evidently because the majority feel they can “follow the money and power” to their advantage in an unregulated society as some of it will trickle down to them, while the minority feel that they are being oppressed by the conservative majority viewpoint and that collective intervention is necessary to ensure a more equal distribution of wealth and power. So these positions underline how the division exists between Black and White evangelicals in the US, because the political system in their country entrenches power and wealth on a scale not seen in any other Western country, and there is widespread belief in progressive politics that collective (government) intervention is needed to address the vast inequality that in fact exists contrary to the claims made by conservatives.

In New Zealand where we are based, we are different from countries like the US and UK, but somewhat similar to Australia in having proportional representation to elect our governments. Since the introduction of our proportional representation system, MMP, in 1994, there has been a proliferation of small Christian parties, most of which have claimed to be centrist, but in reality almost always are conservative in intent. Mostly this has arisen because the domininant right wing party, National, has become more factionalised internally and is now less representative of conservative Christian viewpoints, incorporating a socially liberal wing who support policies anathema to traditional Christians such as permissive sexual mores. The majority of these parties support mostly conservative political viewpoints in other aspects. For example the New Conservative party, according to its Wikipedia article, has a platform that includes general and fiscal conservatism, and reporting from an article on Newshub supports their positioning on the right wing of politics despite their claim to be in the centre.

Generally what we are seeing in a positioning of the majority of “centrist” parties is to be to the left of National, rather than being to the right of Labour. Hence there are really no “Christian” parties in NZ that support the left wing of politics, which generally reinforces the viewpoint that has led us to write this article in the first place: that Christian views are not exclusively captured in the conservative political spectrum or in conservatism in general, nor should they be. Throughout history there have been many great humanitarians who have sought to “Christianise” society through the introduction of more representative forms of government and policies that address the many inequalities in a free market society, a type of progressivism that has long been anathema to the natural instincts of conservatives. Examples are the transition of the United Kingdom from absolute monarchism to Westminster democracy, which has been exported around the world, the notable exception being the US. It is our view that government intervention in levelling inequalities is an appropriate cause for Christians and that forms the basis of this series of articles, because policies that address this are not being currently championed by either the mainstream secular conservative or leading Christian political parties within NZ.

Most of the Christian support for conservative policies results from the promotion of the Christian faith in general as being individualistic, that the key aspect of Christian belief for people is from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This naturally predisposes most people in churches which teach this type of faith towards invidualist expressions of faith, where their churches are mostly small organisations with a handful of staff who are directly focused on meeting the needs of their own community, leaving outreach to individual members working on their own. There are a proliferation of Christian leaders who are setting up their own churches on the basis of business principles in that there is usually a single person founding the church who is solely responsible for major decision making, and that there tends to be an autocratic rather than democratic leadership polity in these churches. However, some of the larger churches which have become established from small churches of this type are now becoming able to conduct significant outreach into their communities and as they become dependent on government resources to do so, are finding it necessary to deal with a more inclusive political viewpoint. This has become more obvious in the US lately where a number of conservative churches have found that supporting the Republican Party has exposed them to political opposition from organisations they work with in the community, as well as from their own membership.

In the final part (4) we will look more at the type of policies we believe Christians should be supporting and the basis for doing so.