Sunday 10 July 2022

Politics and Religion

From Amos 7

"And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”"

Went to Westminster Abbey a couple of weeks ago. Special service marking the half-millennium of William Cecil (aka Lord Burghley), chief minister to Elizabeth I. All the great and the good were there, and David Starkey. And Starkey's summary of Cecil's life included the difference of opinion between Cecil (pronounced Cicel, apparently) and Elizabeth (pronounced Elezibath, I presume) over whether you should have bishops or not.

Brought me up quite short, I can tell you, in that place where monarchs are crowned and entombed, to consider they might expect control of some kind over the church.

And yet here's the minister of the king, 2,800 years ago, telling Amos to go and preach somewhere else. Not at Bethel, which is the king's shrine.

And of course it's true. This is the king's shrine - Beth-el, the house of God. As opposed to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem which Solomon created. When Solomon was consolidating his earthly power by insisting sacrifices could only be offered in the place that he decided.

So when you hear anyone saying religion should stay out of politics - it never did, in either direction. As Putin makes the leaders of his tame Church rich, as Church of England canon law is part of English law, as the US proclaims its separation of church and state while its Supreme Court rules in line with the religious "Moral Majority" - it never did. It never could, to a degree. Questions of what is sensible, what is right, how we treat those in need - they're questions where faith and politics intersect. How as a Christian can you come to a political question about refugees and not remember that your Lord was one? How can you consider social security and not think of the injunctions to care for the orphan and the aged? While balancing with St Paul's instruction that if you don't work, you don't eat? If you have faith, it must always direct how you act and what you believe in the public sphere.

But here in Bethel it's politics trying to rule religion. Amos is told to clear off to Judah and earn his money there. And his reply is powerful. 

"I'm not a pheasant plucker..." he begins.

Sorry. It's been a long week.

"I'm not a prophet, nor a prophet's son." So it's not his profession, handed down. 

"I'm a shepherd and sycamore-fig dresser". So he ain't rich, but he's supporting himself. He doesn't need the king to pay him to tell him good news. He's not a client. He's not a yes man. He's free to say what God tells him. The king may own the bull and the altar at Bethel. But God owns the world. Money can compromise the tame priests and prophets of King Jeroboam. Amos is free of that.

But what Amos is in thrall to, is the Spirit of God. And that is where he gets his ability to tell uncomfortable truths to power. He works from the faith of God to hold nations to account.

And that's how we should work, sisters, brothers, and otherwise-identifying siblings. If we have faith then our moral lives, and our political engagements, should flow from our faith and our holy books to our own lives and then our political lives - even if that's just once every few years in the ballot box. To mention just a few people whose faith fed into their political activities, I'll choose Oscar Romero, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, and the Revd Ian Paisley. If you're hot under the collar about any of those, I shall merely say that the Kingdom of God is a strategy - any particular viewpoint is just tactics. You may think one or more of those people are saints, and we'll maybe need to agree to differ. But that's my point. 

So let our faith drive our actions, and let us give thanks for our freedom to pray (and mostly to say) what we wish. And let us always hold our own political beliefs up to view in the light of Christ.


  1. Speaking of uncomfortable truths, God is clearly on the side of the Russian Orthodox Church. Its rebirth is a genuine miracle.
    BTW, Bojo and Trudeau both thought they could sanction Patriarch Kirill with impunity. One down and one to go. I don't know how it will happen to Trudeau, but God is not mocked.

    1. If the Beast is where religion is used to justify the power of Babylon, Kirill needs to have a big think about whose side he is on.


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