My thinking at the moment is to post here anything that is already open and available to a wider audience, such as sermons and broadcast talks for example, and to post Christ Church specific posts to the Group.
I have recently recorded five broadcasts for Hong Kong's RTHK Radio 4's programme, Minutes that Matter.
The subject seemed relevant to discussions taking place in Hong Kong at the moment!
This is the transcript of the first talk. I have also included a link to the talk itself on the RTHK website at the end of the transcript!
Comments are always welcome either here or by email!
Talk 1: Submission to the Governing Authorities
Coming as I do from the UK, I have been following the recent British general election with some interest as I have previous elections. I have, of course, also been following the events and discussions here in Hong Kong as we approach the election of a new Chief Executive in 2017. The subject of what a Christian’s attitude to politics should be is a difficult one. In many parts of our world, people are very cynical when it comes to both politics and politicians and that was being reflected in the run up to the election in the UK, and it is often reflected in what people have to say about the political situation here in Hong Kong.
While we may be cynical, and often have good cause to be, we should be under no illusion: politics does matter. Very simply: politics is about how we are governed. It is sometimes said that religion and politics don’t, or shouldn’t, mix; that we should keep religion out of politics, but if we were to do that what we would be saying is that religion isn’t really important and that it is not relevant to the everyday lives of people.
Christians cannot afford to ignore how the society in which we live governs itself. The problem is that historically Christian involvement in politics has not been particularly successful. The Church has tended to side with the rich and powerful rather than the poor and oppressed. I think this has been so well established that it needs little by way of defence or example. Instead, the Church now tends to be suspicious of the rich and powerful. The search for ‘peace and justice’ in our world is seen to be a fundamental part of what it means to faithful to the Gospel. It is just assumed that it should be part of the Church’s mission.
But what should a Christian’s attitude be to political authority and those who exercise it? St Paul has a passage in chapter 13 of his famous letter to the Romans where he writes: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.’
This passage has been at the heart of Christian approaches to politics and has been used by those in power to justify their position and the need for people to obey them. But what did St Paul mean by his command to submit to those in authority? Did he really think that disobedience or resistance to those in authority was never justified? And how does this command to submit fit into a wider consideration of a Christian approach to politics?
In previous UK elections, I have actively worked to get a particular political party elected. My first such involvement was in the 1979 election when Margaret Thatcher came to power. During the landmark British election in 1997, as Rector of a couple of Churches in Scotland, I organized and hosted a meeting for Church people of the candidates standing for election in the town where I lived. I felt it important that Christians should be able to make an informed judgement before they voted. In my time in Hong Kong, I have attempted to keep myself fully informed of developments here.
So in approaching this question about St Paul’s command to ‘submit to those in authority’, I don’t do so either as detached observer or as one who thinks that politics is unimportant. I do, however, think that much contemporary Christian thought about what a Christian’s attitude to politics should be is simply wrong.
I have spoken about myself, but what about St Paul? We need to remind ourselves that democracy, even in the form we have it in Hong Kong, is a very modern thing and not something that St Paul or any other of the New Testament writers would be familiar with. This does not mean that we can’t learn from what the New Testament writers have to say, but that we need to take care in applying what was written then to the very different political and social world in which we live today.
What those who are Christians can’t do is to opt out. The Psalmist said that the ‘earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’. What goes on in our world has to be of concern to those who seek to worship the God who created us.