My friend, Allan R. Bevere, a pastor, professor and New Testament scholar, often likes to remind his readers that we in Jesus as the church are called to the politics of witness, rather than the politics of power. This came to the fore with the quote I left from Martin Luther King, Jr., yesterday, providing a bit of stimulating feedback. Along with a friend on my Facebook also grappling with it a bit, with me.
We all have some sort of vision of how the world ought to be. For some on the “religious right”, the vision is not a world that is flourishing as in God’s kingdom vision revealed in scripture and coming in Jesus. But it seems more to be making the most good out of a bad situation. A case of living in the real world. Involved in that are wars, politics that involve compromise, settling for the time being with what is less than perfect, to move toward an ideal, which is not really the ideal of shalom as shared in scripture. That can’t be realized until Jesus returns. We witness to bring others to Christ, and we work at holding down evil in the world.
For those on the “religious left”, there is often a downplaying of “original sin”. There can be some sort of realism in place, but there is an idealism that is often related to the Enlightenment as much or more than to the kingdom vision of shalom. We find some of these believers pressing for acts from nations as if the nations were followers of Jesus, or more so in this case, followers of some worldly vision of progressive humanity, which over decades has more than fallen on bad times.
The politics of witness to which the church is called in Jesus must involve something more and better than either of these two alternatives. On the one hand we know shalom is not present on earth in all of its flourishing fullness until Jesus returns. On the other hand, we believe that in Jesus the kingdom is now present, and that in the church we can find the beginning of shalom at work within and from that even into this world. So that this witness, as incomplete as it is now, can impact this world for good. One notable case in point I think is the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” which took place in South Africa after apartheid ended. Many expected a blood bath. Instead there was a system set in place under the influence of Christians like Bishop Desmond Tutu in which wrongdoers were to confess their wrongs to their victims who in turn would forgive them. I think some sort of remuneration may have occurred when deemed appropriate. For all its shortcomings and imperfections, I think this is a case in point which brings something toward the flourishing of shalom in a broken, fallen world which awaits in Jesus, the new creation.
Just some preliminary thoughts on this. But what do you think? How would you express “the politics of witness”? And how does it contrast with “the politics of power”?