We have been cross-examining ourselves as we consider some of the hurdles which a Christian political option has to confront and try to overcome. If such an option is to gain traction as a viable political alternative it needs a comprehensive vision over the entire political terrain. It will also need to develop an ongoing programme of political education to promote understanding of its own stance. Last time we examined the strong possibility that we simply lack a proper appreciation for what political organisation should be! But we also noted that current political debate, world-wide, often lacks depth and in particular has little concern for how the political party should function in political life. Somewhere along the line we have fallen in step with a political view that politics is merely a matter of chosing between alternative left and right forms of popularism.
Now, as we "do justice to ourselves" we will avoid "rounding up the usual suspects" (fundamentalists, extremists, libertarians, conservatives, liberals, Americans, atheists) and instead turn our critical gaze upon our own Christian roots. We do this in order to see how we shape up in terms of our own principles. Why do we propose to do this? To use a phrase popularized by the former Labor Prime Minister: there seems to be much hairy-chested presumption bedeviling Christian efforts to "get political", so maybe careful attention to a passage from one of our "founding documents" will help us think further about the way the Christian gospel inspires active, political responsibility. I have in mind, a letter of the Apostle Peter to the Christian church of sojourners, a community of faith composed of far-flung asylum seekers, a significant number of whom had found work in their places of refuge as house-servants. In what is called Peter's first letter he makes the following comment:
And who is going to hijack you if you become zealots for good? And even if you have to undergo suffering because you remain upright, happy are you! So do not let their threats frighten you; avoid being troubled by them. Instead, reverence Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready with a word to answer any who ask you about your hope, but do so meekly and with due reverence, keeping a good conscience (3:14-16).
Note "always be ready with a word to answer everyone …" Well that is pretty good advice for Christians citizens - be ready to give an explanation for why we are so keen about public justice, why this is central to our espousal of a Christian political option. That's good advice. We need to know what we are commending before we enter the fray! But let's address Peter's advice and begin an inquiry into his political involvement in the very events that obviously changed his life.
Peter, were you always ready with a meek and reverent word to reply to those who asked you about your hope? What gives you the special privilege to wax eloquent in these terms? We remember the story, Peter. There you were warming yourself in the court-yard of the high-priest after Jesus' arrest. John, your fellow disciple, had arranged for you to gain entry. You entered that place and warmed yourself by the fire. It was late at night, if not past midnight.
This was not just a leader of your Christian fellowship being confronted by school-yard bullies wanting to pick a fight because he was wearing his ISCF badge. Nor is it a matter of a local gang of toughs trying to frighten you with their power! Nor is it a face-to-face debate with celebrity atheists who sneer at all religion, yours included. This was a confrontation with religious (Jewish and ethnic) and public (Roman and legal-political) authorities with the power to imprison and even to execute, should they have deemed that necessary. This is the kind of political situation that many people of Christian faith (and also of other faiths) confront around the world, and sometimes on a daily basis. "Who is your Lord and Master?" And Peter you were confronted by a house-maid and then by others who thought they knew that you were one of Jesus' disciples.
Weren't you with him? Here's one of them! Surely, you're one of them? (Mark 14:67-72).
This isn't the abuse, or cruel speech, you write about later in your letter, is it, Peter? If it were so, it's hard to agree with you since there is no indication from any of the Gospels that on that occasion, any of those waiting there in that court-yard sank the boot into you - not then and not when you broke down!
But, Peter, you surely felt the threat; that's obvious. And we can understand that. You allowed the responses you anticipated to deeply trouble you. And you obviously encourage the readers of your letter to anticipate cruel reactions to any open profession of belief, as well. You assume that those who do make such a profession should expect opposition, also political opposition. And some time later you did experience that kind of opposition, even the same kind of official Jewish-religious and Roman-political opposition which had dealt with your Rabbi. So what happened, Peter? What was it you had said then?
I don't know what you're going on about. I wouldn't have the slightest clue. I don't even have any idea who this fellow is! (see Mark 14:67-72).
In the grueling last hours before His trial, your Rabbi, Peter, anticipated what would lie ahead for you, and He had told you so (Luke 22:31-34). But we realise, Peter, that it was not until after you had let the threats you anticipated from the others who were there frighten you into outright denial, that you began to understand that you had not been ready with a word to explain your hope. Yes, Jesus had given you due warning. But at that point you not only didn't have a word to explain why you were a follower of Jesus. You said you didn't know Him. You said you had no idea who He was. You denied Him. You turned your back on Him. The maid's observation brought an instinctive troubled denial. Your reply then had no hope in it, none at all.
Peter, as I have said, you then faced a situation known to many people of Christian faith (and other faiths) around the world. That's the question: "Who is your Lord and Master?" So what happened? How was it that sometime after all this happened, Peter, as Jesus' apostle, could say:
Judge for yourselves! Should we allow your fears to trump us into denying what God has allowed us to experience? (Acts 4:19-20) When it comes right down to it, we obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29)
So you then also write this letter challenging readers to respond in a way that you initially didn't - when at that "tipping point" moment of your own life, you failed. Your advice to readers here therefore is in stark contrast to that earlier situation. So, what has happened?
Clearly this question is about grounds for this later advice. Are we to believe this letter, plus the other New Testament records of your speeches? They suggest your own transformation! But if that is so, then this is not only about you, it is of a mighty power, a gift of mercy, love and restoration, that was breathed into your life and of the life of others as well, and of which you are simply one of those who share it, one of those for whom you have been made responsible. If that is true, Peter, what you say is evidence of an almighty turnaround. You had once been there and not done that, but now, in this letter, you write as someone with a ready word, a ready word of great hope, the Hope of All Ages! This letter then is not only about political life and political service but it is certainly about the hope-filled direction of everything we do including how we live, openly and boldly as members of the household of faith, in political communities.
Christ Himself not only suffered such threats. He suffered physically, in his body, in his guts, for doing what was right, for doing good. And indeed, you say, by raising Him from the grave, God completely embarrassed those whose political hatred had put Him to death. Peter, you were standing there nearby to this miscarriage of justice, when you denied your association with your Rabbi. You let Him suffer alone. But Peter, you are also the author of this letter in which you claim that Jesus' resurrection is the sure grounds of any hope-filled, meaningful life of service. Any embarrassment Peter which you may have harboured due to your earlier failure to have a word of hope about Jesus, is apparently left behind with the renewal of what would seem to be a deep friendship with … Who? God Himself?
Peter, your subsequent proclamation says that in the bodily death of Jesus Christ, who suffered all alone, God fully shared our humanity. At every step of the way along this path, the path trod by "the man of sorrows acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53), Jesus proclaimed God's way of mercy and right-living to those held in spiritual captivity. Peter, your message for us as we live our lives as citizens of God's Kingdom is about the resurrected Christ at God's right hand, the ruler to whom all the princes of this earth are accountable. Peter, you have written as one who has experienced the extension of this mercy to those henceforth privileged to participate in the work, the ongoing work, that looks to the complete fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes for His creation.
By His bruises have we been healed (2:24).
And so, Peter, in tasting the Lord's goodness, your own reported grief has been swallowed up in a victory of the Man of Sorrows. Is that how we should understand this amazing letter of encouragement from you? You, the disciple who, at one moment, had been so decisively discouraged by your own utter failure? You, the writer of this letter who was then restored as the friend of the resurrected Jesus? This is a way of life then that God alone could accomplish.
It is in receiving that life, that life that God alone can accomplish, that we are called to "do justice to ourselves". For Christians to neglect the political consequences of this stupendous life-embracing message, is to forget that God keeps His promises.
In giving this advice to his readers, Peter proclaims the indispensable lasting hope that makes us ready for service of God and neighbour in our political roles as citizens.
is written by Bruce Wearne, Point Lonsdale, to encourage a sustained Christian political contribution by seeking justice in the gentle and merciful rule of Jesus Christ, the ruler over all of the earth's political regimes.
October 2011 © The contents of this email are copyright. Editions may be photocopied or retransmitted in their entirety but not otherwise reprinted or transmitted without permission. "Nurturing Justice" is a project to encourage Christian political reflection based upon wise and loving civic participation. Comments are welcome and should be sent to