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After all, the Copernican revolution and scientific advances had revealed that the world and humanity operated according to certain natural laws, laws of cause and effect which should not be violated by providential interferences as religion claims. In practice, this meant that religion has no place in the realm of politics, economics, and other socio-cultural spheres -- leaving thereby the realm of law and order, science, the state, racism, sexism and classism and other forms of social oppression beyond the reach of the Gospel.

The emergence of religious revivals and pietism in the 19th century did not help much to overcome this dualism, because of its overemphasis on the cultivation of private virtue and piety. For, priests bought wholesale the motto of liberalism and its individualism, which effected the separation between the private and public life, the realm of the inner life and external realm, between the secular and the sacred spheres, and between the Sunday faith and weekday morality.

The upshot of what has been said is that the thoroughgoing separation between the secular and the religious spheres is a recent development during the 18th and 19th centuries, which lead to the confusion regarding what relation religion ought to have with politics. Regrettably, some Christians concluded that theology and the Church have no place in the public matters which are better served when they are left to the so-called experts. Not surprising, it has taken the Church a long time to develop a critical and prophetic theology with which to confront the social evils and oppression which have condemned the majority of the human family to abject poverty and dehumanizing life.

Against this dualism, between the internal and external, private and public, a dualism which has led to the exploitation and oppression of many human beings, I contend that followers of Christ have no other option but to take an active interest in the earthly, secular things such as politics and economics because Jesus would not permit us the luxury of dwelling in a "spiritual ghetto unrelated and unconcerned with real life issues".

Cares enormously about children in resettlement camps, who must drink water to fill their stomachs because there is no food; he cares about shivering women at Nyanga whose flimsy plastic shelters are being destroyed by police; He cares that the influx control system together with Bantunization are destroying black family life not accidentally but by deliberate government policy; He cares that people die mysteriously in detention; He cares that something horrible is happening in this country when a man will often mow down his family before turning the gun on himself; He cares that life seems so dirt cheap cited in Maimela It is because God cares so much about the life the Creator has made that God is not useless and irrelevant to human struggles for political freedom, but is worthy of praise and worship.

THE APOSTOLIC AGE

In consequence, Archbishop Tutu believes that he cannot be the disciple of such a caring God and remain aloof from socio-political involvement. For he is conscious of the fact that in their interactions with one another, human beings, by virtue of being social beings, are of necessity political beings whose actions have both political dimensions and involve moral responsibility before God and their fellows.

It is the God who seeks the lost, who binds the broken-hearted, who rescues the afflicted and is the comforter of the weak. It is the God about whom Archbishop Desmond Tutu could, with exuberant tone and deep insight, testify:. Your love for me, your worship of me, are authenticated and expressed by your love and your service of your fellows cited in Maimela In conclusion, the debate about the relationship between theology and religion sheds some light from another perspective, which, often betrays a conservative mind-set.

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Put more crudely, when people demand that religion should be kept separate from politics, and especially that the Church should not preach politics, they usually say that the preacher must not meddle in "dirty politics". The thought here is that the Gospel and the Church are concerned with things which are clean and lovely, with holy things, with the soul and the hereafter, with exalted things.

By contrast, politics is seen as dirty, as concerned with "worldly" things, unworthy and unholy things, things which should not be allowed to pollute the Gospel and the Church. Politicians often solemnly admonish the Church and its preachers and clergy to confine themselves to their task and leave politics and social life to the politicians, particularly the government. These politicians, of course, do not speak of politics as dirty, but they base what they say on the same sharp distinction between the Church or Gospel and politics. First , we can consider the concrete question of what is that politicians and particularly the government are doing.

A government makes laws which citizens must obey. These laws govern the lives of the citizens; they set out to improve certain conditions and to create other conditions; they determine what is right and may be done and what is wrong and may not be done? Secondly , we may look at the question from a slightly different angle.

What I’ve Learned about Jesus Christ, Public Life, and Full-Time Christian Service

Politics, and the government in particular, have to do with the structuring of the society. It is the government which determines how the money gained from taxation is to be applied, how much is spent on armaments, how much on large industrial projects and so on.

Such decisions can change the whole course of events in a country and so change the lives of millions of people. It is the authorities who determine whether national service shall be made compulsory for young men and women, how long that service shall be made compulsory for young men and women, how long that service shall be and what they will do.

Have all these things nothing to do with the Gospel? Has the Gospel nothing to say about war and peace, about our lives and how our lives are changed by the projects of politicians? In South Africa politicians used to determine where men and women may live and where they may not live, where they may work and where they may not work, where they may vote and own property, who will have free and compulsory education and who will not. Such are the all embracing decisions they make! Has the Gospel nothing to do with all these?

Does the Bible have nothing to say about what our community should be like? Do we not have Amos and James in the Bible?


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Enough rhetorical questions, the Gospel has a great deal to do with politics. It would therefore be wrong for us to assume that the Gospel and politics can be kept in separate compartments. The Gospel has much to say to the politician and to the government. Or did Elijah and Jeremiah and Amos and Jesus not have much to say to the authorities of their times? Let us approach the problem from another angle.

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They were at the mercy of diseases and catastrophes over which they had no control. Their faith in God was shaken by natural disasters. As recently as two centuries ago the earthquake in Lisbon which killed thousands of people, raised the question of the existence of a God of love, because things beyond human control, things in and outside nature threatened human existence. The events of the Twentieth Century have made this kind of question even more pertinent. Not only have natural disasters such as earthquakes occurred; atrocities of apocalyptic dimensions have been committed by the so-called civilized nations.

There were Hiroshima and Nagasaki where nuclear bombs killed thousands of people in a flash: not only soldiers, but also women and children and unborn infants. These were not natural disasters, they were political disasters. These were carefully planned and executed events in which politicians and governments took decisions. Has the Gospel nothing to say about things like these?

Has the Church no message of judgement upon the racial hatred of the Germans and their murder of the Jews? All these things occurred as a result of political decisions, dirty political decisions. Was it not, however, precisely for sinners and for the enemies of God that Jesus came? Does John have nothing to say about mass murder and about the oppression of human beings? In truth, the Gospel has everything to do with politics. In our century we have even come to see such matters as disease in a new light.

Disease is not simply the fate of an individual assigned to him or her from above. One can become ill by working under bad conditions, by living in a badly built house, by being underfed. One can die of an illness because efficient medical services are not available. Has the Gospel nothing to do with this kind of thing?

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Ministry of Jesus

If not, then it was a mistake to do medical missionary work. Stated briefly, we no longer live under conditions of cosmic powerlessness and slavery that characterized the lives of people from the first centuries of the Christian era until quite recently. Because the Gospel is concerned with our lives, with love to God and neighbor, the Church has an indispensable message for our political life. Three important points need to be noted. First, it is a delusion to believe that some churches are not involved in politics. All churches and religious groups have a political influence. Even those churches that do not criticize politicians and the government are involved in politics.

Simply by saying nothing, they accept what is happening and sanction it by silence. Secondly, let us note that politics can indeed be dirty but that it does not need to be dirty. Reformed theology has always called for the sovereignty of Jesus over all society.


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God created the earth and mankind and has made us responsible for one another. A government that does not heed the message of the gospel cannot do the will of God. Therefore, the church which is not continually expressing the will of God to the government is not fulfilling its calling.