Posted by: rogermitchell | August 1, 2016

God and Politics

My good friend Lance Muir has encouraged me to respond to Paul Young’s recent blog post on God and politics.  I have very great respect for Paul and realise that he is attempting to express something really important about the nature of politics and government. As he says “I am not discounting that good people enter politics for good reasons and that even political machinery can accomplish good, but let us not confuse nationalism and patriotism with the kingdom of God.” But instead of focusing on the difference between the politics of love which rejects patriotism and racism and the politics of sovereign power that promotes them, he appears to dismiss politics and government completely as the proper arena for the work of the kingdom of God.

But the word for kingdom (basileia) that Jesus used in his proclamation of the kingdom of God is unequivocally a political one. As Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther explain, “Basileia, the Greek equivalent of the Latin imperium, has traditionally been translated ‘kingdom’ or ‘reign.’ In the Greek-speaking world of the first century the word had a primary meaning: the Roman Empire.” (Unveiling Empire. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999, 224.) By proclaiming the kingdom of God at precisely the same time as the empire of Rome was at its height, Jesus positioned his followers with their message of love for self, neighbour and enemy into the centre of the political arena.  N. T. Wright similarly makes this clear by showing that Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God stands firmly in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, whose prophecies and visions of a new and just world were critiques of the imperial politics of Israel and the surrounding nations. (See The New Testament and the People of God. London: SPCK, 1997, 243-286.) This is the context in which Isaiah declares “to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder” (Is 9:6)

In my books, papers and numerous blog posts I have traced the history of what I call the sovereignty delusion. This delusion, based on the mistaken idea that peace comes through the politics of empire, has impregnated our understanding of politics and government since the fourth century partnership of church and empire until the present day. This destructive partnership is currently reaching a climax and the phenomena of Brexit and Trump are, at least in part, immediate evidence of this. This lies behind both the protest vote of the multitude who have been marginalised by the sovereignty of the rich and powerful and in the nationalism, patriotism and racism to which they give place.

Paul Young rightly describes the kingdom of God as “an alternative kingdom to the kingdoms of this world” and recognises that “the only option to the insanity of political empire is the kingdom of God.” But he then seems to limit this to “only a kingdom that changes us from within.” However, the gospel message of the kingdom of God not only changes individual people from within, but proclaims a new humanity whose loving politics can proceed to change the corporate institutions and policy decisions of our world from within. What is urgently needed is for the people of God to travail in hopeful partnership with the Spirit to embody and apply the politics and government of love wherever they are located throughout all our workplaces and communities.  Without this engagement with both grassroots and institutional politics we risk leaving the world system unchallenged and unchanged.




  1. Paul Young has graciously responded to this on twitter @wmpaulyoung as follows: “I agree, especially as regards the my sense of limitation to ‘within’. The KOG must have a communal expression. Good catch!”

  2. I get really tired of Christians bowing out when it comes to politics. It’s like they are too good to talk about it and when I have an opinion, they look at me like “poor poor you getting all mixed up in that.” I don’t think they realize how what is going on could directly effect their day to day lives. Freedoms they take for granted are on the line. And I also think it is laziness hidden behind “faith”. Maybe there was a time when politics was politics but it’s gone beyond that now. The lack of morality and search for truth is crumbling America from within. I see people I trust in public eye of christians shying away from the Homosexual issue and others. I don’t understand this. Why is that sin immune from any other? I posted what I though about Paul’s blog on this and my comment was deleted. It surprised me. It made me wonder if he doesn’t want things to be too real. When has it ever been right to keep silent. I had premarital Sex. I don’t expect all preachers and scholars to tip toe around my sin. It doesn’t offend me if a preacher preaches against this. Neither does it offend me if a preacher preaches against lying. So why keep silent about Homosexuality. The bible is clear about it just like other things. When is it being loving or just being plain apathetic or just not wanting to offend? I hate political correctness and I’m tired of people hating America. I don’t get it. It didn’t seem Paul made any distinction for America. Since when is it wrong to be patriotic? Bad things have happened in this country along with a lot of good things. What about veterans who give their life for freedom?? Who die for the sake of others’?? I guess they have all died in vain?? I mean come on. I don’t know what I think about him anymore. I’ve always admired him so much

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