Easter Reflection: God and Politics
Can Cameron “put God back into politics”?
As we approach Easter it seems that religion is suddenly back on the front page. Nationally the PM, David Cameron, has generously decided to “put God back into politics” and said that “Britain should be unashamedly evangelical about its Christian faith”. Here in Oxford the more local headline was “Crucifixion? You’ll need a permit”. This refers to the last-minute cancellation of the Cowley Road Passion Play – a piece of street theatre re-enacting the events of the crucifixion organised by the East Oxford churches over the last few years as both a witness and an act of worship. Sadly much preparation and effort may have been in vain – although something will probably happen in its place – apparently due to the fact that an overzealous council official misunderstood the word “passion” and thought it was something entirely different requiring a special permit! Clearly if God is to re-emerge in public life then Cameron will need to arrange for some religious literacy education for his officials.
Clearly if God is to re-emerge in public life then Cameron will need to arrange for some religious literacy education for his officials.
But how should faith express itself in public? During lent I have been reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2014 Lent Book Looking Through the Cross written by Graham Tomlin. It reflects on how we see power, ambition, wisdom, identity and so on through the “lens of the cross” and it has reminded me of just how counter-intuitive the Christian idea of the cross is. Indeed the Apostle Paul described it as being foolishness for wise people (the Greeks) and a stumbling block for religious people (the Jews) (1 Corinthians 1:23). How can such pain, shame, weakness and defeat be part of God’s plan? How could this happen to the Christ, the Messiah? Why would Christians ever even want this story to be true? Surely it is a bad story!
In the world’s estimation God’s “re-entry” into politics would need to be powerful and noteworthy – more akin to Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday than his execution on Good Friday. Indeed the news media is full of stories of power politics and strong nations invading weak nations, the rich oppressing the poor and even religious leaders seeking to rule by strength and imposition. Sadly Christians and Muslims get caught up in the same pattern of “might is right”; mutual retaliation, recourse to law for twisted purposes, angry demonstrations, demands for rights. Yet this is not the way of the cross.
The cross speaks of a deeper way, a better way. It is a way of self-sacrifice on behalf of others; a way of not overcoming evil with evil but with good; a non-violent resistance of those who believe themselves to be strong; a new identity as being dead to political and national allegiance but alive to a new identity as humble servants; a way through death into a new life of peace with God and neighbour. This does not begin to exhaust the Christian theology of the cross but it certainly should give pause for thought to those who believe that power and identity politics are the way that God would choose to enter public life.
The Christian Good News of Easter is that He will not enter as a conqueror to coerce people to be more religious.
Oxford City Council cannot keep the crucifixion off of the streets. Its effects will be seen as individuals and groups follow the example of Christ and give themselves to selflessly love their neighbours and serve the community of East Oxford. If God is to re-enter politics it will not be on Cameron’s terms but on God’s terms. The Christian Good News of Easter is that He will not enter as a conqueror to coerce people to be more religious. He will certainly not be used as a tool of the religious establishment. Rather He will enter as the serving God demonstrating His love and compassion through those who are willing to choose the way of the cross.
Dr Richard McCallum, Fellow, Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies
 These questions along with denials of the death of Christ on the cross – although often not his initial hanging on the cross – are often at the centre of disagreement between Christians and Muslims. For an in-depth exploration of both sides of the argument see Joseph Cumming’s article Did Jesus Die on the Cross?