Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Politics in Jesus' footsteps

December 3 some 400 parliamentarians gathered in Brussels for what has become the second largest gathering of Christian parliamentarians in the world, the European Prayer Breakfast. Among the speakers was Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands and leader of the Christian Union party, André Rouvoet. This text is a synopsis of his speech there.

My party, the Christian Union, became part of the government coalition in February 2007. From our point of view this was a blessing: for the first time in history we could exert a greater influence on our society for our clear, biblically inspired political programme.

But two important questions arose too: what will the Christian Union do with the power it gets and what will power do to the Christian Union?

The answer to the first question is very clear to me: a Christian should not be in it for the power itself. Power is not a goal, but a means. It is true, politics is all about power, but in Christian politics power is made to serve the justice of the Kingdom of heaven!

The answer to the second question we can only give at the end of this government term. I am fully aware though of the importance of recognising the temptations that government power brings. We want to resist adapting to the "ways of the world" and we don't want to forget who we are and why we are here in the first place. We know very well that making compromises is part of politics, but we will not be forced to give up our own convictions and our political conscience. We have promised each other to stay mindful of these things during the government term.

These reflections on the opportunities and risks of Christians taking part in government lead me to speak about another topic. Is there in 21st century Europe a prospect for politics in Jesus' footsteps?

For centuries Europe has been the continent from where Christianity spread across the world. Today Europe is often called "post Christian" or "secular" though and for several decades now the influence of Christian has been declining steeply. This goes for the Netherlands too. Ten years ago it was hardly imaginable that an explicitly Christian party would be part of the government coalition. Yet this is the reality today.

What does this tell us? I think it is a sign that we are no longer living in a "post-Christian" age, but that we have moved on to a "post-secular" age. The rationalistic modernism and secularism have been surpassed by its own child, post-modernism. The growing influence of religion in the political sphere has silenced the prophets of the Enlightenment, that announced the end of religion and the death of God.

Of course we have to be realistic. We may live in a post-secular world and religion may be back in the centre of society. And Christianity is the largest and fastest growing religion in the world, but this doesn't mean that we are witnessing a revival of Christian faith in Europe. We are still confronted with the cultural influence of unbelief and we still don't see Europe returning to the faith that formed its culture and identity.

What we do see though, are new opportunities for what I would like to call politics in Jesus' footsteps. There is a hopeful prospect in Europe for politics based in our faith.

Priorities on our agenda are, I think: care for the weak and the poor, especially now that the credit crunch makes it easy for us to forget about the poverty and the food crisis that are also there. Furthermore there is the global challenge of climate change and other environmental crises, that are not only threatening God's creation, but also the quality of life of millions of people and future generations.

Another challenge is respect for life, from the unborn to the terminally ill. In providing good care, we can offer alternatives for abortion and euthanasia. By our influence this is now government policy in the Netherlands.

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