The “Politics of Election” and the “Politics of Discipleship”

The General Election is knocking at our door. But Christian Trends is neither for a quick ‘election fix’ nor does our interest lie in informing you about how Jesus wants you to vote; or to inform how Jesus loves democracy, or that Jesus and the ‘leftist’ parties share the same political vision, or if we need a presidential or a parliamentary form of government in the country.

Our intention is not to invite the Church to be more political or make believers more political; in fact, the people in the Church tend to be more politically aware and engaged than most people around us.

We would rather suggest that we become attentive to what is happening around us-the religious, economic, social and cultural changes. Two phrases from G Ward’s book-The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens-helps us to draw a distinction between ‘the politics of election’ and the ‘politics of discipleship’.

The ‘politics of discipleship’ is something different. It is built on our involvement in working towards the common good, being members of the Body of Christ.

What is the ‘politics of election’? The world around us is in a ‘crisis of democracy: mainly due to ‘globalising’ trends, postmodern ideologies, and visibility of a new kind of religious fervour. But three inherent dangers emerge from it. First, the danger of depoliticisation-where the citizens become a customer or client. They are requested to be satisfied with services provided by politically motivated sops, policies and manifestos. This widespread depoliticisation is a danger for democracy. Second is the danger of media-oriented politics with the new virtual dimensions (supported by artificial intelligence) that create a sense of what is true or to be living in a virtual world of ‘fake news democracy’. Thirdly, the danger of promoting myths-that there are hyper-individuals who will save the nation. These are the values embedded in the ‘politics of election’.

The ‘politics of discipleship’ is something different. It is built on our involvement in working towards the common good, being members of the Body of Christ. If we engage in transformative practices of hope-practices that resist current dehumanisation and depoliticisation-we become more politically aware and engaged.

But how? Alan Kreider, in his book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, highlights two aspects ( there are, in fact, four) which helped the early believers to be very attractive in their political contexts. First is patience. Patience was not a virtue close to most Graeco-Roman people. But it was centrally important to the early Christians. The early Christians believed that God is patient and Jesus visibly embodied patience. They concluded that they, trusting in God, should be patient-not controlling events, not anxious or in a hurry, and never using force to achieve their ends.

The second aspect is behaviour (habitus or reflexive bodily behaviour). The early church grew in number not because they had the political power, but because their habitual practice, rooted in patience was distinctive and intriguing. Their habitus enabled them to address intractable problems that ordinary people face in ways that offered hope. When challenged about their ideas, Christians pointed to their actions. They believed that their habitus, their embodied behaviour, was eloquent. It was their habitus, more than their ideas, that appealed to the majority of non-Christians who came to join them. Resisting depoliticisation and dehumanisation can only happen when we engage patiently and with our behaviour.

As you browse this issue, may you be reminded of our commitment to create this new type of discipleship-political discipleship.

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