That marvellous Church man William Sloane Coffin got it right when he said that In times of oppression, if you don’t translate choices of faith into political choices, you run the danger of washing your hands, like Pilate.The believing person must be the political person—with a difference. Our loyalties as Christians will never be tethered to any political party. History has shown the sad results when churches linked arms with state governments, catastrophic results ensued—from the Constantinian era to Hitler to you name it. The Church of England felt the backlash after WW1 when people remembered the lockstep promotion of war all in the name of the warrior Christ. Political parties always want God’s blessings on their policies Latterly the Baptists and many evangelicals became the mouthpieces for GW Bush’s bellicose policies and it cost them credibility- almost as much as the Catholic Church in Germany when the future Pope Pius Xll, Eugenio Pacelli dissolved the Centre Party in Germany and paved the way for Hitler. Catholic churches in too many places still fly the American flag on their altars. Bad move. The simple reason is that states have “interests”, seldom deep evangelical values—which Christians associate with God’s reign of justice and the common good. Constantine was no fool when he brought the Church into the imperial tent.
So where do Christians park their votes in a democratic society? We are still citizens but we have a different politics—that of the Reign of God which judges all political parties. The Dominican giant Edward Schillebeeckx said that “Nulla salus extra mundum” (No salvation outside this world) was the key to a meaningful theological response. This was obviously a riff on the classic medievalist notion “nulla salus extra ecclesiam—there is no salvation outside the Church”—a preposterous and arrogant assertion of 14th century popes like Boniface Vlll and Innocent lll.
Schilebeeckx turned this on its head and told us if you are looking for salvation, look into history and the world. You will find God active on the same side which Jesus privileged, that of the forgotten poor. Now contemporary theology has pointed to the despoiled earth as a manifestation of the Holy. This too is part of the common goods of the earth meant for all. No nation, no people is more important than any other. The super-developed west and its hogging of the globe’s resources stand in judgment and our despoliation of the poor and the planet is a stench in the nostrils of God. So you should not vote for any party which ignores the poor and the earth. No Tea Party for you.
Our postmodern world has confused and challenged modern believers. Grand narratives, heretofore sacrosanct, have broken down. People seem adrift hence the move to a secure fundamentalism, a simplistic embrace in “one size” fits all theology, a rejection of pluralism. Some nervous Catholics embraced this concept, throwing their minds and hearts to Rome with a desperate hope that ultimate meaning is alone brokered by the Catholic Church which holds out against any change. It is in Cardinal Ottaviani’s words, “Semper idem.” (always the same).The Pope and his bishops have the answers. Not so, a top-down hierarchical and patriarchal world has broken down and a new gestalt us emerging—more feminist, ecological and evolutionary. This is the meaning of vatican ll’s “signs of the times”. Rome (The Catholic Church) is merely one institution which has been unable to adapt to the “New”.
Conservative Catholicism, paralyzed by fear that things are out of control has run smack into evolutionary theology, in the key of D(Darwin). The price for staying the same is death. This is the sin against the Spirit. Now we are in history and change must be the only constant. The authentic Spirit (if Jesus is our lodestar) keeps prodding with the insistent call for biblical justice, for greater inclusion and compassion. It is OK for the patriarchal Church to die…this is the meaning of the Paschal Mystery, death is a prelude to deeper life.
The Holy for many today seems to be bypassing static churches hanging on to outmoded traditions or a Tradition which refuses to evolve The quest for meaning and purpose is a cardinal part of being human but it is only found on the raucous seas of history’s turbulence, never in dogma or doctrine. Outside this world there is no salvation. The Church with its Christic values must be there joining other institutions raising up the whole human family, the earth etc. We will be bringing “the politics of the kingdom”, the evolutionary Spirit to the drama.This will mean we will have little truck with right wing parties. This wave will take us beyond the status quo, exceptionalism, fundamentalism, consumerism, nationalism, patriarchy etc into the radical interdependence and relatedness of all human and planetary life.