02 May 2012

Money, Politics and the Kingdom

by Dr Mark Keown

As is not unusual, our political scene is a bit messy at the moment. The big talking point is the Kim Dotcom-John Banks donation scandal. The situation has emerged because allegedly John Banks asked Dotcom to split a $50,000 donation into two $25,000 donations and then declared them anonymously when he should have named the donor. So now there is a he-said, she-said type of situation with Banks denying wrongdoing and knowledge, and the wolves gathering to prove he did. It sounds a little messier today with John Banks having lobbied Maurice Williamson over Dotcom’s proposed purchase of his Coatesville home.

If we cast our minds back, there has been a continual run of issues in the NZ political scene such as excessive payments to the CEOs of Government organisations, travel expenses, and more. The trade-off of money for lobbying is now etched into political practice – well, it always has been. Anyone watching the US Election knows that money plays an enormous role in US politics, with near on a billion dollars spent on each side to establish who is President. Then over the Tasman we have the Peter Slipper affair, where the speaker of the House has stood down for sexual and financial misappropriation. The Australian government sits on a knife-edge as a result. Money and politics are inseparable bed-fellows.

What might a Christian think? Well, in our economy this unholy alliance of money and politics is inevitable at least to some degree. Any organisation needs money to run itself, and any campaign needs funding. Things start to get smelly when donations are undeclared, and when money is given in exchange for “services”, e.g. lobbying. This in ancient terms might be called patronage, whereby a wealthy person grants patronage in exchange for services in kind – reciprocity. Money becomes power and a means of political manipulation. Such patronage and reciprocity oiled the Roman Empire.

Jesus came amongst us and spoke of something different, “no-strings-attached” giving. The “political system” of the Kingdom does not run in this way, and neither should our churches. God becomes the agent of reciprocity in that, we give freely and graciously, and he rewards; rather than we give and expect repayment in kind. Giving to the poor who can’t reciprocate is encouraged. Misunderstood, this can lead to prosperity teaching whereby we give with the expectation of present-day financial blessing i.e. material prosperity. With a sound understanding of the “now – not yet” tension in the New Testament, we see that the real promise is of spiritual blessings in the present, and spiritual and material blessings in eternity – the full experience of eternal Shalom. Indeed, when we make present day blessing the motivation for giving (“give and God will bless you with more”), we potentially rob the giver of the blessing as they are giving out of false motives – to be loaded. If indeed we are materially blessed, we should reinvest that in the Kingdom, rather than use it for self.

Anyway, how does this relate to the political scene? Very uncomfortably! The “you scratch my back – I scratch yours” type system is now so normalised, that it must be very hard for a Christian in the political system to function without falling prey to it. As I read the Sermons of Jesus (Mount in Matthew and Plain in Luke), I suggest these are not unrealistic ideals, an interim ethic, or law indicating our need for Jesus; rather, they are ideals which should inform how we live 24/7. How a Christian politician does this in NZ’s political scene must be one of the greatest challenges to a believer imaginable.

When such patronage systems creep into the church, it needs lancing out. We see it in some churches where the wealthy are “lobbied” by CEO pastors for giving, and/or people give to the church then expecting the church to “play the game their way.”

At a national political level we Christians need to be a voice to keep the pressure on the system demanding that donations, lobbying must be declared. We have to make this sort of thing very hard or we will find our political system overwhelmed, and it will look more and more like Rome every day.

We also must beware playing the lobbying game to get political parties to “enforce” a Judeo-Christian ethic – that is not the way of the Kingdom – we do not use the weapons of this world…

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