The ‘faith’ of political leaders

  • Question 100, from CM, United Kingdom

    Tony Blair and George W. Bush wear their Christian faith very much on their sleeve and are not averse to playing it up in front of the right audience but being very vague about it before another. Their job is very demanding, carrying an enormous amount of responsibility with the scope to make mistakes on a similar scale if they are not careful. There is a question that is often asked regarding whether their faith is genuine. But if they don’t have the time in their busy schedules to do any Bible study, what advice and examples does the Bible offer regarding those with such responsibility in how they should practice their faith and how it should influence their decision-making? What are the top five scriptures they could meditate upon during their brief downtimes?

    This is a fairly interesting current affairs topic at the moment, with George Bush allegedly saying that God told him to start the war in Iraq, and Tony Blair revealing on a UK chat show that he God would be his judge over his support of President Bush’s war plans. However, there is a great amount of debate over the genuineness of either politician’s faith. Bush obviously has his supporters among the right-wing Christians in the USA, but some critics have singled out his disregard for the environment and for the American poor as evidence of defective theology. Similarly Blair’s faith occasionally comes under scrutiny, but is more often disregarded or mocked, notably in the magazine Private Eye which includes a regular column reporting the ‘Albion Parish News’ as if the Prime Minister were an ineffectual Anglican vicar.

    However, this is a serious enough question and one, which needs an answer. Is it at all possible for a Christian to exert governmental power and make decisions from an entirely Christian basis? One of the major criticisms of recent politics is that pragmatism often wins out over principles. Any Christian in a position of power may feel that they have to make decisions that go against their personal moral stance in order to achieve a ‘greater good’.

    There are, of course, several parts of the Bible that relate to how leaders should conduct themselves. In the Old Testament era, when Israel was a theocratic monarchy, the rulers of Israel were expected to adhere to certain standards, although in practice, there was little to differentiate them morally from surrounding nations. Even notable rulers like David and Solomon engaged in certain dubious activities, which despite subsequent attempts to eulogise them, remain central to their stories. The Old Testament, with its many God-sanctioned wars, has proved to be a source of inspiration for many ‘Christian’ leaders through the centuries, who naturally assume that they are fighting God’s battles here on earth.

    In some senses, this question does contain a potential area for confusion. Put simply, while on a greater scale, the actions of presidents and prime ministers are no different to the actions of any other human beings. The consequences may be larger, and more public, but the responsibilities for those actions remain the same before God. Christian theology teaches that every human being will be held to account for what they have done (or haven’t as the case may be).

    In the case of President Bush and prime Minister Blair, one passage of Scripture that does come to mind, given the events in Iraq, is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5 and 6. This speech which in Matthew’s gospel kicks off Jesus’ teaching ministry, is often regarded as Christianity distilled into a few short phrases. One that stands out is Matthew chapter 5, verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Whether peace can be forcibly created is another debate. Calling Bush and Blair ‘sons of God’ is left to the discretion of individuals.

    Thanks for your question, CM. This marks the 100th answer to questions sent in from all around the world, since freelance theology began. Thank you to everyone who has sent in a question.

    This answer is sponsored by Adam Harbinson, author of Savage Shepherds and the forthcoming book, The Jesus I Know, which includes a contribution from Jon the freelance theologian. Discover more about Adam on his personal website. Adam attends May Street Church

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