The Kingdom and The Beast

Conversations at the church door and over coffee have recently centred around three items: Brexit, Donald Trump and church pews!

Conversations at the church door and over coffee have recently centred around three items: Brexit, Donald Trump and church pews! You can read about the last item in a separate article. But with one or two honourable exceptions, who see both withdrawal from the EU and the election of President Trump as extremely positive political developments, much fear and anxiety has been expressed to me about the direction of our country and the world, especially with the inflammatory rhetoric of America’s new President.
Christians are not immune from anxiety. But it is important to check ourselves before we allow our worry to dominate our action. First and foremost, we are called to model our lives and our world-view not on the tilts and turns of politics, be it conservative or progressive, but on the person and example of Jesus Christ. Our view of politics and the state of the world should be moulded by our faith, not our fears. If we believe that Jesus is Risen, that this is God’s world and that God longs for the world to be shaped according to the values of the Gospel, then it is these things that have first claim over our politics, not any allegiance to the abstract visions of progressive or conservative values. President Trump may be a master of incontinent ‘dog-whistle’ tweeting and what his advisers call ‘alternative facts’ (Christians will, of course, know that an alternative fact is really a lie), but we must learn not to be baited by such aggressive tactics, but to respond with truth, love, peace and justice.
Scripture offers us two chapter 13’s which influence our decision-making in respect to our relationship to “the powers that be”. Romans 13 offers an image of the Christian in respectful obedience to the state in the person of the Emperor. Taxes are to be paid, laws to be obeyed. In this image, the ruler is in some way God’s instrument. On the other hand, Revelation 13 offers the image of the Christian alert to the evil that the state can perpetrate, with the image of “The Beast” being a barely disguised picture of the Emperor. Evil is to be seen for what it is, resisted with the values of faith, and if necessary endured, because God will triumph over The Beast in the end.
The challenge, of course, is to discern exactly which of these images is relevant to our situation. As a convinced “Remainer” in last year’s Referendum, I am naturally disappointed and very worried about our future outside the EU. But it seems to me entirely right that, the decision having been taken, a legitimate Christian response is to ensure that democracy is upheld and that, without the Government being given carte blanche, Brexit is made to work. In this, I pray for our Prime Minister and Government, even if I continue to wish to persuade them of the value of liberal internationalist policies outside the European Union.
But when I heard a US President talk about using torture as a weapon of intelligence gathering, and I try to imagine such words on the mouth of our Saviour, I see something far darker and dangerous at work. Although not an American citizen, I am concerned for international security and for the wellbeing of many non-Americans when torture is normalised (including our own intelligence gatherers, who vocally oppose its use). It seems only right that Christians should resist such proposals and seek to persuade our government not to collude with any attempts to regularise torture.
Maybe there will be many such moments of discernment in the years ahead. Only time will tell. But, for Christians, when we pray, we ask to see the world through God’s eyes. When we spend time with God, we shall learn, day by day, to discern between The Kingdom and the Beast

Canon Simon Butler