Politics is Broken

25 August 2014
Glyn Carpenter

Politics is Broken

by | Aug 25, 2014

While preparing for some election events I’m involved with I was looking over an article that I’d written for Daystar magazine back before the 2008 election when Labour was finishing its third term.

The events of the last couple of weeks suggest it’s just as true now as it was when it was originally written – maybe even more so.

Feel free to comment.

Politics is Broken

Daystar (July 2008)

“Politics is broken … It has failed to solve the big issues of our time”. So says respected evangelical leader and author of “God’s Politics” Jim Wallis in a recent book “Seven Ways to Change the World”. I would add that this will always be the case, because politics was never intended to solve the big issue of our time on its own.

Wallis makes three key points: (a) Christian faith and living is inherently political, (b) Christian engagement needs to transcend simplistic left/right or partisan politics, and (c) politics as it presently functions is broken.

The idea of separation of state and church appeared soon after the Reformation in the 16thC to avoid the inherent dangers when the two roles are conflated. Government and church are both ordained by God with different functions, and when functioning at their best, work together for the peace and prosperity of the nation and the world.

Much negative attention is being focused right now on the Labour-led government. Nearing the end of their third term in office, Labour looks tired and polls for nearly a year have shown them trailing by a big margin.

After three terms, not only are the “gaps not closed”, but this government has driven through or helped pass some of the most controversial legislation this country has seen for more than 20 years.

The Anglican Social Justice Commissioner commented in May that this year’s budget was a wasted opportunity, and a Salvation Army report in February said that despite huge investment in the core areas of social spending over the past five years (in the past 10 years this has increased from $23B/year to over $39B), it seems to have contributed “very little” to our social progress.

The question has to be asked whether this is simply because the changes needed are so large that 5 or 10 years is too short a time to judge fairly, or whether the government’s policies themselves are deficient in some way.

There is a lot of truth in both answers.

Certainly big changes in society take much longer than 10 years to bring about. How long has it taken to change attitudes on smoking or drink driving? To criticize any government for not fixing society’s ills in three terms or 9 years is clearly unfair.

However, to the extent that this government has not done as much as it could have done – even in three terms – to acknowledge the work of the Church, and grow that partnership, in fact some would say they have almost spurned it – they are responsible for the present situation.

The Church is not the only group of people in society engaged in volunteer activity. But a report from Britain indicates that Christians volunteer at over four times the rate of the general population. Partnership with Christian-based groups gives more bang for the buck.

NZ figures suggest that Christian marriages break up at one-fifth the rate of general population. Even non-Christian marriage produces better outcomes for children and families, which means less cost to society across many areas of tax-funded social spending. A government concerned about “closing the gaps” and social justice for children would acknowledge the role of the Church and importance of marriage.

New Zealand Christian Network (formerly Vision Network) is not concerned with attacking or promoting any individual political party. There has been no guarantee from National at this stage that they would work any differently with the Church.

We ask politicians from all parties to think more carefully about the role of the Church in our nation.

But the root causes of injustice in society will never be addressed by government alone. That requires a change of heart – and that is a work of God. It is not the government’s job to preach that message, but they can certainly do more to work with those who are.

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