Published for Real Life Worship, 2008
When exploring Christian worship in this way, the question about being political often rises to the surface. Either from those who think worship should not be political, or from those who would like worship to be more political. The assumption, in either case, is that worship can be non-political.
This seems to me a very modern assumption, based upon the segregation of different dimensions of human life. It is as though we become ‘political’ by choice, or we may choose to have nothing to do with politics. If we are spiritual, then we may not want to spoil our spirituality by becoming political. If we regard politics as merely the business of national and local government, we see corruption and injustice and may choose to have no part in it. At that level, we may choose to withdraw from ‘politics’.
Equally, for those who feel the pain of injustice in the world and long for the church to speak and act prophetically, the lament may be that we are not political enough. But here it is worth remembering Aristotle’s claim that human beings are political animals. The Kingdom of God, whatever else it is, remains a political reality. All humans are political, and all churches – whether they know it or not - support and demonstrate particular ways of being political.
Politics is something fundamentally human. It describes how we choose to live together, locally and globally. And worship describes the way that we attach ‘worth’ to the world around us, and organise (and ‘politicise’) our lives as a result. The real question then is who we actually worship. What or who are the objects to which we attribute worth? It is possible to be dominated by mortgages, holidays, nice cars etc, in such a way that our Sunday worship – regardless of the noises we make and the habits we treasure – simply endorses the unfairness and corruption of the way that the world is (politically) organised. However un-political we may feel, such worship is an enormous political statement.
Of course, the most attractive Christ to us may be one who reflects all the values and priorities we have already chosen to treasure. But we all know that however good he might seem, and however white his robes, he is an idol. We cannot help but impose who we are upon who we worship – but we would hope that this is not a one-way street.
We worship a Christ who is angered by injustice, who welcomes the stranger, who kisses the leper. We also worship the Christ who salutes the military officer of a hostile empire, who eats with the tax-collecting perpetrators of oppression, who enjoys the affections of a prostitute. Worship of this Christ cannot help but have political consequences. Perhaps our basic challenge is not how to be political, but who to worship.