Putting Empires in Perspective

When the news fills us with anxiety and division, where can we turn?

In late February, instead of working out a public conversation of the complex issues of the Wet’suwet’en blockades, mainstream news articles quickly turned toward the easier path of how the protests were affecting the popularity of the Prime Minister. Even the news of the SNC-Lavalin scandal last year focused on its impact on voters rather than on what citizens should properly expect of governmental leaders. The news has become dominated by how issues affect polls, and this has reduced citizen engagement to political tribalism. 

Now Christians have good reasons to feel marginalized by the present government. Religious freedoms and even freedom of conscience are being lost by a push toward a particular progressivist ideology. People, particularly Christians, are finding it increasingly difficult to act according to their own convictions, as doctors or even hospice administrators – with the push for MAiD – or as teachers – with the push of SOGI 123 – have discovered. It isn’t that Christians believe uniformly on these issues but Christians can see that their convictions are being subsumed by political utopianism, demanding societal change without proper public discourse over fundamental beliefs. Meanwhile, instead of focusing our attention on the complexity of these issues, the news turns to the popularity contests of our leaders. 

Overcoming political tribalism
So as these policies are demanded and enacted swiftly, and when news seems to fit hand-in-glove with this political utopianism, it is difficult to resist being pushed into a political tribe. Before we know it, we are playing the political power game. We can look to our neighbours to the south, and I can say this as a dual-citizen and as one who has family members invested in these discussions, to see how the extreme measures of one administration has led to another extreme. Leftism has pushed people further right. Parliamentary governments are not immune to political polarization either. We can simply look to Britain these days. To combat this polarization, I suggest we have a wider lens through which we read and hear the news, and by which we may seek to benefit not our tribe but the common good. 

Karl Barth, a Swiss-German theologian, encouraged seminarians almost a hundred years ago to read the Bible in one hand, and the news in the other, with – and this is the vital point – the Bible interpreting the news. He wanted to make sure that they weren’t being influenced by either the East (communism) or the West (atheistic materialism) but by a biblical worldview. 

We may take this advice today. Reading the news through the lens of the Bible pushes back the tendency toward political tribalism. Instead of reducing individuals to political identities, as enemies from another camp, we see that every human is equal, in regard to their being created by God, to their having fallen short of the glory of God, and to their being called by God’s grace in Christ. We are not to be tribes jockeying for raw power but a common humanity called to consider the common good under God. 

Seeing the big picture
Instead of being pulled into the crisis of now, where change is to be quick and complete, we can take a long view of history. Daniel in the midst of totalitarianism was able to see Babylon as but one passing kingdom, and that all kingdoms will fade or crumble before the coming of the eternal kingdom of God. This also leads us to see that instead of hoping that this or the next administration will make everything great (again?), we recognize that the government simply plays one role among many in society. It is when we place too much hope in a government that it becomes an idol, and when it does, it becomes something totalizing, leaving us inevitably crushed under the hooves of horses and the wheels of chariots. 

In this biblical worldview, to see a common humanity, to take a long view of history, and to consider the appropriate place of government, we are called away from the political anxiety and polarization that marks our cultural moment. That means we can keep calm and carry the cross on. 

Pray for journalists
Karl Barth told those same seminarians that he prays for journalists just after praying for the sick and the poor, since journalists play an important role in shaping public opinion. We too should pray for journalists, and in fact, pray for Christians to become journalists to report news through this wider lens of Scripture. To be a part of good change. And this is true not just of journalists. As the Christian is shaped by a biblical worldview, he or she can seek ways to engage society for the common good, whether courageously contending in spheres where the struggle is most acute, as in medicine or in education, or quietly seeking that good elsewhere, in the trades, in homes or in some other public service. 

So, let us make sure that we do not turn to our right or to our left but walk in all the ways our God has commanded, that we may live long in the land” (Deut. 5:32-33). 


Editor's Note:

This article was written before COVID-19 shut down schools and businesses and disrupted regular life across Canada. Since then, the need to pray for journalists, as Clarke says, has only grown. But the pandemic is happening to all of us: it’s no longer possible for anyone to be an outside witness. We’re all part of the same story and in the same desperate need of prayer. And so we’re on our knees asking God for protection over health care workers and everyone on the front lines; healing for the sick; comfort for those who have lost loved ones; aid for those who have lost jobs; support for those who live alone; strength for civil servants and business owners; wisdom for teachers and politicians; and patience for parents with school-age kids.

  • Since 2008, Clarke has been the director of L’Abri Fellowship Canada located near Victoria, B.C. You can find more at canadianlabri.org.

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