Christians told ‘Get involved in politics’

Don’t retreat. Getting involved in politics is good for Christians and our country, two public Christians said at the launch of Subjects and Citizens: the Politics of the Gospel, a new book by Sydney Anglican Michael Jensen.

It was launched enthusiastically by a Catholic, Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of The Australian.

“Have a go,” he summarized as the ‘secondary message’ of the book. “You won’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. Jump in and get active in the culture. Get active in the politics. Politics needs your activism. It needs your wisdom, and it’s possible. You might even make a mistake. It’s possible that I’ve even made a mistake.” The primary message of Subjects and Citizens, he said, was for Christians to be more Christian, a message that Sheridan pointed out won’t get every Christian on the same political page.

Sheridan gave several controversial examples.

“There is one caution I’d offer to Christians when they engage in public policy debate, and that is they have to grapple with the complexity of public policy issues. So, there are some things on which there is a simple Christian position. 

“Do we believe it’s human slavery? No, we absolutely don’t. Do we believe in racial hatred? No, we absolutely don’t. There are things that are clear, but in most issues of public policy, you want to have a Christian intention, but then there’s a legitimate argument about how you achieve your Christian intention. So it is a Christian intention to help the poor, definitely 100%.

“You can’t read the gospel and be indifferent to the poor, so therefore, you might say, well, to help the poor, we’re going to strengthen trade unions because they represent people who don’t have power as opposed to the bosses. 

“That’s a legitimate response. The other response might be exactly the opposite of that and equally legitimate. It might be to say to help the poor, we’re going to deregulate the labour market, which means limiting trade union’s power because that will lead to the creation of bringing more businesses, and the more businesses are created, the more people will have jobs, and the people with jobs are liberated from poverty. I spent a lot of time in India, and the Indian state grapples with that exact conundrum all the time. They want to strengthen trade union rights because they want to help people who don’t have power, but if they overregulate the labour market, that means the formal economy remains very small, and nothing helps an Indian secure a decent life than moving from the informal economy to the formal economy.

“So the objective to help the poor is an unarguable Christian objective. The method that you use to get there is a subject of legitimate debate and disagreement, and Christians in very good conscience can disagree with each other on this.”

A second example is the Voice referendum.

“I’m inspired by the Christian values or say universality,” Sheridan continued. “So unlike [Michael] , I was against the idea of an indigenous Voice to parliament on the basis of Christian universalism. There is neither Jew nor Greek slave nor free male and female, and I thought the voice would contradict civic universalism, which is a pale but splendid reflection of God’s universalism. Loads and loads and loads of Christians took the other view and I think we’re entitled to disagree in goodwill and we ought to disagree not only civil way with each other, but in a loving way. [In Subjects and Citizens] Michael rejoices in commanding us to love our enemies, which doesn’t mean, of course, that you don’t disagree with your enemies.”

Michael Jensen described the current polarisation in our community, and others, as his motivation for Subjects and Citizens.

He urged Christians to “think our politics down from our first commitment, which for Christians must be Christ.

“I wrote this book because Christians are, I’m afraid, being tempted not to do this [and so be] like the rest of the community. We’ve become polarised in our thinking about politics and prone to committing to the kind of dogmatism characteristic of our age to positions, parties and politicians who may or may not be good. It seems that the more uncertainty we face, the more certain we become. Worst of all, I hear Christians advocate for a kind of Christian takeover of government as if this is what is needed to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ. I say that this is confusing earthly politics (In the book, I call this politics 1.0) with our allegiance to Christ (which I call politics 2.0). 

“In other words, it becomes the lens through which we see political power on the earth. We are called into a new politics, the community of Christ’s people and we are called to live not according to the pattern of this world. As Paul tells us in Romans chapter 12 right at the beginning, this new pattern for politics is given to us by Christ himself, the humble Lord who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom. For many it is expressed not simply in the love of neighbour but also remarkably in the love of our enemies, not the expense of justice and truth. For indeed to love our enemies may be to say no to them, to prohibit them from doing, prevent them from doing the evil they intent. If such, it is indeed justice and truth are the cause of our love for our neighbour, for our enemy, I should say.” 

Jensen listed important lessons the West learned from the Bible. “It learned about the separation of the powers. It learned that justice must be tempered with mercy. It learned about the equal dignity of human beings and their equal sinfulness. It learned about its responsibility to care for the poor and the outcast. It learned not to worship those in power as divine. It learnt even to criticise itself.” We should not forget these blessings and what we have on account of them, but as the sand of history shifts and we become undoubtedly a less Christian society, as Christianity becomes more marginal in the nation’s consciousness and less a source for discussion about what is wrong or right.”

But when asked whether there was a high watermark of Christian influence – say, the 1950s – both speakers disagreed. “Nostalgia is never helpful, Jensen responded. ” I don’t think you look back to say a high watermark of Christianity characteristically in the cliches, the 1950s, the high water of Christianity in the West. That might be true numerically. Certainly, the 1920s and thirties were a bit very much lower resurgence after the Second World War. But if you look back nostalgically, you failed to see where actually there were deep problems. You failed to see where the church has blind spots and you are condemned to just repeat the mistakes of the past. I think we are told to be watchful and particularly watch the times in the New Testament several times Jesus and Paul and others. And I think part of watching the times is actually saying, how does the gospel fit to our circumstances now. And so not simply a kind of return to some imaginary golden era: that is a false trail, I think.”

Sheridan looked further back to the radicalism of the early Christians. “The nearest parallel today is the Christians in China. They’re not looking to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party. They’re not looking to become martyrs, they’re not looking to institute a new political order. They want to be good citizens, they want to obey the laws of the Chinese state, but they won’t worship Caesar. They won’t say that the Chinese communist party is the head of the Christian Church. They won’t give up the gospel, they won’t stop spreading the good news. 

“And in this insistence on being true Christians, they are indeed revolutionary… And the Chinese Communist Party in a sense, although it’s very, very wicked, is quite smart to understand the Christians as posing a tremendous threat to them.”

Sheridan spoke up for several of our most recent Prime Ministers being far more serious Christians than the public sees.

“I’ve known all the prime ministers pretty well since Hawke, and most of them have been active Christians, active serious Christians. So John Howard certainly was. Kevin Rudd, not Julia Gillard, which is not a mark against her. She’s a very fine woman, a very good person. Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison. These have all been serious Christians who really thought about the matter very, very deeply.

“I shouldn’t digress with these terrible rambling anecdotes, but I’ll tell you one. Malcolm Turnbull and I were going to appear on an episode of QandA, and he was texting me in question time because we’ve got to do something in question time, and he said, look, politics is so depressing at the moment. Let’s talk about theology on QandA. So I texted him back, I said, okay, what are we going to talk about? And he said, how about the Apollianarian heresy? Now, Apollianarianism was the heresy that held that Jesus didn’t have a human mind, and I thought that was just a fraction obscure of him for QandA. So I texted him back, I said, look, I think that’s a bit complex. Why don’t we just settle on Duns Scotus, the mediaeval theologian, and he said, okay, the first one mentioning Duns Scotus, the other one buys a bottle of champagne. 

“There’s one thing about journalists. We’re very stingy. We hate to spend our own money. So we’re going through the discussion on QandA and I said at one point the audience, now the problem with the federal government is that it approaches the explanation of economic policy with all the directness and subtlety and difficulty of Duns Scotus on the immaculate conception. The panel roared with laughter. Everyone else on the panel said, yes, that’s exactly what I say. Next day, lo and behold, a splendid of bottle of champagne appeared at my door. And I always make that story public because they don’t want to go before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. But the point of that long winded anecdote is that me, Turnbull really knows a great deal of theology and you’d never know that from the way he talks.”


Subjects and Citizens The Politics of the Gospel: Lessons from Romans 12–15 Michael Jensen, Matthias Media 2024. Available from The Wandering Bookseller $15.99


  1. I am a Christian and I became involved. I become disheartened but persist for the betterment of mankind and the people of Australia.

  2. I agree the Christian Church in China does not want to bow to Xi Jing Ping and does not want to overthrow the government. They just want separation of church and state. Just being allowed to gather and worship without interference from the Chinese Government. Unfortunately they are being persecuted whilst they bravely carry on in small groups. It is indeed difficult to be a Christian in China today.

  3. Intellectually I totally agree, however in practice it follows the Americanism of Christianity, the lust of Power because only Christians know what’s right for the country. Already I’m hated on bu other Christiansin Australia because I have a different view.to them on politics. The temptation for Christians to see answers to all things thru Politics is too great and too enticing. I totally agree with Scott Morrison when he says “change / revival comes thru the church not thru Politics”. Christians getting involved in Politics seems to always bring Disunity into Churches. At least that’s what I see and experience.

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