When I was in my mid teens, I took a keen interest in politics, and since my main concerns were around what is often referred to today as social justice issues as well as helping the poor, my politics were tending toward the left. But then I got religion and the group who influenced me most was the Plymouth Brethren, who considered politics as an activity good Christians should not get involved in, since our citizenship was in heaven and as for earth we were merely strangers passing through. They discerned, probably correctly, when churches got too involved in worldly affairs, they lost their spiritual cutting edge and committed the unacceptable sin of becoming liberal. The term “community activist” was to my early mentors an alien one, as was the idea of getting much involved with good works that weren’t Christian based, although they did want to serve the community and did so generously and without ostentation, but usually only on their own terms and invariably it was linked to some perceived more spiritual activity that involved the saving of souls.
Roll on many years, when in the main my community involvement was church based and no politics, to the time that I was coming toward the end of my paid working life, and I found myself changing from being a highly paid computer consultant to that of a more modestly remunerated community worker. In the interim, I did get exposed to new ideas including those by the late John Stott. I came to realise that while I was seeking a heavenly kingdom, I needed to do good in this earthly one, and it meant leaving my holy huddle and getting involved in the murky world outside. While my involvement was initially to do with Christians helping their communities, the Christian bit tended to be diluted as the idea of partnering with non-Christians became more acceptable. By the early 2000’s it became apparent one of cardinal sins was religious proselytizing and one of the coveted virtues was promoting equality and diversity. I write about this transition in my book “Outside the Camp”, noting the pitfalls as well as the opportunities of getting involved in this way. This is a big deal. I advise Christian activists to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. I am these days in the position of being retired and being put out to pasture, but it does mean I can pick and choose my projects (usually unpaid). I like to think I do make a difference, which for me is most important, I have begun to pass the baton on to the next generation and I can say what I think, as I am at a time in life when I have less to lose from being politically incorrect.
It seems to me that doing a church based community activity, being involved in a larger scale activity where the church is less involved or as is often the case not involved at all, and being political is much about the scale of the operation. With the first you help a few in one’s close circle and sometimes with great results; with the second you can help many more and the results may be mixed and with the third there is the possibility you can make changes that can impact many more still. The problem I found, following on from my left wing days, is that I have little time for any of the political parties likely to gain power and right now I concur with the closing thought of today’s, Radio 4, Today programme, that mainstream politics is in a mess, both left and right. I have become what used to be known as a floating voter and tend to vote for the candidate who I think will do the most good, regardless of party. I am these days a strange mix of left and right politically and, rightly I feel, do not pin my hopes on man yet recognise the need for good government and good citizens.
I have already done two (approaching) U turns and am set for my third. While I see the amazing opportunities of being more involved in community and political affairs, I also see the very danger of worldly compromise that my early mentors warned me against. In my late teens, I abandoned my interests in politics to focus on religion (although not particularly well). In later life I became involved more in community and rebranded myself as a community activist. I couldn’t bring myself to identify with any political party though, yet waxed lyrical on all sorts of subjects to do with politics and managed to upset many in the process. As I contemplate my third U turn, which is to approach my position following my teenage conversion, while being more enlightened and having more empathy with those who are active in the community and politics, realising they could be instruments for doing good on earth. It is with the thought what is it God wants from me in my few remaining years (and for the Church)? Priority wise, besides being a watchman, I am inclined to the view it is 1. to preach the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19,20), 2. to serve the poor (Proverbs 19:17) and 3. to lead a holy life (according to God’s definition) (Hebrews 12:14). How one responds to the question in the title is for all of us a personal one, and it will depend much on individual circumstances, interests, gifting etc. For me, besides being an activist, preacher, watchman etc., I see the need to do a lot more praying to He who is Almighty.