III. What is our Christian responsibility towards politics and government, whether or not we are called to be actively politically engaged? How should we view a political institution like the EU when it appears to be enforcing ‘godless, humanistic policies’ across Europe?
These were my questions when in 1991 I visited Brussels with my colleagues, as described in the first chapter. I wanted to understand the history and philosophy of the European Community, as it was then called, and to know how Christians should relate to the institution.
The following year, the Maastricht Treaty year, we held a consultation in Brussels for fifty evangelical leaders called (imaginatively) Europa ’92. Several leading figures in the European Commission addressed the assembly, as well as Sir Fred Catherwood, mentioned earlier.
Sir Fred in particular helped us think through some of the biblical guidelines on political engagement, as we studied the stories of Joseph, Daniel, Esther and Nehemiah, all of whom served as people of faith, character and integrity in pagan administrations.
We summarised our conclusions in a statement called the Brussels Affirmation.
The institution of government, we affirmed, whether of the single nation-state or multi-national (as with Rome or the EU), is a God-ordained sphere of authority (Romans 13:1-7); and that civil servants and politicians are called ‘ministers of God’ (diakonos – Roms 13:4), and are to be obeyed when operating within their God-given authority. Paul gave these instructions with a clearly pagan administration in mind.
This meant that Christians had a primary duty to pray for such government officials, both of nation-states and of the EU, for wise and just government, so that conditions of social ‘quiet and peace’ might facilitate the preaching of the gospel (1 Tim 2:1-4).
Therefore we needed to re-evaluate our attitudes towards the process of European union in general and the European Union in particular, and to repent of any apathy towards involvement in this process.
Sir Fred reminded us, as does the Schuman story, that the original vision of the EU was not primarily economic, but aimed to reconcile the warring European nations into a true community of nations, laying aside their ‘tribal squabbles’.
We also recognised the need for Christians to monitor developments in several areas, given that in the real world, results did not always follow intentions.
- the tendency for economic and material values to dominate the decision-making processes of the EU;
- a potentially alarming democratic deficit in these processes, which could lead to misuse of power;
- the speed of developments in recent years which increases the danger of autocratic decision-making;
- the possibility for non-biblical worldviews to dominate the spiritual values guiding the new Europe.
Knowing that the power of the gospel had both preserving (salt)and saving (light)dimensions, we affirmed the need to apply God’s word to every sphere of life affected by sin, including politics, economics and social issues.
We also acknowledged how the process of European unity was creating many opportunities waiting to be grasped for evangelism and mission in lands with previous limited freedom of worship. At the same time we had a responsibility to act collectively towards helping to rebuild the (then) newly liberated central and eastern European lands; and for evangelical Christians to help shape the spiritual character and values of the emerging new Europe.
Lastly, we affirmed that many issues challenging European union and true community today could only be sufficiently responded to from a biblical perspective, which transcended race, nation and culture, such as racism, nationalism, the rise of Islam, the influx of refugees, and the environment, offered a secure hope allowing for tolerance to rival worldviews, called for God’s people to hospitality and compassion, and required wise stewardship of earth’s resources.
Even after nearly two decades, these affirmations continue to provide relevant guidelines for a responsible Christian engagement with the EU, or any other government, national or local.
(The fourth question will be published next week)
Director Schuman Centre
Following this consultation, a socio-political office of the European Evangelical Alliance was established in Brussels towards this goal.