Fanny Street, Can the Christian Stay out of Politics?

From Karl Polanyi
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What the love of Neighbour involves

[1] Practical guidance for the conduct of daily life was summed up by Jesus in his two great commandments, insisting that the love of God and our neighbours are bound up together; the two obligations were 'like', and on the two taken together both the law and prophets hung. It is worth noticing that his questioner raised no problem about the first duty but about the second; hence the query: 'and who is my neighbour'? By the end of the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus had completely turned this question round: 'Who therefore was my neighbour to him that fell among thieves? Clearly anyone in need is our neighbour, even though we come across him in the most accidental and casual manner, and we owe him whatever service we can render; still more must him whatever service we can render; still more must we acknowledge obligation to those bound up with us by the network of our social and economic life, widespread though that may be. We fail in the matter of Christian love every time we stand aside or neglect chances of making life better for our fellow men and women. Obviously our time and power and ability are limited, but there is no point at which we can say, of anyone in the world, 'That is not a neighbour; God does not expect me to bother myself about him'. 'Charity begins at home', is not a part of the teaching of Jesus; it is an effort to limit our duty of neighbourliness in a way clean contrary to his idea of love.

[2] Moreover, we are to love our neighbours as ourselves; that is a standard to be found close at home. We all have a pretty good notion of what is due to us in this world, what we think we have a right to have, what we mean to use our best endeavours to get. Now by Jesus’ reckoning, every good we can honestly enjoy or fairly seek for ourselves and our loved ones we must seek to secure for or share with all other human beings, for all are, like us, children of God and our brothers and sisters. No Christian can settle down to accept the plain necessities of a full and healthy life, decent food and clothing, good housing, a faire balance of work and leisure, opportunities of rue education and the enjoyment of beauty as privileges for the few. Still lass can a Christian accept without protest and efforts to change it a state of society in which some indulge in idleness and luxury at the expense of the misery and privation of their neighbours. We know now that it is within human power to make all the good things necessary for healthy life available for everyone. It is the task of the sons of God, as Paul clearly saw, to put an end to the groaning and travailing of the whole creation. Christians should be in the fore-front of the struggle to make the resources of God’s earth abundant for all His children.

If we look at the actual improvements in our ways of living, say during the last century, we can-not fail to see how much has been done by political action. Take, for example, the difference in conditions in London achieved in the last fifty years by the London County Council; the Exhibition at County Hall in 1939 showed it vividly, but anyone can read the record in the book published in conjunction with the Exhibition, which can be got from any Public Library.

[3] Look at the rising standard of life throughout the world, due to the advance of science and industry; incomplete and patchy as this may be, insecure as is its basis, it shows faintly what might be done if all Christians played their true part. No one can honestly look at these things and then say: 'Politics never help any of my neighbours; therefore as a Christian I can keep out of them.'

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Is Christianity Only Concerned with Individuals?

Yet there are still many people who seem to think that they have fulfilled their Christian duty by living amicably with their immediate … […]

Christianity cannot be Divorced from Social Action

[4] women are to do about society. […]

This division of life into sacred and secular, this assumption that our worship … […]

[5] activities of man in His world. Though we disobey and try to thwart His intentions, though we slay and destroy where … […]

The Responsibility of a Democracy

Secondly, in a society such as ours, which has adopted the method of representative democracy … […]

[6] Great changes in opinion and action have taken place, for instance, since the General Election in 1935, both among voters and in the Cabinet itself; much greater and sounder changes would be wrought if all Christians were carrying out their political duty.

It is only by such action that we can really discharge … […]

Many who toil in the political field would repudiate a religious motive.


What the Love of God Involves

That brings us to our third reason. It is not only the second of the two great commandments that lays on us a duty to take part in politics according to our power and ability, but the first which is bound up with it.

[8] How can we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength … […]

The state of the world … […]


Practical Ways in which we can Work

What then can we do? Clearly we must at once take up our duty as citizens and no longer accept placidly … […]

[10] of getting at the truth about the conditions of the world and the lives of our fellow men. […]

[11] There are many faults in our … […]

Our Choice in the Political Field

Relatively few people are actually members of one or other political party. The final decision at a general election is due to the great unorganized mass of voters, swayed hither and hither by stunts and slogans, deceived by insincere promises, moved by often unconscious prejudices and fears. But Christians should be among the thoughtful and serious minority, who draft programmes and choose leaders, who work to rouse and illuminate their fellows, to save them deception and disappointment. Many of reforms already mentioned would never have been carried through by great leaders without the faithful unrecognized work of the rank and file, giving up hours of leisure to spadework that would seem dreary except to those inspired with a great ideal. Great changes may even [12] turn on a few votes; great chances be lost by the apathy and neglect of a few. […]

Which side shall we join? […] [13] … […] There can be little doubt on which … […]

It is impossible to measure the transformation that would come over national and world politics … […]

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Text Informations

Fanny Street, Christian Left Pamphlet No. 4, 1939
Src : British Library