The current economic changes in Europe and America and related civil unrest reveal more than a lack of political vision, they reveal a lack of theological and ecclesial engagement with political ideology.
The classical liberalism of 17th and 18th century was driven by vision of the dignity of the rational person and a desire for human freedom, unrestrained by church or state. But with the 19th century economic liberalism of Adam Smith such unrestrained liberalism handed social vision to the markets. Religion was relegated to personal or ecclesial concerns, far removed from political and economic vision.
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Roosevelt judged that, ’Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. … The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization.’ (Inaugural address, March 4, 1933) Modern social[ist] liberalism was born of a Keynesian critique of laissez faire economics (1938): rather than let the markets govern society, the state took control, with such interventionist policies as Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ (1930s) and British welfare reforms, as imagined by The Beveridge Report (of 1942). Beveridge’s moral ideals led him to address the five ‘Giant Evils’ of ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’. Yet the 1980s saw a neoliberal return to laissez faire economics, not only limited to Regan and Thatcher. Unrestrained liberalism handed social vision to the emerging global markets, while retaining western protectionist trade barriers.
As UK politics became less ordered by ideological or theological vision, and more by the political pragmatics of personality and opinion polls, the British electorate became disengaged from politics. The churches were too concerned with internal issues and human sexuality to motivate greater political involvement, except for the successful Jubilee Campaign. But another banking crisis and stagnant economy has given rise to another voice of protest, like Roosevelt’s, which calls for the casting of the money changers from their thrones.
At Christmas we read in Luke’s nativity a voice of protest against the imperial political theology and economics of his day. He presents Jesus as the divine emperor of God’s reign in a socially liberating vision, which we might miss in our sweet but saccharine carols. There is a yet greater vision in eco-theology, which views economics within God’s new creation, if only we could raise our eyes from our anthropocentric perspective, even beyond the temple of our civilization. The churches need to engage such theology and political vision again, for ‘without a vision the people perish.’ (Proverbs 29:18)
For more on the politics of Christmas, see http://campaigndirector.moodia.com/Client/Theos/Files/ThePoliticsOfChristmas.pdf