Sunday, 10 November 2019

Chosen To Rule? What Sort Of Christian Is Chris Luxon?

National Messiah? Chris Luxon identifies himself as an evangelical Christian. If he is genuine in this self-characterisation, then he will take every opportunity his public office provides to proselytise on behalf of his faith. He will also feel obliged to bear witness against beliefs and practices he believes to be evil. To do all he can to save the souls of those who are in the grip of sin. Christian evangelism is, above all else, faith in action.

CHRIS LUXON has some explaining to do. He has been identified as an evangelical Christian, which, if you’ll pardon the religious cliché, covers a multitude of sins. That’s why I believe Chris Luxon owes New Zealanders a working definition of evangelical Christianity – and how he intends to practice it.

A private matter? Well, that  might be true if Luxon was a person moving into private life. Clearly, however, that is not the case. Luxon has opted to become an even more public person than he was as Air New Zealand’s CEO. The core motivations of public persons are not matters to be evaded, they are matters to be explicated, elucidated and explained.

What, then, is generally understood by the term Christian evangelism? At its core, evangelism is about the active spreading of Christ’s teachings – especially among those who are ignorant of his message. For a politician to identify himself as an evangelical Christian is, therefore, a matter of considerable importance.

If such politicians are genuine in their self-characterisation, then they will take every opportunity their public office provides to proselytise on behalf of their faith. They will also feel obliged to bear witness against beliefs and practices they believe to be evil. To do all they can to save the souls of those who are in the grip of sin. Christian evangelism is, above all else, faith in action.

It is, therefore, disingenuous (to say the least) for Luxon to present his evangelical convictions as having relevance only to himself and the congregation of the Upper Room Church to which he belongs. The very name of his faith community argues against this claim.

The “Upper Room” mentioned in the gospels is the room to which Jesus and his disciples repaired on the night of his arrest. In biblical tradition, it is the location of Christ’s last supper. The Upper Room thus represents the ignition-point of the chain of events that led to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. It was Christianity’s first church: Ground Zero, if you like, for Jesus’s universal mission. In the Messiah’s own words:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Does that sound like a private matter? Was the Upper Room really nothing more than the venue for a catered meal for Jesus of Nazareth and a few close friends? Is that it?

Obviously, not. A non-denominational congregation of believers calling themselves The Upper Room Church clearly draw their inspiration from the conviction that, gathered in that celebrated biblical space, were a group of human-beings charged with securing nothing less than the salvation of the whole world. Equally clearly, however, at least some of the church’s members – including Luxon? – are expected to secure the obedience of the nations by using techniques very different from the open preaching of the disciples who left that original Upper Room at Jesus’s side more than 2,000 years ago.

It's about this point that things begin to get murky. A swift consultation of Wikipedia’s entry on Evangelism reveals the following curious sentence:

Some Christian traditions consider evangelists to be in a leadership position; they may be found preaching to large meetings or in governance roles.

What in the name of all that is good and holy does that mean?

To answer that question it is necessary to go back to the time and place in which groups like The Upper Room came into existence – the United States of America in the 1930s.

It was a time of tremendous social and political upheaval, during which the traditional relationships between those at the summit of society, and those at its base, were challenged in ways that made the ruling elites, business leaders in particular, profoundly uneasy. The Upper Room was founded in 1935 with the objective of disseminating biblical verses highlighting the duty of Christians to obey “the powers that be” and eschew rebelliousness in all its forms.

The following year saw the formation of what came to be known as “The Family”. Established in response to the Seattle General Strike of 1936, The Family gathered together in “Christian fellowship” prominent and powerful politicians, state officials and businessmen, for the purposes of re-establishing the dominion of the godly throughout the USA – a mission which included the destruction of those unnatural instruments of Satan, the trade unions. The Family would grow in strength and power, extending its tendrils of influence through the US capital, drawing-in Congressmen, Senators – even Presidents – to its deeply heretical interpretation of the gospel.

This is what Chris Luxon needs to explain. Does he subscribe to Christ’s “preferential option for the poor”? And, is he committed spiritually to fulfilling Christ’s promise that “the meek shall inherit the earth”? Or, does The Upper Room, like The Family, preach a gospel of worldly wealth and power, in which the Mighty rule by God’s special favour, meaning that all his true servants are bound to do everything they can to further God’s plans for the men and institutions he raises above them?

More specifically, if Luxon should, at some future date, receive an invitation to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, staged annually in Washington DC by The Family, and attended by every President since Dwight Eisenhower (along with a mighty host of foreign potentates, corporate CEOs and lobbyists) will he accept and attend?

Or, has he already done so?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 8 November 2019.

18 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah Chris, you have finally discovered Dominionism right? The ideology that is at present shaping American society or at least trying to. Hopefully people are coming to their senses there. Because it seems to me that with Dominionism comes incredible corruption – which I guess might just be endemic to American society anyway, but you only have to look at some of Trump's appointments, such as Betsy de Vos to see the deleterious effects on the public sphere – in her case of course education. Funny how fundagelicals were the 1st to jump on Kennedy for his Catholicism and ask for or even demand guarantees that it wouldn't interfere with his presidency – and of course he felt constrained to stress that he wouldn't. But now – either minds of change door as I suspect as long as it's the right kind of Christian they are quite happy with it. And we don't even have a piece of paper that separates church and state. So it would be even more dangerous here I suspect. After all, Bolger and English were certainly influenced by their religious beliefs – and not a great deal stood in their way – except that New Zealanders are irreligious buggers on the whole.

Might I recommend for anyone interested in this:
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/
Ed, and indeed others others on this site sometimes have more than passing reference to some of the crazier Christian Dominionists – definitely food for thought given the amount of support they have in the Bible belt, and the number of them that will still vote for Trump. The fact that they would vote for a serial adulterer, someone who is admitted to sexually assaulting women, and someone whose business ethics are in the toilet says a lot about their absolute ruthlessness in trying to establish a theocracy.
I wouldn't even want Brendan in charge of the country, but these people make him look like a pussycat.

Odysseus said...

Well I have no issue with Luxon's faith although I am unlikely to vote for the National Party. But I can see how those on the Left may be discomforted, particularly as they have taken Political Islam under their wing. How are Jacinda's "boot-camps" coming along?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Well I have no issue with Luxon's faith although I am unlikely to vote for the National Party. But I can see how those on the Left may be discomforted, particularly as they have taken Political Islam under their wing."
Another one of those bullshit statements made by people who probably don't understand what political Islam is anyway but simply want to use it as a stick to beat the left with. Another one of those scary words, given its contestability and lack of a proper definition.
But even so, I can't think of anything much less like social democracy than political Islam. In fact if we regard one of its iterations as Saudi Arabian society, it's much closer to Christian Dominionism or the alt right.

Neil Keating said...

It's important to get right the distinction between 'evangelical' and 'evangelistic'. The difference is not made clear in this piece. In fact, I doubt it's properly understood. Also important is to look at the US theologian under whose tutelage Craig Heilmann (founder of The Upper Room) did his doctoral studies at Duke University. That theologian/ethicist is prof. emeritus Stanley Hauerwas, who cannot be pigeonholed theologically or politically. He is a fierce critic of the excesses of the USA, especially its military/industrialist/consumerist addictions. You can see/hear him on YouTube. Neil Keating, Auckland.

greywarbler said...

Odysseus your comment reminds me of the words odious. Please try not to bring Islam into the conversation at the slightest chance. You don't seem to have anything worthwhile to say, so don't just post a sneer and stick a put-down onto it like a post-it. I see about Odysseus, he was 'Famed for his courage, intelligence, and leadership', so try to live up to your name.

Kat said...

Luxon is more suited to the role of party president than a potential PM. As an ex corporate CEO he holds a very dubious credential for the position of the nations leader and representative. His self claimed evangelical christian characterisation and membership to the Upper Room is as good a conduit for neo-liberalism as the KKK is for American white supremacist hate.

sumsuch said...

A Christian who doesn't put the underdog first isn't.

Anonymous said...

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Seneca

sumsuch said...

As an ex-journalism student I think you buried the lead. His sect. The Christian evangelicals/charismatics/ fundamentalists/born-agains/ pentecostals have helped undermine the democratic elements of the Yank republic but his sept seems to have been worse.

I think you should go full on about this American version of Christianity-without-love which I see direct in 2 of my siblings. A whole world of subjectivism which they can't leave behind. If they didn't vote I could cluck cluck them in what amounts to their hatred of others. That's what this movement amounts to, despite dear Rod Oram. Despicable.

Mike Grimshaw said...

Luxon's evangelical beliefs are in fact similar to a number of MPs in all Parties
(except the Greens & Act) in Parliament- you find evangelicals in Labour,National & NZ First. I would argue we should not look first to the USA for comparisons, rather we should really be looking to Australia and how evangelicals are part of the political scenery over there- arising out of aspirational suburbs and mega-churches. This is what can be called the mainstreaming of evangelicals who are looking to enter & influence public life- not only in politics, but in teaching, boards of trustees and the like.
Neil Keating is right, Hauerwas is a fascinating character because there is a social justice/ virtue ethics basis to his post-liberal christianity and he operates a a public intellectual and public theologian. While the The 'Upper Room' may be influenced by Hauerwas, they appear to be are now more influenced by mega-church anti-liberal evangelicalism.
Such a position will do 'good works'/ community building, support & outreach of the the type of is often outsourced by the welfare state to faith- based organizations. That is one side of their 'mission to the world'; the other side is as a theological opposition to liberal modernity and it values and beliefs. Therefore, having members in positions of influence is important because that is where 'change' is seen to be able to be enacted.

Neil Keating said...

I'd be glad to know who and what is 'sumsuch'. Please 'out' all the commentators.

RRK said...

Personally, I would ban anyone from becoming an MP who professes any variety of religious devotion as it clouds their judgement.

Neil Keating said...

Impossible.
Every person's worldview, politics, etc is shaped by their belief about the nature of ultimate reality.
The short word for that is religion.

guerilla surgeon said...

Hi Neil – welcome to the blog. Perhaps you could wait until after you've been commenting here for more than five minutes before making demands for the doxxing of people who post under pseudonyms?

Neil Keating said...

Why are Mike Grimshaw and I the only contributors giving our names?

sumsuch said...

Sorry, Neil, my 2nd paragraph wasn't clear. I was talking about the whole biz of evangelical Christianity, not the 'Upper Room', which I just heard about on this post.

Using real names like the admirable thing of serving as an elected representative without salary is only really available to those who can afford it. You wouldn't hear from non-Remuerans.

Neil Keating said...

Thanks sumsuch.
I'm not sure what the 'non-Remueran' ref means. I live on the New Lynn/Kelston border. But no matter.
Re The Upper Room, Newmarket, Akl: I both know and know of some of the adherents. Decent people.
Re the evangelical scene: I have largely quit that subculture and its worldview and some of its theology. (no room for details).
I will say this in favour of the evangelical Kiwi and US people I journeyed with from 1980 to 2012: welcoming, accepting, kindly, generous (some with cash they could little spare) and hospitable.
It mostly seemed Jesus-like. When it was less so that wasn't out of malice but rather because of theology that wasn't especially nuanced.

guerilla surgeon said...

"Why are Mike Grimshaw and I the only contributors giving our names?"

Because this is a political blog, and there are those who maybe don't want their bosses to find out what their political opinions are. Particularly in today's industrial climate. This is a problem you perhaps won't have come across, partly because nobody seems interested enough in your blog to post a comment on it. We went through all this years ago before you bothered to comment. Just get over it.