I’ve read a couple of interesting perspectives on the Pussy Riot protest, one from a pundit in Great Britain and the other from an Orthodox Christian in Moscow. You can read both here and here. Certainly there is a lot more going on than we in the West understand. Nevertheless, the whole matter has caused me to reflect on the role of faith in politics.
I find it interesting that from both the political left and the political right there are occasional cries that the Church or Christians generally take a clear political stand. This is particularly true as each political perspective sees their view “clearly” in line with the teaching of the Bible or the Church or the Fathers. (I always get nervous whenever anyone of any stripe says that something is “clearly” the teaching of Christ or the Bible or the Church.) As far as I can figure out, the Bible seems to clearly teach that we see through a glass darkly.
Ideally, the Church can function as a kind of conscience to the state; however, this doesn’t seem to happen very often. In fact, what often happens is that people in the Church are as divided and politically motivated by their own interests as the general population is.
I would like to say that monasticism is a refuge from politics, but this is not the case. Historically and even today, monks lead the charge in political causes on the left and on the right–not so much in the West, but certainly in largely Orthodox countries.
Truly, I do not know how to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
I have, however, made a kind of covenant with myself. My covenant is that I may be active politically only so long as I am at peace. I cannot promote peace (either from the right or the left) if I am not at peace. When I lose peace, then it is time for me to pull back and find it again. I agree with Gandhi here: I must be the change. (I am not a complete fan of everything Gandhi said, but I have come to appreciate him more and more in recent years.)
I believe it is possible for a Christian and for the Church to be politically active. There are many excellent examples in history of Church leaders and lay people righteously influencing government. However, that has not been the norm. What is happening in Moscow today is more like the norm.
May God help us to be the Light before we try to shine the light.