Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

Sermon on the Futility of a Labor Victory

Thoughts for a sermon that could be preached the day after Labor wins the federal election.

Matthew 18:23-35: The parable of the unmerciful servant

In the parable a king forgives his servant a ridiculously huge debt, hoping that this act will be replicated. However, the way that power works within society prevents those lower down the bureaucracy from replicating this act. The servant, shamed by his debt, must reassert his power in the bureaucracy or risk losing it; so he jails a debtor. Similarly the king, shamed by the servant who does not replicate his behaviour must reassert his power and jails the servant. Forgiveness has gone out the window despite being instigated from the top. So much for seventy times seven (verse 22). Despite this brief departure of forgiveness, both servant and king are captive to the system. Without systemic change, forgiveness is unattainable. (Or is it, without radical forgiveness, the system will remain?)

The same for a Labor government. They will try a few things, but real change will not result from their victory, because that requires systemic change, not just a change at the top. Pine Gap will remain, Talisman Sabre joint military exercises with the US will remain, troops will stay in Afghanistan and those in Iraq will leave to play our deputy sherif role policing the pacific. Uranium will be mined, furthering nuclear proliferation. All because the institutions and structures that control the resources and power of the country will remain unchanged.

No, what we want are non-reformist reforms. Of course it is better having a Labor government than a Liberal one. However, does their victory further the cause for systemic change or is it a reform that impedes further change?

Labor will have won on the back of the union’s Your Rights at Work Campaign. Does that campaign leave a grass roots movement ready to push for more radical change? No, the unions want systemic change no more than the Labor party. The campaign’s goal is to get Labor into power, which will leave everyday people disempowered. The campaign should encourage us that life will be a little easier for workers when Workchoices is softened so there will be more breathing space for movements that really want to change things. Instead, the campaign has empowered union officials, not the people. I predict that the day after the election (today?) the Your Rights at Work Campaign will go incredibly quiet, only being heard in a very token form, if at all. The reform has been won, let’s all go home. Imagine the alternative, an invigorated union movement with empowered members pushing their leadership for changes that really effect their lives. A nightmare for the leadership, but the possibility of restructuring the resources of the country for the benefit of the people…

It still needs work, but this could form the basis of a sermon to preach the Sunday after the federal election, saying, OK a Labor victory may be something, but don’t get mesmerized by the top of the power structure. Let’s keep on building a movement for change.

However, if that’s too pointed how about this: this reading comes up in the lectionary on September 14, 2008, if you are preaching, or involved in a bible study, why not give my interpretation a whirl then. Possibly a good time to preach this, as the shine would have started to wear off the Labor government.

Reference:
William R. Herzog II, Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1994, Chapter 8, “What if the Messiah Came and Nothing Changed?”.

Note that Herzog sees verse 35 as a later addition by Matthew and discards it for this interpretation, departing from Matthew’s use of the parable.

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Free markets, free trade and … communism

There is a myth that free markets and free trade go hand in hand with democracy.

In The Age today John Roskam from the Institute of Public Affairs has a go at the churches for advocating aid to Africa, because “the evidence is irrefutable. Free political institutions, free trade and free markets are the best way to get people out of poverty. The difference between the economic development of Africa and Asia is proof of this.”

He claims the churches have lost sight of the facts, but presents none of the “irrefutable” evidence for his position. The closest he comes is “Many Christians are uncomfortable with the idea that their desire to buy and enjoy the consumer goods made in the factories of China and Vietnam can be as effective in defeating poverty as giving away 10 per cent of their weekly salary.”

China and Vietnam? Free political institutions? Both one party states under communist rule.

At least he could have mentioned India, which is after all a democracy, although the government does need the votes of the communist parties to keep its majority in parliament.