I’ve always avoided agendas. They never seem to mean anything but trouble. People are always suspicious of them, the agendas you get accused of having if you’re at all passionate about a cause or a message.
In my days of Christian Union evangelism, it was important not to be seen to have an agenda. That’s because we did ‘relational evangelism’, more than the obvious stand-on-a-soapbox-and-yell evangelism. Instead of just telling people what they should believe, we aimed to befriend them, show we really cared about them, and earn the right to share our own lives and faith with them. ‘Having an agenda’, being seen to be trying to covert people, would put them right off.
It’s the accusation thrown at any minority or oppressed group, should they dare to stick their head above the parapet and claim the same rights as everyone else. Women thinking they should be paid an equal wage? Pushing that feminist agenda again! Pushing for proper sex education that’s equally relevant to LGBT young people? Forcing their gay agenda into our schools!
And there are plenty of people who try to rope God into their agendas. Nothing is so demoralising and frustrating as to hear people try to claim that God is in favour of mass gun-ownership, or war, or racism, or harsh welfare cuts, or the oppression of women. Whatever the political agenda, someone will have argued that it’s the personal cause of God himself.
No, agendas never seem to be a positive thing. They mean you’re probably a narrow-minded, one-issue activist, ignorantly fighting for your cause and ignoring the world around you, irritating everyone else by peddling your propaganda.
Much better to stay neutral. Rational. Reasonable. To see both sides. To exercise caution. And as a Christian, some imagine the only valid way to read the Bible is with no agenda. Dispassionately. Unbiased. Letting God speak for himself. Taking his word for what it is.
I’ve tried that. But I’ve come across a problem. As I’ve read the Bible, as I’ve experienced the world, as I’ve learnt a little about thousands of years of Judeo-Christian tradition, as I’ve come to know people who reflect Jesus and his life in theirs, I’ve become entirely convinced that God absolutely has an agenda.
God is not neutral, dispassionate, or unbiased. Because we live in a world of injustice. Because in the famous words of Desmond Tutu:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
I know it’s a very dangerous position to take, to presume to know God’s agenda. Those who claim divine endorsement for violence, hatred and prejudice will one day have to give account for what they’ve taught about God as well as their treatment of other people. And I too will, I believe, stand before the throne of the Almighty and be held accountable for the way that I’ve presented God to the world, the causes I’ve claimed his weight behind, and the words and work I’ve purported to do on his behalf. It’s a serious matter if I get it wrong.
But it’s an even more serious matter to truly believe that God has an agenda, and to refuse to join the cause. It would be a travesty to believe that God has words for the world and refuse to speak them out. So I wrote a post back in 2013 about God’s priorities for the world, how true religion in the Bible is to give to those with nothing, care for the vulnerable, and eat with the outcast. And I believe it more strongly than ever.
I think we need to go much further though. I think its time to be bolder in pushing God’s agenda, speaking up for his plan for this planet. See, God’s agenda is about establishing his kingdom of justice and love, the redemption of all of creation. So we need to move on from simply seeing social justice in the safe image of the poor, passive African child, on whom we confer a kind of innocent victimhood. No-one could take issue with feeding her in God’s name. But justice means much more. Because justice is always political.
Where there are oppressed groups struggling for their rights, however messy or undignified their fight might be – I believe God is onside. And they’re on his side.
- Those feminists refusing to shut up about gender equality? They’re in on God’s agenda.
- The LGBT activists promoting the safety and equal treatment of queer young people in schools, through active celebration of diversity? Fulfilling God’s mission.
- Disabled People Against Cuts, and others campaigning against the scapegoating of the vulnerable in so-called austerity measures? Doing God’s work.
- The 400,000 people who marched for decisive political action on climate change? Being Jesus on the streets.
And while giving the Ethiopian child a few meals to be going on with is a nice token gesture, the most inspiring and powerful development work we can throw our weight behind is that which empowers women and men in poverty to lobby for their own rights. God’s agenda is about shifting the power balances and breaking chains of oppression. It’s about the redistribution of wealth and fair shares for all. It’s about the rights of each person and each community to have all they need to flourish. It’s about tackling the causes of violence and promoting peaceful community.
God’s agenda is highly political. Joining in has got to be dangerous, more dangerous than the occasional prayers for suffering in far-away places. It’s got to threaten the comfortable, to disturb the lives of those of us who benefit from other people’s suffering. It’s got to expose us to ridicule, to align us with the outcasts, to put us in the firing line along with the looked-down-on and the oppressed.
We can’t be scared off by those who claim God’s backing for their own ugly causes. We can’t become afraid of the call to be prophetic, just because there are false prophets stealing the stage.
We need, more than ever, to do God justice by living out his agenda, wholeheartedly, unashamedly, unreservedly. And we need to do justice for our world, wherever there is oppression, whoever it’s against.
Wherever we join the struggle for justice, we do it in God’s name.