Religion as agency for human rights

By Patricia Mukhim

When Christ said, “Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” he did not mean that his followers should wash their hands off the politics of the day and only concentrate on things spiritual. The human person does not live only in the realm of the spirit.
Every person embraces one or the other faith. Since Meghalaya is a Christian majority state this article will focus on this faith group. Christians get together every Sunday in churches; they get into a groove and go through the same, repetitive rituals. There is no challenge to break the status quo of song preaching and worship. The rituals are so embedded in the Christian psyche that any attempt by anyone to suggest a new breakthrough path is considered a threat. People have become so used to the comfort zone drawn around them that they don’t expect any change and perhaps consider change a threat to the very idea of Christianity. And yet this is not what Christ did and taught during his lifetime which is to challenge the power structures of his time.
When Christ said, “Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” he did not mean that his followers should wash their hands off the politics of the day and only concentrate on things spiritual. The human person does not live only in the realm of the spirit. She needs food to eat, hospitals and healthcare facilities to address her physical ailments. She needs a functional education that can stimulate her intellect and help her make intelligent choices in life and above all in electing the right candidate to take on the mantle of leadership of the state. Education is also needed to empower her to speak up when the MLA/MP does not live up to expectations and begins to get into a self- service mode at the cost of his/her constituents. A Christian intellectual rightly defined Christ as an existential social reformer and the first socialist.
I would recommend to all laid back preachers of the Christian faith that they read the book by Obery Hendricks -The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ teachings and How They have Been Corrupted. Obery, a PhD in Religion from Princeton University, is described as a life-long social activist and one of the foremost commentators on the intersection of religion and the political economy in America. He is the most widely read and perhaps the most influential African-American biblical scholar writing today. Cornel West the author of ‘Race Matters’ calls Obery Hendricks “One of the last few grand prophetic intellectuals.”
At one of his many lectures Dr Hendricks urges the Christian preachers to follow Jesus’ seven political strategies which include – treating the peoples’ needs as holy, giving a voice to the voiceless, exposing the workings of oppression and challenging the established order of things. Are preachers today even remotely following any of the above? Or are they too hesitant about shaking the hornet’s nest lest they lose their subscriptions? Dr Hendricks further explains himself thus, “To say that Jesus was a political revolutionary is to say that the message he proclaimed not only called for change in individual hearts but he also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social and economic structures in his setting in life – a colonized Israel.” At an event, Dr Hendricks expressed deep disappointment with political leaders who profess to be Christian but do not act in ways that reflect Jesus’ teachings. He said, “Christianity is about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, protecting the most vulnerable but some elected officials are only concerned with their own interests.”
Reading the book, “The Leadership Strategy of Jesus,” by Michael Hyatt one learns so much from people who have courageously done a deep dive into the life and times of Jesus without caring if it offends anyone, which is so unlike what our preachers do today which is to literally walk on eggshells especially when the high and mighty are around. No wonder they have lost their cutting edge and their preaching is blunted. If their teachings cut straight to the heart we would have seen people speak up against the mighty scale of corruption around them. Alas! People are lulled into a sleep where money alone is the quick-fix agent.
Michael Hyatt in his book says, “ So much of the activity I see among leaders today is focussed on reaching the masses. Successful leaders speak at big conferences, host popular television shows, publish bestselling books, write successful blogs or engage in social media. Simply put, their goal is “breadth.” They want to influence. They want to extend their influence to as many people as possible. Nothing wrong with that. But Jesus had a much different leadership strategy. That’s not where he started.”
Hyatt elucidates that Jesus’ goal was not ‘reach’ or popularity. On the contrary he actively discouraged publicity. Citing the example of what he calls Jesus’ jaw-dropping miracle such as making a lame man walk or bringing the dead to life, Jesus is remembered to have said, “Tell no one what you have seen” ( Matthew 8:4; 16:20; 17:9; Mark 7:36; 8:30; 9:9; Luke 5:14; and 8:56). In short Jesus was a publicist’s nightmare because he shunned publicity. How are our preachers today in terms of wanting to garner publicity? Need a reality check here.
Jesus, Hyatt says, focussed on true depth and long-term impact and to achieve this he followed a 5-pronged leadership strategy. The following are Jesus’ leadership strategies
1. He led himself. This is where all leadership starts. Self-leadership precedes team leadership and public influence. If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t (and shouldn’t) lead others.
This is why Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to pray (Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 22:41–44). He battled the devil to prove his character (see Matthew 4:1–11). He knew that his character—his identity—was the foundation of his ministry.
2. He confided in the three. Jesus had an inner circle comprising Peter, James, and John. He took them on special outings (see Matthew 17:1). He allowed them to witness his greatest glory (Mark 9:2–3) and his deepest temptations ( Mark 14:33–34).
He prayed with them (Luke 9:28f). He taught them things He did not teach the others (Matthew 17:2; Mark 5:37–43). He even introduced them to His heavenly family ( Matthew 17:3). They were his closest friends and confidants.
He trained the twelve. He chose the twelve disciples to be “with him” (Mark 3:14a) He taught them and also gave them assignments (Mark 3:14b–19). However, he also shared with them his daily life. Like the Apostle Paul would do years later, he poured into them his very life (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Because of this, he entrusted them with power to do the work he himself had done. In fact, he promised them that they would actually do greater works ( John 14:12–14).
He mobilized the seventy. Jesus had a smaller, more intimate group to whom he gave specific assignments. He sent them out two-by-two. He asked for a BIG commitment. He gave them virtually no resources. Yet he demanded that they perform miracles. He told them to expect opposition (Luke 10:1–12) and promised no earthly reward (Luke 10:18–20).
He taught the multitudes. Jesus had a public ministry. He occasionally spoke to thousands. However, he didn’t pander to these groups or “tickle their ears.” He confronted the status quo, jarred his listeners’ sensibilities, and often taught in parables. Interestingly, he didn’t feel the need to clarify everything. He often left his audience confused and wondering what he meant. His goal was apparently to shift their paradigm and get them to think.
Jesus’ leadership strategy evidently worked well. Within a generation, His followers turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Hyatt rues that after interacting with leaders at every level for over three decades he finds that most of them focus only on the last two strategies and leap-frog over the other three. In short, they have a public teaching ministry and are good at mobilizing groups for specific assignments but few take the time and have the conviction to intentionally train a small group of disciples. There are even fewer leaders who build deep relationships with a handful of confidants. Sadly, even fewer still lead themselves well and hence do not have the lasting or far-reaching impacts they could have.
In the final analysis, Hyatt confesses, “The older I get the more value I see in going deeper with a few. Leading the masses may feed my ego, but it won’t guarantee an impact that will outlive me.”
I first heard of Obery Hendricks and Michael Hyatt while at the Leadership Training Institute in Maui, Hawaii and since then I have followed their teachings and find those to be invaluable goalposts to pursue.
At this juncture when we are engulfed by the fog of corruption at all levels of governance and when a sort of hopelessness overwhelms us even as we await the 2023 elections, one wonders if any of the church leaders who approached the Government to protest against the opening of casinos and legalising gambling whether they have even once questioned the corruption in the MDA Government? Is gambling the only sin? So why this hypocrisy?

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