Politicians everywhere have a bad name. It is one of the most despised professions.
When Christians read in the letter to Romans, chapter 13, that we are to be subject to governing authorities, as to God, it is often quite problematic.
Surely there are many occasions when conscience demands that we resist those who usurp authority and who oppress the people?
That’s a big question, worth its own discussion. In general, though, most of us are cynical about politicians, and many doubt that Christians in politics can maintain even a basic decency.
Barry Jones’ memoir, A Thinking Reed, has several chapters about his time in the Australian Parliament and his service as a minister. In one section he tells about truly decent people whom he knew there, on both sides of politics.
Typically, many of these were neither prominent nor ‘successful’, but Jones shows them to be good people who contributed their best to the community. It is also typical of Jones that many of these are from the opposite side of politics to his own, but remained close friends and colleagues.
Here are just a few gems from this section.
Ralph Jacobi, a South Australian, had on his office wall a statement by the American journalist Finley Peter Dunne: ‘Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ Jacobi lived by these words, Jones says.
‘I think of Jacobi often, especially when despairing about the integrity of public life and whether the ALP (Australian Labor Party) has lost its way. I can hear his voice, “Keep your head down, son, away from the parapet and just keep on doing what you think is right.’ He was a noble, but barely recognized, Australian who honoured the profession of politics.
How wonderful to think of a politician as noble, humble and honouring that profession!
When reflecting on the few occasions on which he was required to cast a ‘conscience vote’, Jones identifies the dilemma of dealing with a matter about which a high percentage of his constituents expected him to vote in one direction, but his own analysis of the issues led to a different conclusion. Here he quotes Edmund Burke, who in 1874 said to the electors in Bristol, ‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’ Jones adds, ‘The politician must listen to people. But he/she must not merely follow public opinion: he/she must lead, even if it risks defeat.’
It is not hard to see why Jones was never seen as a successful politician, yet why he was elected President of the party. He, too, was a noble and honourable member of that profession.