Local Body Theology

For those of us enrolled on the electoral roll, we are about to receive our local body elections voting papers. As with most local body elections, your struggle will probably be to find someone whose name you recognise and whom you can stomach voting for.
I have noticed a sweeping use of the word ‘change’ in this year’s election. “It’s time for a change” is a favourite. Perhaps the strangest is a candidate in Gisborne channelling Yoda from the Star Wars movies with his by-line “Change – We must!” New candidates and cynical sitting members all use the word ‘change’ to indicate they represent a new opportunity, a new vision, a chance to repair the existing failures.
This has a parallel much further afield in Norway. Their general election this year is looking like it could be the end of the line for the ruling Labour party. Most media comment has been about whether they will garner sympathy from Anders Brevik’s horrific mass killing in 2011; yet the more bizarre aspect is that the Labour party has a very popular prime minister and has presided over a period of unprecedented social and economic prosperity. When voters there are asked why they would vote Labour out, their answer is ‘for a change’.
What Norway and our local body elections have in common is that generally those calling for change are devoid of any ideas about what they would change with one obvious exception; they would replace the person currently sitting at the council table.
I have seen nothing from any candidate that would indicate we are about to see a change in our local economic development, in our residential and commercial rating systems, in local community development, in infrastructure; in anything substantial at all. My reflection is that new people who have the misfortune of being voted to a position on council will find themselves overwhelmed by the Spirit of the council they are entering into and the Spirit of the city they are now leading. Councils seem incapable of change, and consume the good intentions of those who strive for change; and I find something compelling in considering the role of the Spirit in this situation. Indeed I am in good company with this view, as one of the dominant strands in the scriptures is the role of a Spirit in all of our actions and involvements. As citizens of the City (even my friends in rural areas are considerably influenced by a City close to them), we would do well to consider the Spirit of the place we are living in. What does a City represent?
In the First Testament, the City was established by Cain when he was exiled after his murder of his brother Abel. The conceptual City, then, is founded on a desire to be independent of the authority of God. The City is a continuation of the Fall, and we see its power and futility in the stories of cities like Sodom, Gomorrah and Babel. However, the founding of the Temple in the City of Jerusalem by God’s faithful servant David, and Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem for his death and resurrection, and then the descent of the City of God to a redeemed creation in Revelations are signs of God’s creative redemption of the city for His purposes and to His glory. The Bible offers hope that God can truly change the foundations and purpose of the City, but it is an uncertain and confused journey.
If you are a person of faith, then it is important to see that we are witnesses and, in some seasons, even prophets in our City. It is useful to see that the City stands in tension to God’s purposes, but that our faith foresees a time when it will be brought in line with God’s purposes. So our hope should be in the power of God, not in power of our vote, as the battle is with the Spirit of a City, of a council, and all that are involved in that. So feel free to vote. But don’t expect a miracle.
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