As a cleric, I meet all sorts of people. Life’s rich pageant grows ever more various and compelling but is also often painful and challenging. A few days ago, a young women came to see me. She has two small children, and she’s in hiding from an abusive partner. She has no permanent place to live, can’t find steady employment, and has mental-health challenges. People and organizations are helping, but none is able to do much more than provide short-term solutions.
After we’d spoken, I tried to inject some humanity, even banality, into the conversation. The weather, the state of the pandemic, the election. She thought it was too hot, she was frightened of being infected with COVID-19, and the election meant nothing at all to her.
I mention this because, as a Christian, as a member of the clergy, I sometimes wonder what the election and party politics have got to do with me and my work. What are the issues, what should a Christian be concerned with, and how should they vote? While I wouldn’t dream of directing anybody to a specific party, I can and will pronounce on the issues.
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First, there are those that are popularly assumed to be Christian-based but are in fact largely irrelevant. The most prominent of these is abortion. Each time there is a federal election, the Liberals accuse the Conservatives of not being committed to women’s choice, and the Conservatives claim it’s all propaganda. I suspect that there is a greater commitment on the part of the Liberals and the NDP, but in all honesty, little will change, whoever wins. Abortion, by the way, is never really condemned in the Bible — it’s sometimes even recommended — and it became an ostensibly Christian obsession only in the 1960s.
Of course, if people genuinely wanted abortion rates to drop, they would campaign for modern sex education in all schools, free contraceptives, publicly funded and affordable daycare, female empowerment, extended paid maternity leave, and enforced paternity payments. Now, those are definitely Christian issues.
Then there is housing. In large parts of Canada, especially urban centres, home ownership is impossible, and even rent can be a crushing challenge. Affordable housing is a central theme of any civilized modern society, and that requires a radical rethink of our priorities. If we’re looking for scriptural precedent, consider that Jewish teenager, pregnant and afraid, looking for somewhere to sleep in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
Mary, of course, lived in an era when health care was often familial, but these are different times. I spend much of my week visiting hospitals and witness the sacrifice and dedication of medical staff. It’s inspiring, especially during the pandemic. But it’s also under siege and demands enormous investment and commitment. Platitudes aren’t enough, and the political leaders must provide detailed plans for rebuilding and expanding.
As for where the money will come from, one of the open wounds of our country is the number of enormous corporations paying few, if any, taxes and the billionaires who employ teams of accountants to avoid paying what they should. We’d also be doing them a favour: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
On foreign affairs, while Canada is hardly a world power, we are a world-influencer. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, roared for justice and fairness and insisted that we work to end war. Yet our government sells arms and military technology, and rather than try to moderate between warring interests, we too often take a side, and the wrong side at that. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Leviticus tells us that “the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” and Psalm 24 that "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." No rational person can now deny that we are in an environmental crisis and that action to deal with climate change is essential. It’s a human issue and, as such, a Christian issue — for those who love God are called to love God’s creation as well as creatures, the planet as well as people.
It’s not an easy list, and a faith-based political approach to justice and peace would require a startling and even revolutionary vision. But politicians are there to reflect our needs, not their own comforts. As the British author G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Let’s see if that appears on an election poster in the near future!