With the federal election campaign coming to a close and the general voting day just around the corner, people’s thoughts are naturally turning to the outcome, and the implications for the social and economic agenda for the nation. Christians I know are mobilizing to vote, for two reasons.
I resonate with the first reason, recognizing that the right Canadians have to participate in the democratic process is not to be taken lightly. For that reason, I apply to serve as an election official and work to play a part in the electoral process. I choose to serve prayerfully in a non-partisan way that allows others to follow their consciences.
While this is important, I realize there is a shadow side to this attitude toward politics. If I expect that the sum total of my Christian mission is encompassed by silent participation in opportunities for service, then I am missing a key element of witness to which all Christians are called.
The fact that I am not threatened by crisis arising from the election of a particular party does not mean that I ought not speak to issues of justice. The fact that my witness is shaped by my Christian convictions rather than by political party platforms does not mean I ought to speak less. There are times for Christians to pray, but there are also times for Christians to march, to write, and to protest.
Here is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about the idea that Christians need not speak to political decision-making:
We must finally stop appealing to theology to justify our reserved silence about what the state is doing — for that is nothing but fear. ‘Open your mouth for the one who is voiceless’ — for who in the church today still remembers that that is the least of the Bible’s demands in times such as these?
Christians who insist that their duty is to remain silent on political issues are as irresponsible as people who vote flippantly or based on self-interest.
But there is another spectre that is equally problematic. Christian faith is not — cannot — be equated with support of a political party’s platform, reducing Christian mission to Christian use of political power for religious reasons represents a dangerous compromise to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is more, when the message of the Kingdom devolves to something with which people become comfortable, making no demands on their priorities or lifestyles, it is no longer a message of truth.
Here again, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had prescient insight to offer:
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.
When you vote — and you should — you need to recognize that there is no such thing as a Christian political party, or one whose agenda is Christian. Partisan politics are not Christian, and the exercise of political power is not compatible with the ethics of the Kingdom of God. No one ought to reflect on the political priorities of any party and not feel their conscience untroubled.
The best that politics can do is reduce the level of injustice that prevents godliness — the work of the Kingdom — from prevailing. But Christians still have to do that work, whether there are political obstacles in place or not. The only thing that changes is whether we will do our work freely or in recognition of the suffering we will otherwise endure.
But we’re not afraid of a little suffering, are, we? “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)