Engaging with the political system

Oct 15, 2015 by

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With less than a week to go until the election, I’m going to try to summarize my general approach to faith and the political system. The caveats for this post:

I’m talking about my context of a developed Western world democracy, specifically in Canada, but most of the ideas would carry over.

Defining “politics” gets tricky. In a broader sense it simply means engaging with the world around you, which is definitely necessary. Here I’m talking specifically about engagement with our government structure, particularly during election season.

Participating in empire

This is typically the main question for traditional Anabaptists: to what degree do you participate in a system that is inherently anti-Christ? Among other potential conflicts, our governments — even our better democratic ones — rely on using force to get their way. This disproportionately affects marginalized groups who are harmed by the status quo. To what degree, if any, can we be a part of such a system while claiming to follow Jesus who lived and taught in ways sometimes strictly opposed?

For me, the question largely becomes “Where do you put your hope?” We have rival eschatologies at play. Each party proposes that its approach to governance will bring about a utopia and every other party will bring about Armageddon. But as Christians, our hope must be entirely in Jesus. He is the source of joy and peace and love in the world. Different political parties can do good and bad things, for sure, but we have to keep it in perspective.

As I wrote in my post on jobs my faith wouldn’t allow me, I wouldn’t be a MP (Member of Parliament — Federal) or MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament). Many Anabaptists would agree with me on that, but others feel like they can navigate these conflicts the same way many navigate the conflicts working in a for-profit business. But I do vote and try to stay engaged.

Vote in love, not fear

Assuming you do vote, the main guidance I’d give for how to vote is the same guidance I would give for any decision: Let love be your guide, especially love for the marginalized. Jesus’ great commandment for us is to love your neighbor. He defines that neighbor to even include hated national enemies, with modern equivalents being something like Iraqi Muslims. He also continually modeled and taught inclusion of the outsiders, whether they’re outsiders because of their skin color, nationality, religion, economic status, health, gender, orientation or any other dividing line. We are to love them all, but that special focus of attention belongs to the marginalized.

So when I vote, I vote with them in mind. I have to think about who best helps the poor we try to avoid even looking in the eye, our First Nations communities whom we don’t even bother to supply with clean water, Muslims in Canada and abroad who have become the scapegoat for all that is evil, Iraqis dying from our bombs, other non-white people who are still daily victims of white supremacy, LGBTQ people who often still lack the rights cisgender and heterosexual people enjoy, and women who face many battles against patriarchy like being paid substantially less for the same work.

As a Christian, I cannot ask “which party can do the most for me?” I cannot even ask which party most helps the majority of Canadians. I have to ask which party will most extend love to all of my neighbors, not only the privileged ones who can get them elected.

This framework is fundamentally opposed to the fear-based rhetoric that dominates much political discourse, from one party in particular this election. As a Christian, I believe that we are not to be afraid of the world, for Jesus has overcome the world. I believe that we are to love all of our neighbors. I believe that every human being bears the image of God and is somebody whom Jesus loves indiscriminately to the point of death, as the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. And I believe that perfect love casts out all fears the world tries to instill in us that encourage us to repeat that original sin of sorting people into good and evil. I believe that love will always win in the long run, so I must reject fear at every opportunity. As a Christian, I reject when somebody tries to buy my vote by making me afraid, and I choose to love them instead.

Stay engaged

Lastly, it is important to remember that our government exists outside of election season. In theory, we elect people to represent our local area. We tend to forget this and only vote by party. Until the system actually changes, though, let’s encourage our representatives to actually represent us. That means bringing your concerns before them and encouraging them when they do a good job, even if they represent a different party from the one you support.

I don’t want to understate giving positive reinforcement when they do good things, not just petition them about things they need to fix. When a former MPP spoke to our church’s Sunday school recently, he gave a simple example. An activist group shows up protesting for more funding. One of the MPPs points out to the others that they already gave this group $10 million but they’re still protesting for more. If they didn’t give them $10 million, they would still be protesting, but the government would have another $10 million to work with. So what’s the motivation for our government to make the world better, at the advice of activist groups or otherwise, if they’re just seen as the enemy no matter what? Instead, having realistic goals to push forward and being thankful when each step does happen makes it a lot easier to work together. We don’t settle on having a great vision for a better country and better world, the vision Jesus gives us, but we get there one step at a time by working together, persuading people with love rather than force.

Ryan Robinson lives in Waterloo, Ont., and attends The Meeting House, a Brethren in Christ multisite church. He blogs at anabaptistredux.com where this post originally appeared.


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