Faith in an election year
Greater justice or distorted goals: discerning our government’s actions
This year we’re headed into a federal election and politics will be difficult to avoid. But for Christians, it’s an opportunity to pay attention rather than tune out.
Interest in federal politics has been waning in recent decades: voter turnout for the 2011 federal elections was 61 per cent, down dramatically from 75 per cent in 1988. This withdrawal from political engagement may be a result of the focus on negative stories of corruption and scandal when it comes to political reporting. In response, we might throw up our hands, figure federal politics is for the birds, and occupy ourselves elsewhere.
This kind of frustration makes sense. But while the negative realities of government are important to consider, we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The authority of government comes with the potential both to abuse power and do good. If government is to be a positive force in our country, it will take the resolve of democratically engaged citizens to hold them to that task.
Navigating faith and politics requires that we pay careful attention. As Christians, our faith is not simply something we believe; it provides the basis for our actions. Faith can translate into action in many ways, and one way is through our role as citizens.
As people of faith engaged in Canadian democracy, we can fulfill our role as citizens by recognizing that we have certain political rights—and responsibilities. While we more often focus on our rights (such as freedom of religion, expression, and association) what about our responsibilities to each other? As citizens in a democracy, our duties include obeying the law, paying our taxes, and showing up when called for jury duty—and being engaged in civic life. Voting in elections is an important responsibility, too.
Even by avoiding our rights and responsibilities, we are making an impact. By staying out of it, we allow other voices and priorities to dominate political discourse while issues that matter to us and our neighbours can be ignored.
People who are residents in a community but are not legal citizens can also practice citizenship. For instance, recently a federal candidate came to our door and asked my American husband, even though she knew he can’t vote, “Are there any issues that I should keep in mind?”
During this election year, our faith doesn’t offer an easy formula for which box to check at the polls or what questions to ask candidates. We might be tempted to just vote for the candidate who says he or she is a Christian, for the one who seems nice or the one who simply cares about our personal concerns. But we have to dig deeper: we must consider how some political decisions, even with the best of intentions, even coming from Christian politicians, can obstruct the common good.
So this election year, let’s become good listeners and critical thinkers, doing the hard but good work of discerning when our government’s actions contribute to greater justice and when they serve distorted goals. Let’s educate ourselves in 2015 about the positions and priorities candidates have taken, and think and pray about whom we will entrust with the responsibility of elected leadership.
Janelle Vandergrift is a Policy Analyst with Citizens for Public Justice in Ottawa, Ontario.
Photo by Justin Grimes (Flickr CC)
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