Move out the comfort zone

Should Christians get involved in politics? That's a long-argued question, although it's usually framed as running for office and openly identifying yourself as a Christian. But there are many other ways to get involved in politics as a Christian, even if you don't stand for election or loudly proclaim your faith at the doorstep.

In one of my classes this fall, I tried something I've never done before. I asked students to go and volunteer on one of the local campaigns in the Ontario election - any candidate, any party - and hand in a short report about it.

It succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. While some students were already heavily involved in campaigns, most had never done anything like that - even though they're political science students. One student wrote that "it pushed me out of my comfort zone." But she tried it, and liked being able to work on behalf of something, alongside other ordinary people committed to the same thing. (The free pizza and pop at the campaign office probably helped.)

If you live in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador, you either just finished or are going through a provincial election this fall. Did you consider volunteering for a candidate? Of course, sometimes we don't feel strongly enough about our candidates to go out and work for them. And we're all busy, often volunteering long hours for our own churches and other Christian causes.

But part of being a responsible citizen is getting involved in civic events like elections. Now, I'm not saying Christians should go show up at their local campaign offices and proclaim they are there out of Christian duty. And I - like most others - am firmly opposed to using local churches for any kind of campaigning activity. (So are the people who write the laws on charitable organizations and political finance.)

But as individuals, we should seriously consider moving out of our own comfort zones, and consider political volunteering as a potential duty as citizens and as Christians in the world.

Now, elections are not the only way to volunteer (and there won't be any for a while in the six provinces and territories I just mentioned). But there are many other types of groups and organizations of all political stripes looking for volunteers. They aren't necessarily associated with Christian and religious supporters. Indeed, many secular political groups would benefit from a greater influx of people with a strong faith. Too often, there is a strict divide between "us" and "them." Christians are only thought to be interested in a narrow set of hot-button issues, while other groups fail to connect appropriately with faith communities and churches because they don't have anyone who knows about "those kinds of people."

Christians are to be salt and light in the world. When it comes to applying this to politics, we tend to think big-picture - of running for office and staking out bold positions on the great issues of the day. But much of politics is about stuffing envelopes and hammering in lawn signs on behalf of those bigger things.

And it's in the servant-oriented activities where Christians should thrive, especially as they work alongside others. Again, this is not about working explicitly as a "Christian" volunteer. Rather, it's about being an engaged citizen who happens to be a Christian, and seeing what flows from that.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jonathan Malloy is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.