Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 19, 2001
Gospel gives rise to varied politics
Ezra, our nine-year-old grandson, took a keen interest in last fall's federal elections in Canada and the U.S. He knew the names of the candidates in his constituency and had studied their platforms. There was a mock election in his classroom based on parental preference.
There were two NDP votes, some Alliance votes and a majority of Liberal votes, "because," he explained, according to his fellow students, "it is the Catholic thing to do." In the real election the Alliance candidate won convincingly.
There might have been a time when the world was easily divided into Catholics and non-Catholics. The Habs were still Canadian, French speaking, Catholic and wore Liberal red. The Leafs were Anglos, Protestant and wore Conservative blue. You could tell them apart.
But these times are long gone, and the election results in the West seem to indicate that many a good Catholic voted Alliance for religious or other reasons. The division now seems to be regional instead of religious.
Well, after the near travesty of democracy in the most recent elections, both here and south of the border, we get another chance to exercise our franchise. There is no provincial Alliance Party, but the Conservatives and the Independence Party provide voters with an alternative.
The West has had a long history of evangelically inspired politics, from William Aberhart and Ernest Manning in Alberta and W.A.C. Bennett and his son in B.C., to Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan.
Why the Gospel was read differently in Saskatchewan from the way it was interpreted in Alberta is difficult to know. I like to think that there were more Catholics and mainline Protestants in Saskatchewan who believed in social justice instead of social credit.
The difference has been a tendency towards either xenophilia or xenophobia, the love or fear of strangers and outcasts, a question of inclusion or exclusion.
Saskatchewan is the birthplace of universal medicare. Will Alberta be known as the graveyard of medicare? Let the poor die from natural causes.
To be fair, in some ways we have mellowed. The government just settled the shameful case of citizens who had been sterilized because the former authorities believed that the mental capacity of some of our sisters and brothers rendered them unfit for reproduction. Taxpayers had to pick up the tab for this "keep the gene pool pure" policy.
A poll taken around that time indicated that 80 per cent of Socreds favoured the death penalty. A form of moral cleansing that is gaining new support.
In terms of how religion should inform the way we vote, the Catholic bishops and leaders of the mainline Protestant churches have given us a different set of guidelines. In one sentence, it comes down to "love of neighbour." It might be awfully difficult to find a political party that fully exemplifies this Christian ideal.
But to make this ideal a reality means that committed Christians have to become politically engaged. We can preach the Gospel as much as we like, and pray our little hearts out, but if we don't find authentic ways to live out our love of neighbour in concrete reality, then the "Good News to the poor" might simply dissolve into pious pap.
Sometimes engagement means resistance. We can take courage from Tony Martin, whose faith commitment compelled him to resign as deputy speaker of the Ontario legislature because he no longer could be a part of a system that excludes the most vulnerable members of society.
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