Churches challenge voters to look beyond election ads

Church leaders urge Canadians to make informed choices and also to vote in the upcoming federal election.

PHOTO | IRENEUSZ SKORUPA

Church leaders urge Canadians to make informed choices and also to vote in the upcoming federal election.

September 14, 2015
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Several Church organizations, including the Canadian bishops, are offering online guides to help voters make an informed choice in the Oct. 19 federal election.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) Commission for Justice and Peace recently published its three-page document reminding Canadians of their right to vote and their responsibility to promote the common good.

Development and Peace has an eight-page voters' guide focusing on the need to combat climate change and improve international aid.

As well, the Canadian Council of Churches teamed up with five of its allied agencies to publish its election guide.

However, political scientist Ann Ward isn't so sure the Church voice has much influence on how people vote.

"The influence is declining, I think," Ward, a political science professor at Regina's Campion College, told The Catholic Register. "Perhaps the churches are having less impact than they ever have."

Ward pointed to the recent vote in Ireland approving same-sex marriage and the Liberal Party of Canada's recent policy against pro-life candidates as examples of declining Church influence.

The Canadian bishops' election guide offers five principles from Catholic moral and social teaching that it describes as a "magnifying glass by which to analyze and evaluate public policies and programs."

The first principle is "respect for life and human dignity: from conception to natural death."

Included under this heading are the right to life of the embryo and the fetus; the right to life of the dying and promoting greater access to palliative care.

The document urges Canadians to raise their voices against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, which "endanger the lives of vulnerable people and threaten to morally compromise medical professions."

The second principle is "building a more just society."

It calls for "respect for the freedom of conscience and religion of all, in private, public and professional life."

As well, that principle underlies justice and solidarity with indigenous communities as well as poverty reduction measures that include affordable housing, fighting child poverty and homelessness.

The third principle, "the person and the family," says government should promote "a better balance between familial and professional responsibilities" as well as pay equity between men and women and a guaranteed base income.

It also promotes refugee family reunification, action against human trafficking, rehabilitation of criminals using a restorative justice model, and "protecting people from addiction to drugs and gambling."

The fourth principle "Canada in the world: providing leadership for justice and peace" - stresses the need to help the developing world in poverty reduction, addressing hunger and providing health care.

Among the issues raised by the bishops under this principle are the promotion of peacemaking and dialogue among nations, weapons control, and protecting the dignity of refugees, immigrants and seasonal workers. The bishops also say the government should ensure Canadian companies do not commit abuses when doing business abroad.

The fifth principle is "a healthy country in a healthy environment."

It highlights responsible stewardship of the environment, including "honouring international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," reducing fossil fuel dependency and controlling urban pollution. The full guide can be read at www.cccb.ca.

The Canadian Council of Churches' (CCC) Federal Election Resource can be found at tinyurl.com/qaejhha.

The CCC guide is a 15-page summary of issues from defence policy to poverty and climate change, each introducing thoughtful questions for candidates at all-candidates meetings. It assumes Christian voters are undecided and discerning their best choice based on an analysis of issues.

"It may not be the way politics works (today)," said Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn. "It may be the way that faith communities work."

Sober, careful analysis may stand in contrast to the emotional appeal of campaign advertising, but that doesn't mean there's no demand for what the churches offer, said Gunn.

"Why not talk about important issues?" he asked. "We're in the business of leading people into deeper reflection and having conversations."

CPJ was one of the five contributors to the CCC guide. The ecumenical social justice group also has its own guide focusing on poverty, climate change and refugee policy.

PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM

CCC general secretary Karen Hamilton said the guide is carefully and properly non-partisan. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a point of view.

"Is it neutral? No. It's a proclamation of the kingdom," she said. "The questions that are raised are questions that folk of deep faith believe resonate with the biblical and theological witness of the Church down through 2,000 years."

"It doesn't say, 'Vote for this or that party.' But some of the recommendations are quite transparent against this or that party," said Concordia University theologian Lucian Turcescu. "It doesn't look neutral to me. In quite a few cases they were obviously targeting the Conservative Party."

Turcescu said on one hand, tiptoeing around the partisan nature of politics in fear of offending somebody doesn't help anybody. On the other hand, tying the Church to a political party or cause is almost always a disaster for the Church.

DOCTRINAIRE SECULARIZATION

The only way to fight aggressive and doctrinaire secularization is for churches to wade in on the side of more and better political debate, he said. That's why Turcescu supports the CCC guide.

"The message they (CCC) are giving is a message of responsible, democratic processes in which churches can play a role."

The eight-page Development and Peace guide (www.devp.org) concentrates on ecological justice and international aid. "Canada's backpedaling and isolation on the international stage regarding environmental issues is alarming," says the D&P electoral guide.

It offers voters possible questions to ask candidates about the international conference on climate change, dependence on fossil fuels, and agriculture and food security. In the area of international aid, the D&P guide raises questions for candidates and parties about aid, the voice of people of the Global South and promoting Canada's economic interests.

If those issues don't play as well for Conservative candidates as for some others, that doesn't mean Development and Peace is against the current government, said Ryan Worms, D&P director of in-Canada programs.

NOT DICTATING

"We have members across all of Canada and within that membership, we have members from the Liberal Party, from the Conservative Party, from the NDP and also from the Bloc Québécois and probably even members from the Green Party," he said.

"By no means will we indicate to our members or followers which party to vote for."

(This story was based on stories filed by Deborah Gyapong and Michael Swan as well as on other information.)