Christians and Politics: A Canadian Perspective
By Bill Hall
Growing up I had a friend named Hughie (I think he goes by Hugh now that he is in his 50’s). His dad was particularly passionate about politics. Each time an election came up he was one of the first people in my town to place a party sign on his front lawn, and front room window. You couldn’t help but notice those bright orange signs, (I grew up in a strong labour union town), when you drove by Hughie’s house.
Now this whole experience was new to me. My parents voted in each election but they didn’t have the same outward passion expressed by Hugh’s dad. So one day I asked him why a person should vote, or more to the point I think I asked, “What difference does one vote make?”
I really wasn’t prepared for the answer.
He explained just one vote can determine the outcome of an election. He then got quite animated when he outlined how he had grown up in Nazi Occupied Europe – where people didn’t have a choice to express their opinion. He finished by saying that to be able to vote was a tremendous privilege and should never be taken for granted.
I think about Hugh’s dad each and every time I vote in a municipal, provincial or federal election. I even thought about our conversation when I ran for a position on the local school board. Now, I didn’t get enough votes to unseat the incumbent, but the process taught me a lot about local politics.
So why am I writing about politics? I sure you have heard the expression, “It is okay to talk about anything but religion and politics.” And depending where you are, this is probably good advice. It seems like many of us have pretty strong opinions when it comes to these two taboo subjects. In many ways they reveal who we are as individuals, and we base our identity on the stand we take with religion and politics.
As Christians, we are not immune from the strong feelings that surround the subject of politics. Jesus sure had tremendous insight when he explained that his followers are in the world but not part of it:
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17: 14-19).
We are Kingdom people, waiting in eager anticipation for the “fullness” of God’s kingdom. But until then, we are like people who have one foot in this world and one foot out. It is kind of like doing a spiritual version of the old party dance, the Hokey Pokey. We live in the tension that some theologians call the “already, but not yet.”
As children of God we do this intricate dance as we follow Jesus Christ and still live in a world – that in many ways is ambivalent to his message. So we sometimes have to bite our tongue, or hold back an angry response when someone wrongs us. In addition, it is extremely difficult not to “correct” someone when they express a political opinion which just doesn’t fit with our personal worldview.
Over the years, I’m sure that you like myself have seen some pretty caustic political campaigns. We even use the term “attack” to describe the ads that opposing political parties wheel out each time there is an election. It is pretty hard not to get carried away with all the rhetoric filling the air around an election. Not to mention all the opinions or downright hateful comments expressed on social media regarding a particular candidate or party.
Followers of Jesus have had to deal with political systems since the advent of the Church. We can’t ignore them as we are people who have to live our lives within these systems. There are times when political systems impede and other times when they enable the work of the Gospel.
The writer of 1 Peter makes the following observations about our walk as people who live in this world, but are not part of it:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:9-17)
Paul in his letter to Timothy even makes that statement that we should pray for those who have authority over us:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
In both admonitions, the writers give us the reason to pray for and respect our leaders, so that God’s Gospel can be preached and that people can be reached with the Good News.
Prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority…
A few years ago I had the opportunity to be part of a team that went to Ottawa to lobby MPs. We were asking all parties to consider a change in tax legislation that would benefit the charitable sector I was involved with. A lot of preparation preceded our visit on the “hill.” With appointments made, our team spread out to speak to different MPs, civil servants, and party leaders to pitch our idea.
We met with one MP from Western Canada in her office in between debates and votes in the House of Commons. Another senior MP gave us time to talk to her in the opposition chambers just off the side of the House of Commons, during a break in the session. Still another met us in his office in the main Parliament building.
I came away from that experience with a different appreciation for our elected officials. Regardless of what I may personally think about their particular stance on different issues, I sincerely believe that the majority of our elected officials are in the job to make a positive difference in the lives of Canadians.
As Paul wrote to Timothy, they certainly need our prayers in making the decisions they must make on our behalf. Especially we should pray that their decisions don’t impede our ability to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Let us be known as people who are known to show “proper respect to everyone…” (1 Peter 2:17). Even towards those who hold different political views.
Bill Hall is a Canadian cooordinator of Northern Light newsletter from GCI Canada and lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.