Political Action is a Team Effort
By Andre Schutten and Daniel Zekveld
As another federal election campaign moves into its final week, many of our supporters are asking questions regarding political action, effectiveness, and change. How can we be involved? Who do we vote for? Who can be a positive actor in the political system? How much of a difference can Christian politicians actually make? Perhaps we’re frustrated about how little progress Christian politicians seem to make despite their efforts. Often, we’re disappointed by the direction of various policies. Maybe we’re hopeful about Canada’s future because of certain positive developments and because God is ultimately in control. At any rate, there are many factors involved in the political system; Christians need to navigate through all these factors as we engage in national and provincial politics.
Politics is a team sport
It is important to remember that politics is a team sport. Wayne Gretzky may have been the greatest hockey player, but he still needed five other men on the ice to win a single game and arguably needed a crowd to cheer him along. Would he win as many games if the crowd was silent or booing him most of the game? Tim Tebow may be a world-famous quarterback, but without his 10 team-mates making up his defensive line or receiving his passes, he’d be a nobody.
Teamwork is just as important in the messy business of a democracy: one individual player, whether an elected representative, a political staffer, or a civil servant cannot score any goals by himself. The process towards creating political change can be long and slow, and we cannot expect any one person, no matter how committed that person is or how highly positioned that person might be, to do everything by themselves. There are many factors at play in politics – including individual politicians, the party they belong to, the state of the bureaucracy, and political engagement from citizens and stakeholders – that must come together to pass legislation and create change. Each of these factors play important roles in the political system and impact the ability to move forward on various issues within Canada.
We rely on certain politicians to uphold biblical principles in the way they govern and vote on legislation, but they also need our support and encouragement. And they need good team-mates. Again, imagine if Tebow had 10 team-mates on the field but they didn’t care all that much if he got tackled or if they only broke into a half-hearted jog to try to catch a pass. His team wouldn’t win, and he’d look like a bad quarterback. Likewise, initiating political change is a monumental task. It requires more team players. It will take focus, dedication, an “everybody pulling together” attitude.
As important as teamwork is, Christians must engage politically without abandoning our other priorities. We are up against so much. We need to invest time and energy in our children and marriages, we want to raise and educate our own children, rather than giving that responsibility to the school or the state. We want to volunteer in our churches as well as in the public square. We want to donate a tenth of our money to Christian causes. Being engaged in politics takes time and energy and we want to see results. We can get our hopes up when a good Christian person is elected and might feel that our work is done because that person can “take it from here.” But political change requires a bigger and longer view.
Political engagement requires a long view
Think about cathedral builders for a moment. The construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris began in 1163 and took over 180 years to complete. The main hall was constructed first with the towers, embellishments, choir, and chapels added over time until it was finally finished in 1345. When considering political action, we are cathedral builders.
Like the first and second and third generation of masons working on the Notre Dame who did not see the finished product, we too must be willing to play our part in advancing the kingdom of God in every sphere of life – including politics – without expecting or demanding that God allow us to see the final product in our lifetime.
Sometimes God graciously grants that Christians see the result of their efforts. For example, William Wilberforce fought for over 30 years to abolish the slave trade, and then a mere 3 days before his death, he was told that the institution of slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. But other times, faithful men and women have died before seeing real change.
Like building a cathedral, we are working towards a result, but we don’t necessarily directly see the impact our efforts have on that final result. It’s often hard to see exactly what kind of impact an email to your MP, a phone call to your MPP or MLA, or participation in a political campaign might have. It might be difficult to see how your vote counts. Again, we work as a team because collective efforts can have a greater impact.
What about Christian politicians?
It can be difficult to see how Christian politicians are influencing the direction of their party or the future of our political system. Too often, we expect a Christian politician to produce the final product (or build the cathedral) before their four-year term is up. We often routinely expect perfection from Christian politicians as well. We might think they are not taking a stance on certain issues or not having as big an impact as they should. But there are times when politicians do take a stance behind the scenes and impact the direction of decisions without the public hearing about that participation. At times, some Christians politicians are caught in a catch-22: having done good work behind the scenes, they are unable to talk about it publicly lest that good work be undone by those opposed. And yet, by not talking publicly about it, some of their supporters think these Christian politicians haven’t done the thing they were elected to do.
Christians also need to remember that one Christian in a political party or within a Legislature can only do so much without the support of other team members.
Imagine a corporation, which is governed by an elected board of 25 people. The CEO of the corporation has the power to remove any board member he wants for any reason he chooses. Imagine you and a small group of concerned shareholders elect a new member to the board. Who would expect that one person to have any real influence in that setting? He could have some. But what he needs is a few other faithful board members to work alongside him. We are never meant to work alone. Do we turf the one good person on that board because we are so disappointed in the lack of change, or do we work hard to get a few more solid people elected?
This is not to say that Christian MPs or MPPs/MLAs cannot be criticized. We must hold each other to a high standard. We can share our disappointments and concerns with them. We can also offer criticism. And a Christian politician should not vote for an immoral law. But we should not expect a big fix from a solitary figure. If we have a long view and understand the team-nature of politics, our first reaction should not be to give up on that elected official but see what we can do to ensure he or she has solid colleagues working alongside him or her.
What does this mean for us?
First of all, Christians must continue to be engaged in all levels of politics, engaging with politicians and the public, volunteering for good candidates, working as a bureaucrat or political staffer, and electing representatives of good moral character. This requires a team of people working together toward a common goal. Yes, there are people, policies, and events that discourage us, but politics is a noble calling that God uses for good. We cannot abandon the field.
This also means we can try our best to support Christians who are involved in the political system. If things aren’t going well, we can either get angry at the few friends we have, or we can work to support them with biblical criticism, encouragement, and more teammates so that they can be more influential together.
In the late 19th century, Abraham Kuyper was the leader of a political party in the Netherlands seeking to get members elected to the Dutch equivalent of our House of Commons. He had this to say about those who had been elected: “Even if we sometimes disagree with them and harbor different sympathies, we ought to support them with our prayers and pursue them with our love, not because they represent our party in any constitutional sense, but because they are the bold tribunes who fearlessly and tirelessly stand in the breach for us whenever they become conscious of one of our cherished desires.” This is not to say that Christian politicians are always right, but we should remember the areas where they do fight for what is right. If we disagree with them, we can communicate that respectfully, hear them out, and continue to pray for them.
Being involved in politics, and even simply observing it, can be discouraging. But looking at the bigger picture, it’s not. Christian philosopher James K.A. Smith writes that, “Our most revolutionary political act is to hope … To be a Christian is to be a person who engages in politics but does so without fear … You have already heard good news that brings great joy. The King is alive and seated on his throne, and he reigns. And not only that: he is also interceding for us at the right hand of his Father. ‘Be not afraid.’”