03 Jul 2009 Kingdom Citizens in Secular Canada (Part Three)
Influencing for Good
By Ray Pennings
Winston Churchill reportedly once said that party democracy is the worst form of government except for all of the others. Reflecting on the questions provided by the organizers of this evening in their kind invitation for me to address this meeting, I could not help but wonder, “How would we respond to these questions if we asked them in the context of Winston Churchill, World War II, and the stark issues confronting Christian citizens in that time? Would we still regard Churchill with the same respect as I sense most of us do today? Would we have been active supporters of
Many of the questions we will deal with tonight challenge us to reflect on “safe lines” that we – and I include myself – have used for many years to rationalize the lack of political influence which Christians appear to have in Canada today. These include lines such as:
– God calls us to obedience, not success.
– Our involvement and presence in the political arena provides an opportunity to be a Christian example.
– We always need to be ready to provide reason of the hope that is in us; even while politically involved, confessing God before men, letting his Word guide our thinking, and letting our neighbours know of their need of Christ remain priorities for a Christian.
In no way do I mean with any of what follows to diminish the important truths reflected by these familiar statements. I understand the assignment given by the organizers to dig beyond these familiar and safe answers, with which everyone in this room will presumably agree, and examine our strategy and experience relating to public life involvement under a more probing lens. Is the Christian community being good stewards of the opportunity for influence which God in his providence has provided us in this society? Are we being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” as we go out into the political arena? When we face opposition or defeat, is it because we have been resisted by those who are hostile to the gospel, or are we sometimes as “stupid as pigeons and poisonous as snakes” in our political efforts?
These are stark questions and are more difficult to responsibly answer than they first appear. I presume that we are basically agreed in our basic understanding of scriptural teaching as to why Christians ought to be engaged in public life. The questions before us are questions of prudence and tactics, not principle.
I will try to be as direct as I can tonight, trusting that you realize that in almost every case, the answer requires nuance and qualification. Wisdom in this matter includes taking account of the circumstances, and when asked what one should do faced with a particular challenge, the answer is almost always “It depends on. . . .” My intention is neither to debate those who differ nor to present my present understandings as the “right” answer, implying that those who come to different conclusions are therefore necessarily wrong. I can readily understand how Christians can responsibly come to different, and sometimes seemingly opposite, conclusions on some of these issues. As I will outline, I view some of these questions quite differently than I once did and as I noted in a published essay related to these matters last year, my understanding of these issues reflects a journey. I can share some lessons I have learned to date, although I by no means am certain that I have arrived at
I have divided my talk into three distinct parts. First I will provide something of an autobiographical sketch, walking you through some of the significant lessons that I have learned during my twenty-five years as a Christian activist in public life. In the second part, I will identify a few of the critical questions and strategic priorities which in my mind are among the most important questions the Christian community needs to wrestle with if we are to be an influence for good. In the final part, and it will be the briefest as I will already have made my major points by this time, I will in “rapid-fire” manner work through the questions originally presented and directly respond to them.
I fully understand given the nature of this assignment that it will be impossible for any of us to leave the stage with everyone in the audience fully agreeing with all that was said. I do, however, hope that even those who disagree will acknowledge that “at least he honestly answered the questions,” which given prevailing political behaviours in Canada, may in itself be an identifiable Christian contribution to public life.
1. Learning from the journey
I celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of active engagement in public life last December. The occasion was the fall of the minority Progressive Conservative government led by Joe Clark over a proposed deficit-reducing gasoline tax. I remember the debate in our grade eight classroom well. “I want to drive a car when I get older” was the critique of my Liberal-sympathetic classmate. “But I want a country to drive a car in,” was my response. “Besides, it’s unfair and even immoral for us to have to pay the bills being racked up by adults today.”
It wasn’t very nuanced, but a grade eight world is pretty black and white. Both my classmate and I launched apprenticeships of active involvement in campaigns, attendance at party conventions, and ongoing friendly quarrels. (If political influence was the objective, he wins hands-down. Today, he serves as a ranking Liberal insider with a senior position on the Prime Minister’s campaign team.) My lessons were less career-advancing. I quickly learned enough about the system to know that living in it would challenge my Christian walk.
At the same time, however, it seemed that at least part of the reason the system was that way was because too many Christians were taking the easy way out and leaving a vacuum for others to fill. I remember having a sense of helpless urgency, since there were a bunch of bad guys engaged in politics who had an evil agenda of militant secularization but too few Christians seemed to pay attention to even notice, much less effectively resist them. My first five years of political activity were a time of confusion, learning the ins and outs of political battle alongside some skilled electioneers, and to be perfectly candid, a wonderful time of exhilarating fun. I say with some regret that I although I looked for one, I did not find a mature Christian mentor involved in politics anytime during those teenage years of Progressive Conservative involvement.
These teenaged conclusions made me a ripe candidate for involving myself in the formation of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) in the late eighties. It made so much sense. I was convinced that there was a silent majority out there who, if they only knew what was going on, would en masse march to the ballot boxes and use their X’s as a weapon of mass protection.
My five years of CHP involvement also provided many lessons. My first responsibilities were internal, as the party was focused on recruiting members and building organizational capacity. I recall some disillusionment as I realized that for many confessing Christians, the politics of earthly cities really didn’t matter, since their heavenly citizenship took up all of their available political time. This world was going to burn anyway, so why bother? Others were willing to be engaged, but only using spiritual weaponry. Those of us who advocated using the sophisticated weaponry that is part of contemporary political warfare were by definition less spiritual, less faithful, and therefore not really to be trusted.
Although these challenges were evident from the outset, we soldiered on, inspired by Gideon’s story that perhaps God would use our comparative few to defeat the enemy. After five years, a good dose of human sin and weakness combined with the reality of Christian political diversity to become a landmine that ultimately blew up inside of the CHP camp.
A crucial lesson learned during this period was the difference between power and influence. My early apprenticeship in mainstream political parties focused on winning elections and attaining power. Policies were a tool in the battle. They were proprietary and were to be protected lest the enemy steal your good ideas and implement them as if they were their own.
In the CHP, it was different. Politics 101 told me that in a first-past-the-post election system, the CHP could never hope for more than the occasional seat here or there. The political objective was to force other parties to pay attention to our issues. I don’t remember how the insight came but I remember repeatedly using the NDP as a model in my CHP promotional speeches. I argued that if one reviews the policies advocated by the NDP at their formation in 1961, and looked at public life today, one could only conclude they had been successful since most of what they had advocated had been put into place in spite of their never having won a national election. With wisdom and sound strategy, I argued, Christians could do the same. Remembering the challenge that the CHP had then – and still has today – of getting the media to pay any attention to it, I can still feel the frustration I felt when a CHP meeting in Guelph received coverage under a prominent heading “NDP Most Successful Political Party.” The issue of media bias never changes, but that is a topic for another night.
It is clear to me in retrospect that our efforts in those times were premised on the belief that if properly confronted with the right questions, there was in society a “silent majority” – whether motivated by explicitly Christian or other beliefs – that might be educated and mobilized. While I never bought into the populism that was current in the nineties – some things are true and need to be stood up for whether the majority agrees or not – the CHP model of influence is premised on a grassroots view of changing society.
The next major phase of my journey was in the labour relations arena, where I worked for eleven years as the public affairs director for the Christian Labour Association of Canada. It was in this phase that I came to the seemingly contradictory conclusion that politics was at the same time both more important and less important than I had previously assumed. Change – significant change that touched people’s lives and made a difference in how they lived and thought – could be accomplished through other institutions like a labour union, and in a manner that was quite oblivious to the political goings on that captivate junkies like me.
Still, there were limits. When a government like the one which held power in BC in 1997 decided to solve certain industry problems through policies that would reward their friends and put independent unions like CLAC virtually out of existence, the only options that could make a difference were political options. Good labour relations may improve the working environment in a given nursing home, but the health policies and funding provisions provided by governments were real limits to what might be done. Legislation that determines the circumstances in which one might join, or leave, a union makes a world of difference to people working in that industry, even those who never contemplate joining a union.
In the process of learning about the interconnectedness of the political and labour spheres, I came to appreciate that sorting through the knots required unraveling strings that had their source in other spheres. The organizational culture of the business, the maturity (or in some cases the immaturity) of the relevant industry association, and the specific characteristics of the client group served often needed to be understood and accounted for if the challenge of the day was to be solved. I might have known this stuff had I read about the enkaptic characteristic of the spheres from people like Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, but being raised Free Reformed, these authors were not on the reading list as some of their other ideas were controversial. So, I learned the validity of some of this theory through experience.
On more than one occasion I wondered whether the overall objective of influencing the ordering of public life to glorify God was a hopelessly naïve and futile prospect. Maybe those who isolated themselves from the world, devoting themselves exclusively to Bible study and evangelism, were being better stewards of their resources. A troika of temptations seem to water down the effectiveness of Christian public witness. The pragmatic temptation rationalizes compromise and silences conscience tugs with tactical explanations. The belonging temptation causes one to downplay external piety in order to better “fit in,” all of course in the cause of using this resulting relationship influence for good. The mental laziness temptation adopts the solutions conceived in secular policy houses, dresses them up with a few proof texts and pious principles, and baptizes them as the Christian solution to the problem.
Still, retreating into the safe sanctuary of church life never seemed a satisfactory answer. Pragmatism, inconsistency, and a lack of intellectual rigour are on display inside, as well as outside, the church. Besides, to abandon any attempts to influence public life only because the challenge is difficult seemed like the behaviour of the man in the parable who buried his talent. God expects a return on what He has given us and certainly the institutions of public life are part of the creation which must be replenished and stewarded.
Throughout my CLAC decade I continued to dabble (in my personal time) in politics, taking up the cause for candidates and issues that seemed worthy. I honed my skills in the political combative arts such that my son, who is now the age I was when I began my apprenticeship, marvels at my ability to pick causes that seem like long-shots, and finishing in second place (which, he reminds me, is still losing). I worked as a campaign manager for a Christian candidate in 1997. After that election I was inactive until the Alliance leadership campaign of 2000 when I joined in support of Stockwell Day. I was recruited to be a candidate in the 2000 election and I was reminded of another reality of the first-past-the-post system and party politics in Canada. What you do locally doesn’t really matter – it is the party, national campaign, and national media coverage that influences Canadian voter decisions. The only impact that the effectiveness of our local campaign and the effective support we were able to organize from the community at large, but especially the Christian community, was to attract the attention of political organizers at a higher level. We were able to leverage this into playing a role in support of a tax credit for independent schools without strings attached, something that would have significantly enhanced parental choice in education. Unfortunately, even after making progress in that battle and seeing the tax credit implemented into law, the last election saw it removed.
Now, after over two decades in the practitioner trenches, my current assignment involves working with a think tank, the Work Research Foundation (WRF). It is a different approach to dealing with public life. Rather than getting involved in partisan political activities and being considered by those who hold office as competitors and political adversaries, we are seeking to advance our arguments through position papers, research reports, media articles, and a journal and encourage politicians and other opinion leaders to deal with our arguments. Our mission statement states our objective clearly: to influence others to a Christian view of work and public life.
So what have I learned during these twenty years of public life involvement? 1) Canada as a whole does not share the perspectives I suspect are generally held in this room, and if the various issues we are concerned about were put up to a national referendum, we would lose on most issues. 2) There is a significant proportion of the population that does share our concerns, but their voice isn’t proportionately considered in the national discussion. 3) The reasons for our lack of proportionate influence have as much to do with our internal divisions and inability to communicate a clear message as they do with a secular hostility to our message, although that is certainly a factor as well.
My present thinking about political strategy has been influenced by interaction with Dr. James Davison Hunter, a professor at the University of Virginia whom WRF has brought to Canada for several speeches, and probably best known for his book Culture Wars. His argument, in a nutshell, is twofold. Ideas that have cultural impact are advanced through the core institutions of society to the periphery. They also are advanced through an intersecting network of leaders in various spheres and not by any one institution on its own.
2. Key strategic questions
This brings me to the second part of my talk – identifying some of the core questions and strategic priorities that we face.
Hunter’s thesis has challenged my core assumptions. If changing the world matters – and I am theologically convinced that it does – and if it is a sociological fact that cultural change is driven from the top down, not through grass-roots movements of activism, then the network is equally if not more important than the institution. Political parties, while being part of the answer, are much less a part of the answer than I once thought they were. They are simply tools in the process.
As I survey the current political scene, I must confess to having a far more utilitarian view of political parties and organizations than I ever had before. Our problems are not political parties, lobby groups, or think tanks that are active in the public square. Our problem is a culture in which mediocrity and hedonism shapes the lives of the citizens. And by this, I do not just mean the fact that so many people are evidently not saved and do not lead Christian lives. Even among those who confess Christ, go to church, and even explicitly seek to do politics out of a Christian framework, there is a prevailing attitude of consumerism and mediocrity. So why should we expect government to look any different? I don’t like it. I believe our society is on a path towards spiritual – and with it inevitably legal and social – suicide. But it doesn’t do us any good to deny the realities of our present environment.
I need to expand a bit on this admittedly stark observation regarding the Christian community. It is more prevalent for Christians to consider themselves victims of social trends. The decline of society is something that we have observed as something that has happened “out there”; something that happens to us as a community. I want to respectfully suggest that the place to start is for the Christian community to take its share of the responsibility. I would argue that this is as much something that has happened by us as it has happened to us.
It is a sweeping generalization to be sure, and there are many exceptions, but it needs to be said. North American Christians in general are apathetic and hedonistic (using its literal pleasure-seeking definition), and as such are generally satisfied to live in the culture as it is without seeking to effect cultural renewal.
There is a “my-life-is-my-business” mindset which is too prevalent among church members. Secular notions of authority and community have infiltrated the church. When churches back off their confessions in an attempt to avoid controversy, when the authority of ordained church leaders is ignored by church members and a blind eye is turned to lifestyles that flagrantly contradict what the church stands for, when the sacraments are debased and any transcendent significance lost, then those outside the church have no way of identifying who the church is, much less any reason to pay attention to what is said in the church’s name.
Let the church be church
It used to be that the church sat on the main street of each town, with its steeple the highest point. Even those who never set foot in its door were reminded of its presence, even if they chose to ignore everything beyond the here and now. Vibrant churches, while a necessary prerequisite, are by no means a guarantee of a Christian voice in the public square. The lessons of history painfully remind us that some of the most anti-Christian, destructive agendas have advanced while religious life appeared to be thriving. The other institutions involved in the public square also play important roles. The public square really cannot thrive without any of them. Churches must practice public theology – regaining a central place on the public square by proclaiming the meaning of the gospel for the common good. Vibrant churches with biblical and confessional grit, sacramental heft, and serious moral discipleship are central to any cultural strategy.
If the essential question before us tonight boils down to: “What strategy would be best to achieve an effective Christian presence in the public square?” the answer starts with a vital prerequisite condition that must be met. There can be no Christian presence in the public square, no matter what strategy we employ and how vigorously we pursue it, if there is no Christian presence in society. It starts, of course, within our churches, but it extends outside of the safe confines of the sanctuary. Are we prepared to be known and held to account as Christians by our neighbours and co-workers? Do others know that we are salty, not because they see us attend the salt shaker, but because they taste the salty flavours whenever we are involved in a business, a community group, a sports team, or a cultural event? “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt 5:13).
This central point – let the church be church, not only within her walls, but also in society – is an essential, and I would argue an overlooked, piece of a discussion regarding Christian public influence.
Pre-requisites are important but only start the conversation. I understand the demands and challenges that church and family obligations place on each of us. I too have served in consistory, on the school board, attend Bible study, and actively participate in the life of the church. But to those who say “that is all that I have time for,” I want to challenge you this evening. Paul writes to the Ephesians that God will gather “all things” in Christ, “both which are in heaven and which are on earth” (Eph 1:10). We are called to “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). I understand the Great Commission to go into all the world not only refers to the spreading of the gospel geographically throughout the entire world, but “to make disciples” – that is followers of Jesus in their entire lives, not just their religious lives – of all nations, and that certainly includes us. A biblical understanding of discipleship does, I suggest, imply that each of us ought to take seriously some involvement and engagement in public life beyond the walls of the church community.
Allow me to highlight three strategic priorities that need to be considered if we are to see an effective public Christian witness in our society.
Three strategic priorities
The first is that we need to adopt a broader public square approach and not become preoccupied with politics. While politics has its place and is ignored at our peril, it is probably less important as a strategic priority for activity than we sometimes think. Economic realities forced on government by the marketplace, international trade agreements and alliances, and court-driven approaches to public policy conspire to limit the available choices of our elected representatives. If everyone in this room was elected to Parliament tomorrow and for the next four years we tried to do everything we could to implement a platform that we all felt comfortable with, we would be remembered as nothing more than a curious footnote in history a decade from now, with no meaningful effects of our mandate lasting that long.
Don’t misunderstand me. I will continue to be politically active, provide energies and support to worthwhile candidates who are willing to stand for office, and can even conceive of doing so myself again someday. We have been given democratic privileges and an opportunity to make our voice heard, and I strongly believe for us to ignore our citizenship privileges is like taking the talent that God has given us and burying it like the man in the parable. Politics provides an opportunity to have our voices heard and to be counted as participants in society. But in our present circumstances, it is not a place where I expect any significant differences will be made. Politics will follow, not lead the change. As I already noted, our governments reflect our citizenship. The system works, and since I agree with Churchill’s comment that that party democracy is the worst system except for all of the others, I am not going to advocate that we change the system. The logical consequence then, is to argue that it is not politics, but society that needs transformation. We need to think of these questions not as political questions, but as broader public square questions.
The implications of this some may find surprising and even counter-intuitive. It implies that joining the symphony orchestra may be as significant an activity of Christian influence in the public square as is joining a political party. Developing strategies to assist those who are board members of the chamber of commerce or industry association, community association or labour group is as important as signing up everyone each year for their electoral district association. That is not to say political parties are unimportant; it is to say that their importance will be leveraged by activities in other spheres.
Of course, while becoming involved in these activities is a first step, how we exercise our involvement is as important. I would argue every Christian ought to vote, but voting for the wrong things or people hardly helps. Similarly, becoming involved in broader public square activities, but in a manner that is not attentive to providing a Christian influence, is ineffective. I have spoken to non-Christian community leaders who have served on boards or committees with members of the Christian community who were surprised to learn, after many years of working together, that the person was a Christian. The challenge I would put before each of us is: how does our faith make a difference in the decisions we are asked to make in public life? Do those we serve with know about our faith and perspective, not because we quoted a Bible text or told them we went to church, but by the stands we took or the perspectives we offered on the issues that emerged in our shared work for the public good?
So the first strategy I would recommend this evening is for Christians to be involved in diverse spheres. The building of diverse networks and investing the time necessary to build understandings and relationships of reliability are essential at both leadership and grassroots levels. At an individual level, people need to diversify their involvements where they meet different people. While not everyone can be involved in everything, people should consciously rotate their organizational commitments. It is the rare person who has the interest, aptitude, or energy to develop strong relationships in all of the institutions that are “key” to public life. But if there are five institutions key to public square influence, we need many more three- and four-institution players than we have today. There are two natural consequences that emerge from a conscious effort toward institutional diversification. The first affects our perspective. The ability to look at a problem through various lenses will deepen our understanding of both the problem and result in a far more creative process in proposing solutions. It will also help our communications. The age of broadcasting in which a single newscast or newspaper singularly shaped the environment is over. In an era of narrowcasting, aided by technological tools that equip everyone to communicate more broadly – even if it is simply forwarding emails to contacts on their contact list – diverse networks are essential to the arsenal required to fight the culture war.
Not only do we need individuals to diversify themselves, but we need forums that bring leaders from these sectors together. Time spent in discussion is necessary in order to bring coherence to a Christian framework of public life that will be communicated through a compatible vocabulary and based on some broadly recognized principles. Today, most Christian organizations are re-inventing the wheels. Existing Christian cultural leaders need to reach out to one another across the divide between the various spheres to develop a common overarching strategy. This can unfold only if new forums are organized for intentional conversation about such a strategy.
A second key strategic initiative is to re-brand Christian public square involvement, both among Christians and in public opinion. It is not enough to be identified narrowly with either sex and family issues or peace and poverty issues. While the philosophy, background data, option papers, and alternatives considered in building any platform take many words, the core message is reduced to a simple image or clear slogans. While most of us would like to think we are more sophisticated than to be influenced by marketing, the truth is that marketing does work. The marketing and “branding” of Christian public square involvement needs some work. For most, Christian public involvement today equates to “sex and family issues,” with a secondary brand of “peace and poverty issues” that has carved out its place on the left. Neither is an adequate distinguishing brand. This isn’t a call for an advertising makeover or cute slogans. However, “Joe and Mary Public” who drive by the local church and notice its steeple should equate the Christian church with something different from what they do currently if our voice is to be heard in the public square.
The third key strategic priority is for Christians to recalibrate expectations to allow for perseverance over decades of effort, rather than be exhausted by the rollercoaster ride of short-term triumphs and disillusionment. We must gather our strength from the source of our hope and the promise of the gospel. There is simply not enough experience and practical know-how to fill the many crucial positions required. Even today, with the relative dearth of Christian candidates and cabinet ministers seeking and holding office, finding competent staff members to fill out their teams is a challenge. When it comes to the day-to-day tactical and communications skills required to conduct significant campaigns targeted to the general public, our best do not match up against their best. In fact, those who would oppose a Christian voice can go through several rungs on their depth chart before the levels even out. The only cure for this is time and experience.
Perhaps the most significant challenge will be reorienting expectations and the framework within success or failure as currently evaluated. Although motivating that majority for whom the public square is not on the priority list is the biggest challenge, the expectations of activists also need reorienting. While successes are to be preferred over failures, the battle for public square influence is not dependent on any one policy initiative, election, or campaign. Results will only be measured over decades, and we need to develop the persistence and perseverance to keep at it. The recent debate about redefining marriage is a prime example. It is only in the past few years that there has been anything that even approached a widespread awareness of this issue in the Christian community.
For many, this was their first political experience. They became despondent when their petitions, protests, and ballots seemed not to affect the outcome. What is forgotten is that this issue is the culmination of about three decades’ very active work by the gay-rights advocacy community. They used a variety of societal institutions and patiently worked, always keeping their longer term objectives in mind. We have some lessons to learn.
3. Answering the questions directly
I promised to finish by directly answering the questions put to us by the organizers, even though the essence of my argument is, I suppose, that these are not the first questions we need to be facing. However, being reliable and keeping promises is in short supply in the public affairs business, so let me try to make a contribution.
Do keep in mind that I will be direct and cryptic in giving these answers. I trust by this point you realize that full answers would require more nuance and qualification than would make for effective communication. I trust that based on what I have already said, you will be able to fill that in.
1. How can we make an impact on society around us for good?
First, by having a vibrant church, where the love, holiness, and other attributes of God are on display to the world through his body. Second, by a robust engagement in all aspects of culture by utilizing the various gifts which God has given us, building relationships with those around us, and having the courage to speak out of biblical convictions so that things natural become spiritual, and spiritual things become natural.
2. And what are the most effective ways of influencing the direction of our country?
Through a coordinated strategy in which Christian citizens (a) become involved in the full range of institutions and build wide networks; (b) develop an inter-sphere strategy for cultural engagement and change; and (c) have the perseverance to pursue this strategy for the longer-term. Influence will only be measurable by decades, not years.
3. What should be our relative priority: think tanks, lobby groups, or political activism via a political party?
It depends. We need all of them, although they are only tools in the process. No specific public square organization (I am obviously not including the church) is a matter of principle.
4. From which method would we get the most mileage?
If we accept the argument that (a) the Christian perspective is a minority perspective and that we are at odds with the prevailing worldview in society; (b) the political process is designed to reflect the views of the citizenry, then direct political involvement is unlikely to achieve change.
5. How can Christians be involved in the political arena with integrity in the most effective way?
With great difficulty, but that is also true of Christians being involved in the business world, cultural world, etc. Taking a long term view, we need those with an interest and aptitude in politics to become engaged now, if for no other reason to begin building within the Christian community the skills and experience required over time for us to have any meaningful political influence.
6. What options are open to us and what standards must we use in deciding how to cooperate with others?
It depends. In some cases, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In others, there needs to be a much closer worldview alignment in order to work together at all. Within the long-term strategy, our organizational involvements need to be measured against short-term benchmarks, and cooperation with others can be evaluated against those benchmarks. Keep in mind that public influence requires public organizations, and cannot be viewed simply as an accumulation of private organizations.
7. Can or should Christians work with others who do not share their faith?
8. What standards must we use in deciding how to cooperate with others?
We are always to obey God rather than man. Our involvements with others needs to be measured against defined objectives, and should always be structured to give everyone involved space for us to act out of our most deeply held convictions without violating their conscience.
9. Some opt for the CHP and others go for the Conservative Party. What should we do and why? The question is urgent given the concerns Christians have about the direction of our country and the political realities in Ottawa.
The choice to join or not join a political party, and which one, are tactical questions. I cannot agree with those who suggest that there is a principled obligation for Christians to choose one over the other. It might be tactically wise in one set of circumstances to choose one, and in different situation, to choose the other approach. The basis for making this choice requires each of us to weigh the entire range of issues in the balance of Scripture, and to settle in our own consciences which approach is the most stewardly use of the opportunities given to us for political involvement. As is evident from my own political career, at different times in the past I have viewed both approaches as the most prudent course to follow, and can readily contemplate circumstances in the future in which I might choose to follow either approach again.
I began with citing Winston Churchill and I would like to go back to history in wrapping up my remarks. I take it as a given that we all share a deep concern about the present direction of our country, and a sense that faithful Christians have an obligation always, but especially in present circumstances, to be a salt and light in society. I have tried to provide some thoughts tonight on how this might be done.
I would respectfully suggest that if we would apply the same standards to Winston Churchill that we apply to our present politicians, most of us would regard him quite differently than we do. I am no expert in Churchill history, but most of us know probably as much anecdotal history regarding Churchill as we do regarding some of the faith commitments and worldviews of some present-day leaders. Yet for the most part we hold Churchill in relatively high esteem for his leadership in difficult times but are prepared to critique present-day leaders who explicitly work out of their faith commitments – all-be-it using strategies with which we might disagree.
I will not comment on the personal faith commitments regarding either Churchill or present day leaders. That is not our focus here. Even those who confess to be Christian sometimes conduct themselves politically in a manner that is unbecoming to their confession, and by God’s grace, some who make no faith profession perform valuable service in the public arena that deserves not only our support, but also our appreciation. God accomplishes his purposes through the Cyrus’s, the David’s, and the Daniel’s of
God’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom and although we are strangers and pilgrims in the earth, looking forward to the time when we will be at home in the eternal city where there will be no sin, tears, nor disagreement, for now we are called, as Israel was while in Babylonian captivity, to build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat the fruit of them (Jer 29:29); and I might add, to be faithful citizens, rendering to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to Him.
May God grant each of us grace, wisdom and courage to exercise this responsibility faithfully to the glory of God, and the betterment of society.
[This article has been posted on www.arpacanada.ca with permission from the Burlington Reformed Study Centre and Clarion magazine. This article and the others in this series were first printed in in the January 6, 2006 issue of Clarion.]
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