September 15, 2008 Volume 22, Number 13
Election season divides and unites
By Doug Koop | Editorial Director
The winds of electoral battles are blowing strong throughout North America. As this issue of ChristianWeek was being readied to go to press, the Democratic Party in the United States was wrapping up its national convention and the Republicans were preparing to start theirs. Meanwhile, pundits reading the entrails of pronouncements by Prime Minister Stephen Harper were predicting a mid-October election in Canada.
Ah, politics. We love to hate it. Complaining about our political leaders is an often-pleasant pastime. And we're sorely temptedoften with good reasonto disparage our political processes. However, cynicism is not becoming for Christians.
Politics may be rife with tedious speeches and tendentious posturing, but it is both fascinating and, amidst all the triviality, tremendously important. That's why people need to become informed on issues and involved in voting during election season. It's the time to stand up and be counted. It is the most opportune time to be heard for what matters most for the public good.
Principles above policies
What does matter most for the public good? And how does Christian faith inform our political choices? These are good questions, if only because it's obvious that Christian commitment does not create political uniformity. That's okay. As former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple observed, our proper concern is with Christian principle rather than specific policies.
Clearly factors other than faith play an important role in our choices. In the U.S. right now, for example, race is a better indicator of voting preference than religious conviction. A survey from Crosswalk.com reveals that 81 per cent of white evangelical Christians support John McCain while 70 per cent of African American evangelicals will vote for Barack Obama. People of good faith are thinking quite differently about the candidates.
According to former French president Jacques Chirac, "Politics is not the art of the possible, but the art of making possible what is necessary." And here's where faith is more apparent, for Christian conviction does dictate certain benchmark positions, standards necessary to uphold.
Christians need to keep elevating principles of human dignity, equality before the law, of justice, fair play and concern for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed. Christians, regardless of the particular policies they choose to advance their concerns, must stand for care and compassion. There has to be general agreement on the principles of the sanctity of life, concern for the poor and standing up for the oppressed.
How those principles are applied in public policy is, of course, the stuff of politics. The places for differences of opinion really emerge out of the context of different means to achieve the same end. Goodness exists and inconsistencies abound across the political spectrum. Christians who are conservative and Christians who are liberal ought to agree that life is sacred. But the way to prevent the destruction of sacred life seems different for the left and for the right. So the debate is over means, not ends.
The same dynamic applies to economic policies; especially when the debate is over how heavily we are taxed and how those taxes are used. Some Christian citizens insist that everyone must work for whatever they receive, while others advocate for generous government welfare policies. Again, we need both. Work is part of the biblical mandate and where the work ethic collapses, poverty is certain to increase. It's no use demanding socialized benefits without a growing economy to provide income and the dignity of employment. So, yes, expand the economic cake. But it needs to be fairly sliced as well.
The policy debates are endless and the prospect of disappointment in politics virtually inevitable. But the bottom line for Christians is relatively simple. We need to care enough to support politicians who stand up for principles of righteousness, justice and mercy. May God give us the ability to discern these qualities in the midst of the inevitable confusion of election season.