Religion and politics: What is Jesus calling us to speak up to today?

Bishop Linda NichollsEvery year on January 1, our Primate, Fred Hiltz, preaches at a New Year’s Day levee at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Ottawa.  In his remarks +Fred brings together the state of the nation and the gospel, speaking to many who serve in our government. There are some who say religion and politics should never mix! Yet if politics is about how we live together in this world, then the gospel does have something to say about that.

I was reminded of this in a recent visit with students at Huron College when a student asked whether the church had said anything about the new minimum wage in Ontario. As I thought about my reply I realized that we have not been engaged publicly in the discussion nor internally. Maybe it is because we are so immersed in the day to day challenges of parish life that we do not have time.  Maybe it is because there are people in our pews who will find themselves in very different places in this discussion depending on the impact of this change and we don’t want to stir up division.   Maybe it is because we do think that there is no connection between the gospel and politics!

I believe we do need to be engaged in this and similar conversations about how we live together. Not because our voice is the most important, but because we share in the life of our whole society and the common good of all people matters. ‘God so loved the world…’. We do not have the right to tell others how to vote but we can talk about the values and commitments that we believe should undergird a healthy, compassionate society. We can examine the issues to fully understand them in light of the gospel. We can act as a partner in making changes – not just a critic lobbing comments into the fray – beginning where we are. That is why we have been so engaged in refugee sponsorship!

The scriptures – and Jesus in particular – point God’s people to the need to care for those who are at the edges – the poor, sick, lost, lonely, imprisoned, hungry. Parables like that of the Good Samaritan show us what compassion is meant to look like. Jesus lived and demonstrated what servant leadership is called to be. He challenged those in power with words and, at times, with actions when injustice prevailed. What is Jesus calling us to speak up to today?

Our Provincial Synod Council is exploring how we can speak up on the issues of homelessness and poverty as we approach elections in 2018. What can we say to all politicians about the needs of our communities? And as importantly, what will we offer to do, in partnership with others, to make a difference? The Council is hoping to have information to share later in the spring.

We also need to practice the art of having difficult conversations in which people will find themselves in different places on issues. Rather than avoiding the discussion can we dig in together, respect different viewpoints, listen with open hearts and ears and together find better solutions through our joint efforts. The book of Acts is full of the stories of the disciples having to do just that in the emerging Christian communities of the first century.  Will your parish be a place for those conversations to happen – with each other and with our neighbours and politicians? How will we take our part in shaping our communities, province and country for the common good?