It’s been two weeks since one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history wrapped it up, enough time to either celebrate or mourn, depending on one’s particular political bent. I’m going to begin by confessing that I love elections, not the junk mail, sound bite politics and divisive discourse, but the process itself. I love that I get to stroll on down to the church hall one street over, hand over my ID and then mark a circle. I am so thankful that I can perform this civic duty with no one attempting to prevent me or penalize me. I was even more than a little sorry that, this time around, I didn’t get an “I voted!” sticker.
As the new Prime Minister is sworn in tomorrow, I have been thinking about how the church talks about politics, and how I, as a member of the church speak about those who represent us. I am the first to admit that I am far too free with in my personal commentary on the failings of politicians. I even remember, during a period of extreme governmental irritation, turning one politician’s name into a multi-purpose cuss word (It’s impressive what you can do with a variety of suffixes).
Most days, however, I actually believe that the majority politicians strive to do their work with integrity. It is when they choose, like all of us do at some point, to make decisions in selfishness, greed or in willful misunderstanding, that things go awry; it’s just that bad choices in government can have pretty far reaching consequences. So I don’t remotely believe that we are required to blindly accept the policies our government set, rather, I believe we are called to seek justice and hold authority to account for the decisions that are made on our behalf.
Given the disagreements and even scandals that arise, I have to ask myself if I pray for those who hold office at least as much as I criticize them. 1 Timothy “urge(s) that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” And when I do pray, what am I asking for? Am I asking for God’s justice to be done, or for my own inclinations and desires to be met? I am pretty sure that when I do pray for leaders (and this is really only when I am so incredibly incensed by governmental choices that I am shocked by the level of my own vitriol), it is generally a request for God to show them the error of their ways and to match up their opinions to my own.
Sometimes, when I don’t know how to pray or I can’t trust my desires, I head to prayers that are not composed in the heat of a specific moment; they sometimes provide a reminder of what it is I should be praying for, what I should desire. I like this one from The Book of Common Prayer:
MOST gracious God, the author of all good things, we humbly beseech thee for the Parliament of Canada at this time assembled; that thou wouldest be pleased to direct and prosper all their counsels to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, and the safety, honour, and welfare of our people. All this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our most blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.
I like this prayer because it prompts me to pray that God would direct all of our Government’s counsels, that their decisions would reflect the nature and character of God. It reminds me that all decisions that a government makes are moral decisions, not just those hot button topics, our specific shibboleths (Such a handy word! Check out this informative West Wing clip). In the work of government, we are to pray that each decision, from security, to finance, to social services, to our justice system would be directed by God, to his glory, the church’s good and the welfare of all. This helps reframe the way I think about how certain issues affect the whole, not just myself. It reminds me that God is never absent from human endeavor, so government can be a means of blessing to our communities.
If the last election is any indication, however, members of the church can firmly believe this and still stand on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I have to admit here, I sometimes have problems with this. I have found it difficult to understand how people whose faith is so similar to my own have completely different political opinions about what is just, what is prudent and what is compassionate. So talking about politics with our brothers and sisters can sometimes be a bit of minefield. You’re enjoying an interesting conversation around current events and then BAM! You’re left agog at an opinion shocks and dismays you.
There are a few ways of dealing with this, and I think the path we normally take is to immediately retreat into pleasantries and avoid disagreement. This might be a function of either being Christians or Canadians, it’s hard to tell. This is by far the easiest and least fraught option, but is it the best one? It keeps peace on the surface, but underneath we are left misjudging each others’ motivations. Worse, perhaps, our lack of political conversation leads us to believe that because we don’t (and shouldn’t!!!) hear opinion from the pulpit, that Christians should be somehow disengaged from politics, or at the very least, consider our political selves as separate from our identity as Christians.
I think political conversations among our brothers and sisters are very important and can lead to thoughtful insights, if we place our relationships ahead of scoring political points. It can be useful to examine assumptions and remind ourselves that:
Not everyone at church votes like us
Reminding ourselves of this prevents us from making assumptions that exclude people in our prayers and in our conversation.
There are thoughtful, biblical Christians in all political parties
As we seek to be wise, just and compassionate through the policies of the party we support, we should assume our brothers and sisters are doing likewise. Make gracious assumptions about one another’s motives.
I have not always been successful at challenging my own assumptions in this area and I have had interactions that should have been far more gracious. But, if we approach these conversations with a sincere desire to understand, a charitable opinion of each others’ motives and an emphasis on the importance of relationship, perhaps we can begin to see each others’ perspectives. In these conversations, as in all our interactions as Christians, we are called to love one another.
So as Canada’s twenty-third Prime Minister is sworn into office tomorrow, let’s decide to pray for both him and our MP’s at least as much as we criticize them. Let’s talk together, trusting each others’ motivations while allowing for different ways of working them out. And above all, let us praise God, who never abandons us to ourselves, but through his goodness, uses imperfect people and institutions to bless society.