A few weeks ago, BC Premier Christy Clark spoke to a private audience about her Anglican faith. The following week, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning came to the U of S to speak about ‘Politics, Ethics, and Faith.’ The Manning Foundation for Democratic Education is apparently looking to explore this issue further, and I’m intrigued.
I have always been uncomfortable with the intersection of politics and faith, mostly because of how that hasn’t worked out so well in the United States. You have a small, mostly white, evangelical minority that cries ‘Persecution!’ every time it doesn’t get what it wants. I don’t like how faith, and a specific faith, is a prerequisite for becoming President of the United States. I don’t think being a Christian should automatically mean you vote for conservative parties. And I generally don’t think you should use your faith to shape public policy…sort of.
Both Clark and Manning spoke of the need for politics to be more upfront about their faith. I agree with this. If your faith plays an important part if your life, your constituents should know about it, especially if it impacts what decisions you make. I would rather someone be open about what they believe than hide it.
But at the same time, as a politician, you are a representative of your constituency. Your function is to represent your citizens’ views. Your election to political office does not entitle you to force your spiritual views on everyone else.
This is the crux of the problem: as a politician, how do you allow your faith to inform your politics when the decisions you make impact thousands of people, many of whom do not agree with you?
I think it comes down to loving your neighbour as yourself. This requires not only respect for opposing points of view, but actual consideration of those opinions and a view towards the greater good and caring for those in need. This is the basis of most religions, regardless of theology.
The current connection between faith and politics is perverse. Christianity should not be reflected by political movements that protect the rich, denigrate the poor, call for blind patriotism and scorch the earth at the expense of future generations. I do not understand how you can read the Gospels and not believe in the need for massive change in our politics.
In Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne writes that “the greatest sin of political imagination” is “thinking there is no other way except the filthy rotten system we have today.” It is a system that is broken, and we all know it. If faith is going to affect politics in any way, it should be in creating a more equitable form of government that builds consensus and both truly speaks and cares for all.