Anyone out there ever wonder about the connection between our religious faith and politics? In this day and age, can any of us follow the old social rule that neither politics nor religion should be discussed? Perhaps that rule is one reason why so many of us are having a hard time with two of the main concerns in our society today: religion and politics.
Put simply, how we act in the world is determined by what we believe and how we act in the world is politics. Religion and politics are part and parcel of the same thing: life in our families and community. Politics is the way in which we decide how we are going to exist together and it is shaped by our beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life, about who has a right to exist, about how people are supposed to be treated and who has the right to have their basic needs met. Religion and politics are also our responsibilities as human beings living on this planet with its limited resources.
The Golden Rule tells us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. People of the Abrahamic religions, which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are taught that all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1). Each of these religions teach that we all have a responsibility to provide for the needs of the poor, the homeless, the widowed and the orphan. This is religion and it establishes the basis for our political actions. Jesus taught that what we do to the least powerful people in our communities is what we do to him (Matthew 25).
In October we will have the opportunity to exercise our right to elect the federal government. All the political parties and lobbyists, corporations and non-government organizations are setting their strategies in place now. Some use the divide and conquer approach which in my opinion may be a useful way to gain power but it’s a horrible way to build and strengthen communities. Some use fear which plays on our difficulty dealing with a rapidly changing world. Some strategies try to get us to think that this or that party is going to be run by people just like us, but most of us don’t have the money or connections or power that they have and, most importantly, it is unlikely we ever will have simply because we are too busy raising our families and paying our bills.
It is impossible for most of us to get all the information we need to make a reasoned choice about every issue that will be raised during the election. When I was a candidate in the 1993 federal election, all kinds of lobbying material showed up in my mail (this was before the internet on my desk) about helicopters (we still don’t have any new ones) and daycare, the right to life and the right to choose, weapons sales, wheat boards, and on and on. Even as a candidate, there was no way I could know everything I needed to know. The world is much more complicated now and it is easy to be overwhelmed, bamboozled, misguided and manipulated.
As a result of this complexity and all the messages coming at us, many of us become cynical and stop trusting what any political organization says. We end up reacting emotionally which leaves us wide open to being manipulated so someone will get all the power they want. Or we give up on it all and don’t exercise our democratic responsibility to figure out what the agendas of the parties are and we don’t vote. Of course the agenda of every politician is to get power by getting elected and the agenda of every political party is to get power and stay in power. And the agenda of the corporations that spend millions of dollars lobbying politicians (not on elections because there are limits on donations) is to get decisions made that will increase their profits and the profits of their stockholders.
How do we ordinary people sort this stuff out? What can we do to make our communities the kinds of places we will be happy to have our grandchildren grow up in?
This time, this election, I won’t pay attention to the platforms or policy statements that political parties make. I will look at their statement of values. If you can’t find those, ask for them. How close to my values are the values of the political parties? Ask the candidates about their values, their personal ones? And like the old detective stories say, “follow the money.” Who do the parties give money to, real money, not a few dollars of tax reduction. Even more important, who pays taxes? The way money moves through our communities tells more about the agendas of the politicians than anything else.
Don’t be manipulated by fear, by racism, by promises with no substance. Our lives are too valuable for those things to bend our communities and families out of shape. Remember what Jesus said: what we do to other people is what we are doing to him. Everyone is made in the image of God. Honour that image.
Rev. Leslie-Elizabeth King is the retired minister of the Lutheran-United Church of Thompson.