Monday, December 15, 2008

...about elections

I know it's old news, but I wrote this for the local paper just after we, and our neighbour to the south, had their big elections. As I had temporarily forgotten about this blog and didn't post it I figured I'd put it up now in case anybody cares.

I don't know if you could help but get caught up in the happenings of the election campaigns of the past few months, both here in Canada and in the United States. Last week Barak Obama made history by being the first black man elected president. There were also many younger voters who seem to have been influenced by Obama's message of hope and change. Hope-fully the changes he talked about and promised will come about and the people who were engaged by his message won't be disappointed.

Only a month ago we were in the midst of our own election campaign. I voted at one of the early polls because I was on vacation with my family on election day. We were in Florida and on the day after our election I surfed the channels through all the news programs trying to hear something about the results of Canada's election. I didn't hear a single thing. I had to phone my parents to find out what happened up here. What I heard was that nothing really changed.

Sure, we have a new member of parliament from a different party representing our riding. A few more women MPs have been elected and are now serving in cabinet. The number of seats held by each party shifted a little here and there. But the overall picture didn't change much. The parties are in the same places in parliament. The governing party is still a minority government. We went through those weeks of campaigning, the parties and Elections Canada spent millions of dollars on this election, and nothing really changed.

It's frustrating for me, to see the vast sums of money that are spent on certain things, in this case on election campaigns, when there is so much need in our world and in our own communities. Shortly before the American election Barak Obama spent millions of dollars on a half hour television spot in prime time that was almost like an info-mercial. I couldn't help but wonder how many poor, hungry people could be fed with that money. How much medication could be sent to help the sick and suffering in the developing world.

I realize there are always trade-offs. These days you have to spend large sums of money to get elected, at least in the American presidential campaigns. For a politician to have influence and get elected and have the opportunity to do good for the poor he or she needs to spend a lot of money just to get into that position, money that could do a lot of good if spent in other ways.

In the Bible the prophets were often very critical of those in power who didn't care for the poor. A king was often described as a shepherd who was to care for his flock, the people he was ruling. There were very few "good" shepherds of the people. Eventually Jesus came, God's chosen one, to show the world what God's good rule looked like. He was the Good Shepherd who went so far as to give his life for the sheep, for every one of us.

In our church we pray, almost every Sunday, for the world's leaders and those in power. An example of such a prayer says, "God of every nation, you enfold all peoples, tribes, and languages in your care. Give your grace to all who govern, that peace would prevail among all of earth's inhabitants." Another says, "Righteous God, you call us to reflect your righteousness in all our living. Give to the leaders of the nations that right judgment in all things, that they may govern fairly and justly all people of the earth." Our prayers aren't just wishful thinking. We pray that God's will be done and we trust that it will happen. We continue to pray but we don't just sit back and wait. We participate in God's work in the world. We work for peace. We strive for justice. We advocate for fairness. And many people of faith participate in government and work to make the world a better place.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, bless the public servants in the government, that they may do their work win a spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice. Help them use their authority to serve faithfully and to promote our common life; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Kevin said...

I think the prophets' judgment are even more devastating for the church. It can be argued that protesting the gov't inaction toward poverty, the environment, etc is a relic of Christendom, in that we're calling upon a gov't to act according to God's call to help the poor, the widow, etc.

Also, the gov't could just as easily turn around as ask US -churchfolk- what we're doing to alleviate poverty. We spent WAY too much money on building upkeep, worship resources, etc. Money that could be used for mission to the poor. A lot of churches are sitting on prime real estate, and sit empty 5 or 6 nights of the week. And we have the gall to demand that gov't change? I think Jesus's log/splinter/eyeball bit applies to us here.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head.


Tom in Ontario said...


I can't agree with you totally, in fact I agree with very little of what you've said here.

I think we have a right and a duty to engage in political debate and make our voices heard in areas of public policy. We are called to relate to the corporate structures of the world, not to some pallid quietism. The state represents the wider society and we Christians are a part of that society. The task of politics is to build a civil society in which people can live together without fear and work together for a good that we determine through public dialogue.

So we can participate democratically in the crafting or evolving of our institutions so that war and poverty and environmental degradation might, at long last, become obsolete. This isn't about the creation of some utopia because in a democracy there are always winners and losers. It's about making our voices heard for what we believe is right and good.

I think governments would be (have been) more than happy to shove society's collective responsibility onto churches. As for our buildings eating up funds and standing empty, that may be true in a lot of cases (certainly not all) but there's no reason we can't change. But I don't think we have to wait until we've all got our act together before we can work with the rest of society, through our governments, to affect change. It doesn't have to be one and then the other, nor one or the other. We can be about doing both.