church and politics

Politics and religion. Do they mix? Should they mix? In 2000 I ran for political office in my home town. In my 27 years as an ordained Minister nothing I have done has been as controversial or upsetting to my church. I was completely blindsided by the reaction. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the party I chose to run for, the reaction was from all sides of the political aisle. I had overlooked something fundamental to the Maritime reality, we don’t want our Ministers getting “dirty” in politics. Time and time again people would ask, in the most emotional tones, “How can an honest person like you, a person of God, get in bed with THOSE people?” Again, that reaction had nothing to do with party affiliation.

Last night in Nova Scotia we elected a new government and among those serving in the legislature will be two United Church Ministers. Perhaps progress is being made? But even in this campaign I had people telling me, “It isn’t right that a man of God is running for office, getting all wrapped up in that mess.” There is in the Maritimes an attitude to politics that somehow feels politics is a necessary evil. We have come to see politics and politicians as inherently sinful, dirty, bad, and full of scandalous deals and greedy people all scheming to take what they can. And yet…all of us know that if we are going to make good decision as a society we need government action, even the most libertarians among us acknowledge the necessity of governments and government action. How else can we feel all of our people, educate all of our people, protect all of our people, house all of our people, and sustain our living environment for all of our people? And what is the most vexing issue in every election, you guessed it, health care. Seniors vote the most, they make the difference in every election and seniors demand governments spend lots and lots of money on health care. The decision on how much we spend on health care is a political decision and it is made by politicians.

So why wouldn’t we want people whom we trust and admire to be part of the political process, wouldn’t that help improve the reputation of our political process?

And yet out in western Canada this concern, about Ministers running for political office, is a non-issue. Tommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles, and Ernest Manning all came from very religious backgrounds and all referenced this association throughout their political career. Bill Blakie recently wrote an autobiography about his vision of Canada, inspired in large measure by his religious faith and political convictions. At the most recent meeting of the Canadian Council of Churches I shared the representation of the United Church of Canada with Doug Martindale, a UCC Minister and former MLA in the Manitoba legislature. None of these persons were questioned by voters with, “what’s a fine person like you doing in such a vulgar profession like that?”

Will this part of God’s creation ever get over and come to grips with the necessity of putting one’s religious convictions about the poor, the earth and our collective health into practice with tangible and practical steps to help people? I hope so.