As a dual U.S./Canadian citizen, I have two elections to keep track of at the same time. I’ve watched both the Canadian and the American debates on television, and I’m a pretty dedicated political news junkie too.
Oh, and I’m a pretty dedicated Christian.
Now, I know that on the Republican side in the USA, at least, all the candidates claim to be pretty dedicated Christians—more or less. And they tailor their policies to the political agenda of the religious right. But that means they’re trying to take down Planned Parenthood, guilty of multiple barely concealed slurs against Muslims, are trying to marginalize migrants, want to roll the clock back on gay marriage, will sympathize with any Israeli government military move, want more American military moves, and want to teach creation science in the schools, rather than real science. I don’t have much sympathy for the Christian Right and don’t recognize much by way of real Biblical thinking in that camp.
But, even though I’m a United Church pastor in Canada, I’m not the New Democratic Party at prayer, either.
The truth is there is as much diversity among Christians on the issues as there is among people who have never darkened the door of a church. Be that as it may, I am going to have to make up my mind when I go to the polls, soon. So as a Christian, what matters to me? Lots, but here are a few issues I’m thinking about now.
1. My neighbour’s pocket book. The economy matters, but I’m totally frustrated by the presumption that the election is about whether I’m going to do better with this or that party in power. What matters more is how my neighbour—and especially my poor neighbour, or my homeless neighbour, or my refugee neighbour, or my mentally ill neighbour, is doing. If love is the key moral value in scripture, it is every neighbor that is supposed to be its recipient.
2. Racism. It doesn’t matter whether you live in the US or in Canada. The number of minorities in jail is the canary in the mine in both places. Our society is racist. Very racist. Remember that when the elderly Greek women were being left out of the food distribution in the early church, the church’s response was to put the Greeks in charge of the money. What would that look like in Canada or the United States?
3. The environment. Look, long before the Israelites published God’s ten commandments, God is said to have told Adam and Eve to make his beautiful garden grow. It wasn’t enough that Eden was paradise, it had to be improved! Let’s do it. It may already be too late.
4. Military spending. Take Canada. From its first foreign military exercise, during the Boer War to its latest bombing exercises in the Middle East, too many of our wars, in hindsight, were strategic and moral failures tinged by racism and fuelled by nationalism. We can do better. I’m not saying spend less, or that we ought to be pacifist. Still, it’s time Canada, at least, looked to the North and its coasts, to renewing its historical role as a peacekeeper, and to leading when it comes to humanitarian crises. The truth of Jesus’ warning, “those who live by the sword will die by it,” is coming home to roost.
5. Infrastructure. The short news cycle makes infrastructure spending over the long haul a no-win political gambit. But shortsighted too. Wise infrastructure spending could also be great for the environment, for our reserves, and for jobs. And I won’t even mention commute times.
6. Education. The GI Bill after WWII is the right model for higher education.
7. Guns. We need to move to a society where the only people who have handguns or machine guns are criminals and law enforcement. American murder rates, in particular, are not only off the charts compared to world rates, they can be lowered significantly.
8. Israel. It’s a great country. It absolutely needs secure borders. And it also needs to start searching for a solution to its problems with its neighbours that isn’t based on violence and occupation. And sure, that goes for Palestine too.
9. Refugees. We felt no compunction about helping create the mess they’re running from. It’s time to open our borders wide. Lots of Biblical stuff about loving neighbours and caring for the refugees within our gates to back this up, and nothing on the other side of the scale.
10. Prisons. They turn too many hard luck cases into hardened criminals. They are full of minorities. They don’t work. We must do better.
The hardest part of being a Christian, of course, is that no party perfectly aligns with any Christian’s priorities. Going to the polls is always going to be an exercise in compromise. So I’ll compromise. But—at least if you’re not a right-wing Republican—that’s the art of politics.