This June marked one of the most controversial and publicly engaged election in Ontario. For many the results maybe shocking and disappointing, while others celebrate as Ontario is painted with blue banners. In the weeks leading to the election I had spoken very little about the election, and felt extremely torn over my own vote; in all sincerity, I did not feel that any of the parties really reflected my values and convictions well. This reflection led me to think, how do we, as the church, discern and maneuver through the decision of such an important election? I want to begin my thoughts with a few confessions and apologies, and conclude with a few thoughts on where to go next.
Confession and Apologies
I confess that I had not been a catalyst for these important conversations. And I want to apologize for not creating space for our church and others to mull, pray and struggle through the voting decision. These are important times and a messy reality; in fact, I am sure like many others, our Facebook and Twitter had been bombarded by opinions from a litany of voices and sources. All of these create an even more chaotic decision making process. Perhaps our church has separated politics and religion, but recognize that despite the separation, we need to find spaces where we can wrestle and struggle through these realities.
I confess, our methods of discernment lack substance, and perhaps, relied too often on personal convictions and values. Thus, I want to apologize for not utilizing the five-fold giftings as an avenue of discernment for such decisions. It is very easy for one to claim the theological, philosophical and society convictions of which party (or person) to support; however I believe especially in Canadian politics it is not as black and white as it seems. Personally, I have had been wrestling in prayer through the decision in our local riding, but I had not invite the community to pray together in listening to one another; the giftings of an apostle who sees with new possibilities, pastors hear and are attuned to the spiritual climate of the neighbourhood, evangelists who recognize the narratives that are being formed, prophets who speaks of societal issues, and teachers who gives us a theological framework. Perhaps we shouldn’t be as hush-hush about political issues in church, but instead learn to be mutually submissive by praying and allowing the prompting and leading of the Spirit to guide our decisions.
We are not at the point-of-no-return. The decisions and polls have been submitted, and the term of a new government has begun. Facebook shows us a glimpse of the reactions from an array of people from all backgrounds. Again, some were excited, while others expressed fear, as if they are ready to move away from Ontario. But I wonder if this is not the posture we should hold during the term of this new government.
Firstly, I do not think that a new government would change nor dictate the actions of the Church. Perhaps the Christian imagination has been corrupted by a Christendom worldview. We simply see the Church as a privileged, entitled and powerful force in society. At the same time we romanticize the early church in Acts but negated that these churches were under heavy persecution. In every change in government the church continued its value in proclamation of the gospel, in tending to the margins and offering a transformative alternative (a Kingdom alternative) narrative to the world surrounding them. We must stop assuming that the government assumes and reflects the gospel values and narrative.
Secondly, perhaps we need to learn to stick it out. I am bothered by the attitude of those whom express a nihilist mindset for the province. As if one person and one government will and can bring down the whole province. I wonder if we really believe in a God who is much bigger than a local governance. The church in Acts remained in some of the most difficult and harsh conditions (though some would disperse because of persecution). They remain present in such violence, and stuck it out, even to the point of martyrdom. Perhaps we can learn from our Civil Rights brothers and sisters. I do not mean to say we would even understand a glimpse of what their experience has been, but learn from how in the midst of adversity, the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. did not flee from the difficulties and the racial darkness, but stood, marched and spoke the message of reconciliation in Jesus Christ. They not only stood, but they practiced with non-violence, a way of engaging with the culture. This inspires me as a pastor in a church where the only chance is how we remain to be a counter-cultural presence here in our neighbourhood, city and province.
Thirdly, wisdom for those who struggle with a government who negates the needs of the margins, and supports the wealth. What is the purpose of government? Governments are in place in tend to the social and civil needs for the entire city, province and/or country. Although government may have began as a way of addressing the needs of a collective group, one should not assume that the government must reflect the same values as certain groups. As Christians we must not assume that the government would bear Christian values. In fact very few (if any) governments truly embodied the Kingdom narrative. And thus I believe that’s why the Church needs to continuously be that counter-cultural voice.
Church, we must rise to the occasion. In season and out of season we are called to be present by being God’s witness of the sacred Kingdom message. The book of Acts not only reveals the hardship, but also the lives of the early apostles and disciples. In those days the government support program did not exist as we know it, and thus we can see that the marginalized were not cared for; thus the church responded and supported those in need like the widows and orphans. Government can definitely play important roles in policies and structures that would help those in need, but one must not assume that it will. In those early days, the Church needed to be creative and discerning to the needs and realities around them. Perhaps this is the call for us today; not to be spending our energy fleeing from the realities, but to be the response to the needs that are before us.
Rise up Church, let us be the message of mercy, truth, love and grace.
Let us rise up and demonstrate the tangible Kingdom of God.