How Evangelicals can and can’t contribute to the diverse Canadian social mosaic.
Many Evangelicals hold to an ideology that to bring about positive moral change in Canada is to directly influence those in power, and the values endorsed by the powerbrokers will trickle-down to every part of society.
In order to bring about this type of revision, the Christian movement needs leverage, clout and people power — a force that draws the attention of the key public decision makers, who then recognize the political necessity to change. If a maxim existed for such an approach, it would be, If you want God’s kingdom to have a strong influence on this land, learn to influence the key decision makers in all.
This immediately poses a number of questions. Two especially come to mind: is this trickle-down concept moral or the best methodology the Evangelical community can provide? And, are religious leaders properly equipped to delve into the political realm?
Religious Canadian leaders have successfully entered the political realm. Powerful voices in the such as J.S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, and William Aberhart have contributed with great success. Their experience has demonstrated lessons for others who follow. However, the line today between religious and civic leaders are drawn with little crossover. It is a new era where those Evangelicals entering today must be fully aware of what they are getting into. It can be done and is necessary, but most churches are not prepared, nor politically astute enough to provide the proper checks and balances.
Religious leaders can be exploited because of their lack of experience with the political system. David Kuo, former second in command to President Bush’s office admits to milking the religious right for their allegiance. In a Time Magazine article, he quoted Chuck Colson, once aide to President Richard Nixon, saying, “I arranged special briefings in the Roosevelt Room for religious leaders, ushered wide-eyed denominational leaders into the Oval Office for private sessions with the President,” and then Colson adds, “Of all the groups I dealt with, I found religious leaders the most naive about politics. Maybe that is because so many come from sheltered backgrounds, or perhaps it is the result of a mistaken perception of the demands of Christian charity … Or, most worrisome of all, they may simply like to be around power.”1
The late Chuck Colson, who was an important aide to President Nixon, and later a born again Christian, added that Christians must be engaged, but with eyes open, aware of the snares and to not be beholden to any political ideological alignment.2
No religious leader can remain altruistic. One of the key components of political involvement from a faith perspective is recognition that no matter how moral or pure our intentions are, the quest for power exists in every individual and must be publicly recognized.
Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the concept of power and one-upmanship as being motivated by the ‘Drum Major Instinct’, and that no-one, including himself, is outside its influence.3 If this is true, one of the key components of political involvement from a faith perspective is recognition that no matter how moral or pure our intentions are, the drum major instinct exists and must be publicly recognized.
If people or organizations from a faith perspective do not acknowledge the drum major instinct within their realm, along with the proper checks and balances to control, potential problems may arise in the future that not only defeats the aims of the political activist, but harms the corporate religion.
Another important point Canadian religious leaders must be mindful of is public fear that religious advocates would force their agenda. Preston Manning opined this at McGill University’s “Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy” conference held in 2002, “When advocates of faith-based positions convey the impression that they would force their positions on the rest of the population, if only they had sufficient power and influence to do so, is it any wonder that the rest of the population is reluctant to grant them standing and influence?”
From a Canadian standpoint, this fear is very ubiquitous and is found both in our creative literature and in politics. For example the well-known Canadian literary giant, Margaret Atwood, wrote a fictional novel, The Handmaiden, on what she thought could potentially happen if protestant fundamentalists took over the government — an event that she perceived would have catastrophic repercussions on the role of women in society.
The public ideological alignment of Evangelicals with the Conservative Party of Canada could especially have long-term negative damage. Although this party may best represent many Christian principles, it is still a political party, and any large political fallout with the public by way of hypocrisy, scandal, war or moral debate may cause a harsh public backlash against the Evangelical Church and foment publicly acceptable anti-Christian and Church rhetoric.
A closer look at Jesus teachings on leadership indicate that the trickle-down theory was antithetical to a message to the majority of people whom He served. He did not come to persuade the powers-to-be. He came directly to the disenfranchised and gave them hope.
Traditional Evangelicals may posit that the power Christians are to wield in this world is evangelism. Social reform is dependant and can only happen through widespread personal repentance and submittance to God. Although evangelism has a high importance, this is an incomplete answer that is over-simplistic.
Many belonging to the burgeoning charismatic movement would argue that power is to be defined in supernatural terms; it is to destroy the works of Satan. This too is not a consistent nor a comprehensive definition of power from a heavenly perspective.
Nor is it the Churches purpose to respresent, lead, and empower the oppressed and marginalized to overthrow tyrannical despots, or corrupt leadership. This is also a top-down strategy that is ineffective.
St. Francis of Assissi provided part of the answer when he wrote: “where there is hatred, let me sow Your love” which tends to go nicely together with Christ’s admonition, “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either”. This may seem like such a cowardly withdrawal from conflict that allows for exploitation or abuse, but rather, it is breaking the cycle of absolute power. They are encouraging people not to be controlled by conventions of worldly power, but guided by a higher law of love and servanthood that is not subject to corruption, dishonesty, anger, bitterness or revenge.
Jesus described the heavenly definition of power as that of servanthood, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.” And also, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve”. His definition of power ascribed almost the exact opposite of what we instinctually believe it to be.
The idea of leadership from a heavenly perspective is about the person who is most willing to do whatever it costs for the betterment of another being and respects everyone as equal partners. In many circles this is called service. It is the opposite to pursuing power. Carl Jaspers, a humanist philosopher concluded this when he wrote, “Where love rules, there is no will to power and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”
There are many implications of holding onto such a philosophy, especially where faith and politics intertwine. First of all it changes the role of the Christian. Instead of the Christian standing aloof and judging against the world, the main purpose is helping others arrive at completeness in whatever area they lack, whether spiritual or physical.
It also avoids and corrects the idea that the Church and Christians want to lord over others and force their opinions.
The mission of helping others then becomes the message. People such as Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, and lesser-knowns such as Dr. Paul Brandt, a specialist in leprosy, the late Winnipeg Pastor and activist, Harry Lehotsky, and more whose mission to serve has naturally also became the message. These names are all a positive part of the public conscience and transcends racial, socio-economic, cultural and religious barriers.
The Church then becomes a center for serving those in need and constantly making adjustments as the needs arise. By doing this, the Church through service will become an active part of the Canadian mosaic rather than an outside bystander.■