Not whether, but how.
Our British Columbia media recently jumped all over the situation of a sitting MP speaking in her Vancouver Church. From the pulpit she proclaimed that her party’s creation of bill C-51 on fighting the specter of terrorist activity in Canada reflected the courage and will of Jesus (Scott Brown. MP Compares government to Jesus in comments on anti-terrorism bill, Vancouver Sun, July 15, 2015, A 5). She had to sheepishly recant factual errors later, however, and there was considerable debate about the legal appropriateness for her exhort as she did as a sitting MP as well as questioning role of the church as a charitable organization to host the partisan speech. The situation does reflect the fact that both churches and MPs often have religiously-political shaped opinions, either explicitly or implicitly. Absolute subjective neutrality is humanly impossible, but as a public servant, an MP should know better than to be openly religiously partisan, especially regarding a specific bill; professional discipline as public servant is necessary, unless of course she, or he, is simply interested only in votes, knowing that both the spoken religious convictions and the partisan political references resonate with the audience. The wider public might not be so impressed with the specific partisan identification of party courage with the “courage of Jesus”; a bit self-righteous or grandiose in my opinion.
But should not the Church be a passionate voice in its political interests and perspectives with its belief in Jesus Lordship over all of life? Does the separation of church and state doctrine mandate our being atheists or a-religious in the full spectrum of our public lives? The fundamental issue in my opinion is not whether the church should have a voice in the political arena, but rather just how it actually expresses its voice publically: passive aggressively; anti-intellectually moralistic; or, prudently wise and respectfully prophetic?
In a The Vancouver Sun issue a few months ago, Katharine Hayhoe, Canadian born climate scientist and professor of political science in Texas, speaks of the high incidence of human caused climate change denial in the American Evangelical church. Hayhoe, suggests that, in the US where she works at present, political partisanship has taken over the church, and that especially in the evangelical church, it is actually political ideology that guides the faith, rather than faith guiding politics (William Marsden, A believer among skeptics, The Vancouver Sun, April 25, 2015, p. B 5). Hayhoe implies that when evangelicals generally think and act politically about climate change they do so according to the political ideology and policies of the political party they support, generally the Republican Party. Also implied, however, is that that political party’s platform is parochial on this issue, nuanced and manipulated by specific evangelical beliefs. There is a kind of reciprocal, double-hermeneutic, at work here of faith being shaped by party ideology, and ideology shaped by the religious doctrines of the party’s supporters. Douglas Todd acknowledges that Canadian evangelical perspectives on climate change have a partisan basis was as well. He also implies that Harper’s reluctance to get serious about climate change action is influenced by his evangelical beliefs. In general in the evangelical mind, human causes are either impossible, or of no consequence because of the belief in hard determinism, God absolutely controls everything; and believers will be raptured from the sorry consequences of global destruction anyway (Douglas Todd, Evangelicals get real about climate change. Vancouver Sun, May 9, 2015, F 5).
We are all creatures influenced by our religious upbringing and preaching, as well as by the dominant reining philosophies of our times. We are also called to be salt and light; but, salt with no potency is useless. It seems to me that we all need to have a disciplined sense of insight into ourselves, with a religious-emotional intelligence born of contemplative spirituality. As well, we need an informed sense of prudence guiding our entire temporal lives with intelligence and values informed by a living faith in our global world which we share with our co-image bearers. Of course the Church as an institution in society should not wield absolute ruling power as history has well taught us…power does even corrupt the church; it can corrupt politicians as well. Also, it is not the Church’s mandate, nor the citizens’, to create public, legal policy; but we can speak to it.
As human beings enmeshed in our community and society, we are interconnected with the political-economic powers that distribute our earth’s resources and dispense justice. And, we are all collectively responsible for the “collateral effects” on our poor and needy and the earth of the negative effects of our culture’s ruling philosophies of individualism, economism, and modern militarism. We are inescapably called to speak to the abuses of our neighbour and the earth, whether by corporation or individual, but we are to do so humbly, prudently, and in love. The church in its formal sense, and in the daily life of its membership, is called to accountability as good steward of the gifts we have been given by God; called to recognize collusive and unhealthy patterns of social cognition, life style, and justice, and called to speaking the truth in love for the common good.
Pope Francis’ recent public statements urging action on climate change is a good model for encouraging inclusive moral philosophical dialogue on an issue of life which affect us all. I hope that perhaps that dialogue and resulting collaboration on the climate change issue can act as a doorway to encourage moral discourse in the Church and Public Square on other issues such as justice and international security as well. As Church and people of faith, in humility, we must not take up our cause in the adversarial manner of partisan politics. It is not power or domination the Church is seeking, but engagement of the many voices of faith in our society for moral discourse, for the advocacy of goals for the wellbeing and health of community and creation. In the process we may become aware of degraded, habitual assumptions in our attitudes to the earth’s resources as well as in our response to crime and terrorism. Wild capitalism, hard law and order policies, and robust military posturing, has not resulted in a safe world for flourishing life. Healthy, mature, and rectifying justice is not a justice rooted in rhetoric and fear, but founded rather in the spirit of Christ, in a spirit of justice in love. How the church expresses its voice on public, political issues is as important as that it does. Inclusive moral theological philosophical discourse is necessary on climate change, and I suspect many issues are entwined, mandating inclusive collaboration.
To always be ready to express the hope that lies in us goes beyond a Sunday school belief in the rapture and retribution; it is the hope for a healthy earth and global society in which all life can flourish till Christ comes again.