By Ralph Vis (www.ARPACanada.ca): On Friday September 17, 2010, in the Covenant Canadian Reformed Church of Grassie, Garnett Genuis spoke to an audience that numbered approximately forty people.
Genuis is the Director of Mobilization and Training at the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s Public Affairs and Policy Management Program and a former Parliament Hill and PMO Staffer. Genuis is passionate about public policy development and about the importance of providing Canadians with the necessary skills and knowledge to engage both effectively and constructively in the democratic process.
Part 1 – Exploring Christian Citizenship
Garnett began his presentation by explaining the responsibilities associated with Christian Citizenship. Christians are called to care for others as clearly stated in Matthew 25. This care is not limited to our friends and family, but includes caring for strangers. Nor can this care be limited to our communities, but rather, should be extended to everyone in society. This care must also include political involvement.
A Christian voice in the political sphere is often met with resistance and those familiar words “Separation of Church and State.” Although this may be true in the US, the Canadian Constitution makes no mention of a Separation of Church and State. Even in the US, this concept was not intended to keep Christians from participating in political debate, but to allow its citizens to worship freely in any denomination without interference from the government. It was also to ensure that the government didn’t form a state church. It is not there to prevent Christian involvement in politics, but to protect the church from the state and allow its citizens to practice their faith freely.
“I am to be busy” is the reason given most often for not getting involved politically. “I just want to be free to pass on my values to my children, and you can be free to live your life the way you see fit.” Although sympathetic, Garnett’s response is that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to be involved. Even involvement at lower levels can have a large impact. In addition to this, the road we are on in this country is taking us in a direction that may not permit us to effectively pass our values on to our children.
So, why get involved with politics? The Lord is concerned about the state of the society in which we live. He is especially concerned about how the innocent are treated. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus begins to denounce the cities where he performed great miracles and yet did not repent. He says “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” and to Capernaum he says “it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Getting involved in politics also gives Christians an opportunity to demonstrate Christian love and compassion in our application of moral laws. While we can show love and compassion toward the innocent, we can also be compassionate toward the guilty. This is demonstrated by Jesus when he shows compassion to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 :1 – 11. We are to be engaging in a mission of love.
A final reason to get involved is that the ideas held by Christians on Economic Justice are important. They need to be heard by political parties and candidates. In Thessalonians 3 : 10 we read “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” It is clear that we must distinguish between the needy and those who abuse the system. But we certainly need to help those in need, as discussed in Matthew 25. It is not enough to simply believe Christian principles. We need to support the candidates that share our values and concerns.
Part 2 & 3 – How to be EFFECTIVE as a Christian Citizen
We my often wonder if all the effort is worth it, is change possible? With grass roots mobilization and prayer, change is certainly possible. Other groups including Christian groups have brought change in the past. Canadian politics is easier to influence than in the US and most other western countries. Although the courts are powerful, parliament still has the final say. We need politicians that are willing to stand up for what is right.
The key to change is mobilization. To be mobilized means knowing what to do, and doing it. It is a cooperation among groups that results in collective action. Garnett quotes Winston Churchill “It’s not enough to say you’ve done your best, but what is necessary.” Garnett lays out six levels of mobilization:
In order to be effective, choosing who to support is a very important, and often difficult first step.. Sometimes supporting an individual may have a “double effect.” The candidate may be really good in one area, but not in another. It is important to make this choice based on the values discussed earlier. Don’t support a candidate because he is charismatic, but because he is willing to speak the truth. Don’t limit your support to election time, when it is certainly needed most, instead, offer continued support to these individuals.
We should all be committed to voting as it is both easy and essential. Parties do try to identify who the voters are. Make your intent to vote clear to the candidates and that you intend to cast your ballot based on your convictions.
Joining a party should be the minimal level of political involvement for a Christian. It’s easy, inexpensive and very worthwhile. Which party to join may be a difficult decision. It is okay to disagree with some of the parties policies, it is often the party members that vote on party policy. You can only change the policy by becoming a member which permits you to participate in nominations and leadership races. Another way in which you can be very influential in a political party is to join the EDA.
Rules have been put in place restricting the donations that political parties can receive from labour unions and businesses. This greatly increases the need for small donations from individuals. The large tax credits received in return for donations are an incentive to donate. At the federal level, a $400 contribution will result in a $300 tax credit, which means a large impact for the party you support with a small impact on your wallet. Including a note with the donation indicating why you are supporting that person is a sure way to communicate your values effectively.
There is always a shortage of volunteers and a good candidate is sure to need help. Anyone can volunteer, no special skills are required. ‘Voter ID”, the process of going door to door and identifying who it is that people intend to vote for, is the primary activity requested of volunteers. Other activities include making phone calls, putting up election signs and just being willing to work. Filling out a volunteer card may not be enough, there may be such a volunteer shortage that there aren’t enough volunteers to respond to your request. Volunteering in person is the best way to ensure involvement.
Political parties need good candidates that have strong values. If a good candidate is lacking in your riding, consider running. Christians must be prepared to make a personal sacrifice and be engaged in this important role.
All of these levels of involvement involve building relationships. Our values must be communicated throughout all these levels. This is necessary in order to be an effective Christian voice. At the same time we need to continually pray for our politicians. Work like change is entirely dependant upon us, and pray with the knowledge that it is all dependant upon the Lord.
After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions. After this the meeting was closed with prayer and the singing of our national anthem.