I would like to tell you how to vote in the upcoming federal election. Those of you that know me understand the previous statement to be an outrageous literary device to get your attention. Now that I have your attention, I want to assure you of three things. First of all, I don’t know how I am going to vote and secondly, if I did, it would not be appropriate to share that information… it’s why we have secret ballots. Thirdly, we don’t tell people how to vote in the Baptist Union. It would be impractical, unthinkable and unbiblical to do so. We believe in the separation of church and state so that the faith will not be used by the state for its own purposes (sometimes good, historically often coercive and destructive) and that the Christian church might preserve its freedom in Christ. Those churches and para-church groups who inform believers about candidates, issues, and policies do the Christian community a great good and service. Those groups, however, who from that information feel they have a moral authority to subsequently tell others how they should then vote usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives and are in danger of greater ills than they are trying to cure.
In subsequent months and elections we will do a much better job of making informed resources available to the Baptist Union constituency in areas of public policy and Christian response to community issues. The emphasis will not be on how to vote nor will it link you to organizations whose only purpose is to tell you how to vote. We will however cover a range of topics, resource them and invite people in the use of scripture, prayer and rigorous discussion to invite the Holy Spirit to be their guide.
One issue elections tend to divide Christians and invite an atmosphere of religious profiling by the media (religious profiling is a close and sick cousin of racial profiling which puts people into bigoted boxes on the basis of religion or race).
Let’s be clear about Baptists and the political process in Canada. Our second Prime Minister was the Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie who, along with John Diefenbaker, Conservative Prime Minster of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, attended First Baptist Church Ottawa. Tommy Douglas (the C.C.F. and NDP leader) needs no introduction as he was elected the country’s most famous Canadian in 2005 and was an ordained Baptist minister with The Baptist Union of Western Canada. So we have the full political spectrum; a liberal who was really a small ‘c’ conservative, a conservative who with his Declaration of Human Rights was the voice of a “red Tory” and a pioneer of the Canadian socialist movement. Baptists are diverse. We are diverse socially, racially, educationally, ethnically, economically, and politically. We have as part of our tradition Martin Luther King Jr., the father of the modern American Civil Rights movement. Jimmy Carter who forced every American president since his time in office to link American aid and economic cooperation to some semblance of human rights. Billy Graham, who did more to de-segregate the fundamentalist south (read Bill Clinton’s biography) than any other of his ilk by insisting on de-segregating his crusades in the 1950’s. I find it ironic (that’s the most generous word I can use) that Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. fall into the mainline form of Christianity in the States – Episcopalian and an Episcopalian – Methodist mix respectively. You would think, to read the popular press, that they were all conservative Christians (of its varying stripes; they are not, not one of them). Read the Economist magazine’s issue after the last American election. Socially (not necessarily religiously) conservative voters in the evangelical, Roman Catholic and mainline church groups voted in even numbers for conservative candidates. I digress. While American politics are not Canadian politics, you could be mistaken to get the two mixed up. The most marvelous Baptist voice in recent memory was David Lam the Lieutenant – Governor in British Columbia in the early ‘90’s. A fellowship Baptist, a minister’s son and a significant philanthropist in the province, Lam said “tolerance is like holding your breath …. we should celebrate diversity”. When I quote Lam I do not mean to emphasize a syncretism where nothing is of value or distinctive but a pluralistic society where we as Christians (and anyone else) can love freedom. Baptists have been strong on separation of church and state where everyone gets to be free not just those we agree with.
Here are some practical and reflective ways to approach elections:
- Vote by including your faith in your decision. Its hard not to vote solely for self interest, Christians are people committed to a bigger picture, the Lord’s picture.
- Pray about your decision; regularly and passionately.
- Read the scriptures wisely…. some of which are listed here
- Micah 6:8
- Matthew 25: 32 – 33
- II Corinthians 5:18 – 20
- I Corinthians 13
- I John 4
- Matthew 5
- Understand and accept diversity but value God’s values
- Pray for those running for office and those who run the election, the defeated and the elected.
- Keep your voter registration card as a book mark in your bible to remind yourself of the privilege of a democracy
- Pray for our leaders whether you supported them or not
Remember the issues that concern all believers in between elections; poverty, justice, freedom of religion, family, safety for all, protecting those at risk or vulnerable, the church as a vibrant diverse community that worships God in freedom, people at home and abroad, civil discourse.
So these are some thoughts on the upcoming election.
I commit to provide an ongoing and progressively deeper exposure and resource base for moral, justice, and community issues that concern us all.
What a privilege and a joy to live in such a country.
From our coat of arms “May He have dominion from sea to sea”
From Hebrews 11 and the Medal of the Order of Canada we find inscribed “We seek a better country”.
As Christians we know that we have been called to this country .We have also been called to both an earthly and a heavenly kingdom. As Baptists we have known through the suffering and persecution of many (including ourselves) the terrible cost of democracy.