Of Piety and Politics
“Faith is the foundation of life.” Our interaction with people of all faiths, backgrounds and races shows us the truth of this ancient Greek proverb. Every human being makes decisions based upon their “core values” – beliefs inculcated in them by their parents, teachers, peers, clergy, and the media.
This year the people of Canada will be asked to elect a new government. The right to vote is regarded as a blessing by all who have lived under repressive regimes, as was the case with many of our ancestors. Yet if we look at the percentage of citizens who actually vote, it’s obvious that many Canadians don’t take their responsibility for the welfare of their country and fellow citizens seriously.
While the Church has never supported one type of state governance (e.g. monarchy, democracy, etc.) over another, the Bible teaches us to be good citizens by praying for civil authorities (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-2) and “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” (Mt. 22:17-21). How involved should the Church be, though, in the democratic political process?
Regarding party politics the Church and her representatives must be strictly apolitical. But this doesn’t mean that the Church is silent, nor that She shouldn’t be involved in politics. The fact that the Church has definite teachings on issues which are addressed in the political and social sphere, and that citizens’ opinions are informed by their religious faith, proves that the Church cannot but be involved in political life.
This reality was summed up beautifully by Patriarch Bartholomew, in his address on the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle several years ago. He said: “We . . . do not become involved in politics. We do however maintain our Christian convictions, for it is our religious duty so to do: convictions which redound on the social situation of the various peoples and seek an amelioration of the circumstances of human life. We advocate, for instance, equality of men and women and their equitable treatment before the law, without being heedless of the distinct ordering of the roles that each gender fulfils on account of its natural attributes. We advocate respect for children, such as is due to potentially complete personalities, towards whom we have the paramount duty of assisting them in their normal development and the unfolding of their gifts. We hold slavery to be an unacceptable institution for mankind. We declare that freedom of conscience must be cherished. We regard charity and social welfare as social and personal duties. We believe that everybody has the right to live in a healthy and clean natural environment.
We generally consider respect for human rights to be utterly indispensable. Indeed we believe that general social prosperity, which averts criminality and disturbances on the part of the disenfranchised by abolishing this class, rests on the wise and benevolent handling of unavoidable social disparities.
All of these matters are of course related to politics, but we are not driven by political motives. We are impelled solely by humanitarian considerations and we range ourselves alongside all good efforts undertaken in this respect, and support them wherever they may arise.”
While our Church cannot be actively involved in politics, we know that many of our faithful are. Is this a good thing, or should Christians just be quiet and not “stir the pot”?
Canada is built upon the idea of equality among her citizens. What good reason would there be for believing that Orthodox Christians are in any way less qualified, or less worthy of being active in political parties, running for office, or taking part in the electoral process than any other segment of Canadian society?
The greatest commandment of our Lord is love for God and love for neighbour. If I as an Orthodox Christian am involved in the political process out of love for and a desire to serve the needs of my neighbour, and if my political activity does not require me to compromise my Christian beliefs there should be no problem with political involvement.
Whether as voter or legislator the pious Orthodox Christian will never support actions which are clearly against Divine Law. Abortion, Euthanasia, assisted suicide, same-sex “marriage”, the pollution of the environment, or the destruction of embryos to obtain stem cells, for example, can never be supported as these acts are fundamentally disordered and sinful. Other issues, like genetic engineering, gambling, prostitution, poverty, social welfare, war, capital punishment, legalization of drug use, etc. can have definite negative effects on society and individuals, and must be addressed with responsibility, always trying to discern what would most be in conformity to God’s will, and thereby for the greatest good of the greatest number of people.
A single party or candidate will rarely reflect all the values we hold dear. Our vote will sometimes involve choosing between the greater of two goods, and at other times between the lesser of two evils. In any case we must vote responsibly – trying to discern the position of particular parties and candidates so that our vote might have a positive impact on our country and society.
Our Faith informs our life. By taking active part in the political process as candidates, workers and voters we enable our faith to positively impact not only our families and communities, but our whole country as well.
Fr. Bohdan Hladio