Politics and prayer

It would be surprising if it weren’t so.

Politics and electioneering in our fair land have become almost as acrimonious as those south of our border. An interesting letter to the editor in last week’s Wellington Advertiser suggested that, if you doubt that “your side” is as vicious towards their opponents as “they” are to you, try for a week wearing the T-shirt or hat of your least favourite “other side” and see what happens, how you get treated.

Seems to me that, in this,  politics is simply mirroring the broader culture. We hear so much emphasis on diversity, inclusion and tolerance but are we actually and practically getting better at living with differences? Obviously in some areas we are, but in many it seems we are actually painfully regressing.

It used to be some religious folks, including some of us Christians, had a hard time with diversity, inclusion and tolerance of people who didn’t share our beliefs and values. Judgementalism was not an unknown sin among us and it created tensions and conflict between competing belief systems and created exclusion and intolerance. Thankfully it would seem many (most?) people of faith have learned greater humility about the absolute truth of their beliefs and have become significantly less inclined to dismiss or condemn others.

Yet even as traditional religious zeal has softened other “religious” zeal seems to be replacing it. New absolute beliefs and values are being proclaimed in our culture, new heresies and heretics are being publicly humiliated and decried, and even calm dialogue and debate is often denounced as being oppressive and violent. It is obvious that over the past several decades our Western democratic cultures/nations have become increasingly riven by seemingly unbridgeable divides and conflicts.

Some lay the blame on our politicians many of whom have become adept at “dividing and conquering” and “we’re-righteous-and-they’re-evil’” political tactics to attract and keep the support of their “base”  voters. Certainly unprincipled political leaders have some responsibility, but their tactics wouldn’t work if we the people weren’t already inclined in such directions. As I have written before, Trudeau, O’Toole, Singh, Trump, Clinton, Biden, etc. are not the problem, we are.

A few years ago I read something about the history of Waterloo County and its first settlers – conservative Mennonites who had emigrated from Pennsylvania. The writer made the case that these Mennonites were fervent believers and practitioners of their Christian faith, but at the same time kept an open non-condemning attitude towards people who believed and lived otherwise. Even while maintaining their close church communities relatively separated from “the world”/broader society, the Mennonites welcomed all manner of newcomers to the area, shared civic and commercial life with them, and thereby built a remarkably tolerant, inclusive and prosperous community.

This historical precedent shows a simple truth: it is possible to have deeply held beliefs and values without the necessity of forcing others to accept my/our truth. Yes, let’s have diversity, inclusion and tolerance but not if it requires us to exclude or shame or silence folks who don’t agree with our “truths” and beliefs about what that means.

But how, in the midst of a national election, can we arise above our societal divisions and the divisive tactics our politicians use to gain advantage from them? First of all, obviously, let us quit being so gullible in letting politicians suck us into their manipulations. Jesus once warned his followers, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Be wise and refuse to heed or vote for any politician who tries to incite your fear of and disdain for the ignorant and evil “other side”.

Secondly, pray. Our resistance to the manipulations of politicians can very easily become just another divisive crack in the common life our nation/culture. Prayer is a way to tune into truth that comes from beyond our limited present experience. Of course.

Christians pray to receive wisdom, truth and morality from God the Father of our Saviour Jesus. But even if you don’t know this God very well or don’t know for sure that God exists, healthy prayer can still help you transcend the pettiness and limitations of our current cultural failings and immerse yourself in the greatest wisdoms and truths of human history.

Moreover be encouraged to pray for our politicians. They don’t need more raucous partisan critics reflexively judging and condemning their every move. Pray for them as fellow fallible human beings. Pray to be able to have respectful, honest dialogue and debate with others about political/election issues, then pray for our politicians to do likewise. Pray to be able to truly “hear” those we disagree with, and then pray the same for our politicians.

Pray not for your “side” to win the election, rather pray for bridging and healing of the moral and ethical divides that are increasingly wedging us apart from each other, then pray for our political leaders to be willing and able to lead toward this.

Dave Tiessen