For those involved in the not-for-profit sector, who work in non-governmental-agencies and especially those involved in advocacy work, it is no surprise to hear that over the last several years there has been a palpable experience of a chilling relationship with the Canadian federal government. Regardless of which spectrum or political stripe with which you adorn yourself, it’s an experienced reality.
This sense of ‘us and them;’ this disconnect between those working for the social good (from a not-for-profit perspective) and the federal government has only increased with recent direction from the Canadian Revenue Agency about political activity for charitable organisations during the federal election. In fact, once the advisory on political activities was shared, it is fair to say I have had been present to listen to concerns and critiques concerning some of its implications. I have also heard from others – both internally and externally from my faith-based context – who feel that the direction should be clearer in laying out the boundaries for those who benefit from charitable status. And – in each of these conversations – it seems that the distinction – as a person of faith – between being political, yet not necessarily engaged in secular politics requires further musing.
I have explored this topic previously, though in a somewhat different context. I believe that musing continues to reflect where I find myself: wrestling with the awareness that my very actions, my life’s choices about what I preference, is political in activity. Yet I am unsure whether the temptation of engaging in the politics of culture is helpful.
Following a conversation about Empire this last week, I wonder about our own denominational experience as those who have been complicit and have benefited from Empire. Now do not get me wrong, I have no problem with advocacy based on how our theology of diversity and dignity translates into ‘boots on the ground’ (if I may subvert that war-metaphor), I am just not sure how we discern where the line is between solidarity and compromise. At what point does compromise begin and – in turn – is that the place where we slip from the confidence of faith into the ego of humanism?
As I reflect on the model that I see in Jesus’ ministry, I do not have a sense that there was engagement in the politics of the day. The distinction – for me – is that his ministry was a living political critique of the day, but his living, loving, breathing and dying did not benefit from, nor did it benefit Empire. You don’t die by tortured execution because you have opted in: living justice is dangerous!
As I have been musing, continue to muse and realise I am left with more to ponder, I had the opportunity to listen to a recent interview with comedian Chris Gethard about his comedy on CBC’s Q. What drew me, in particular, was his reflection about ‘anarchism,’ in that he has chosen not to opt-in to the main stream expectations of what a ‘late night show’ should look like. That choice has – in turn – offered him both great freedom and also (my words) a constant reminder that the control that comes with that is always tentative.
From a grassroots comedy show – which has swelled through social media and YouTube in particular – his brand of humour allows him to speak truths that often go unspoken in traditional media. As I was listening to his candour and reflection about freedom, I realised I was wondering, what would happen if we – as church – let go of the safety that comes with charitable status? What would we have to say to the world around us if we were unfettered? What would – ultimately – we hear the Spirit saying to and through us to a world that longs for the Light for which we are servant bearers?