(Un)Civil Politics

(Un)Civil Politics

I am writing this as my country (Canada) engages in the democratic process of electing its next federal government. We do this every four years, and it is always an interesting time when this fundamental cornerstone of democracy occurs. As I write, I do not know the outcome and penning this now is intentional. Though I do not know the result, I admit that this year’s process has only further concerned me and reminded me of the profound challenges that we face in realizing our nation’s democratic aspirations.

These concerns first became apparent to me in 2009. Though I might have appreciated them intellectually previously, it was not until my return as a delegate on a Christian Peacemaking Team to Palestine-Israel that I noted the fragility and uncivil tone that were becoming insidious. Though I have explored this uncivil tone recently, as I stood in Pearson Airport and watched as elected officials yelled at each during Question Period, it became clear then that we have taken significant steps away from aspiring to listen to one another. Without listening, or at least trying, the traditions of a parliamentary democracy can quickly fray. On that television screen in 2009, as adults seemed more like petulant children, I could not shake the realisation that Creator’s children had forgotten Jesus’s mandate:

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it..”

Mark 10.15

I do not want to romanticise the Christian call, nor do I want to detract from the very real geopolitical challenges before us as a species. Whether that’s the reality of poverty, wealth disparity, and access to affordable living to indigenous relations and climate change, the reality is we are confronting serious issues that require wisdom and patience: two values that are not nurtured by belligerent politics where politicians do not listen and only foster us/them rhetoric.

As a Christian, aspiring to leadership as a disciple, Jesus’s simple mandate cuts through the intellectual parsing and sabre rattling that establishes binaries of right and wrong, orthodoxy and heresy. If our starting point is not from a place of grace, wonder, and humility, then our end point is inevitably and self-fulfilling apocalypse.

Elections Canada

Elections Canada
Image: Dennis S Hurd

I recently had a rich conversation with a dear friend who noted that even in secular Canadian politics, the language of apocalypse, of sin, and brokenness was part and parcel of the political rhetoric. Regardless of partisanship, too often we have begun to use such language in our democratic discourse. This uncivil tone not only dissuades people exercising their franchise, which is clearly evident in the poor turn out of those not exercising their agency, but it dehumanises. If I walk down the street and see a political sign of my opponent, I am openly encouraged in the current political climate to not see them as human, but as them. Them quickly becomes enemy, and enemies eventually may require violence to be used.

As I pause, and prepare to leave you hanging, dear Reader, I do not claim to have a ready solution. I believe there is an orientation I/we can/could adopt that might model something different. From the vantage of a child of Creator, I must do all that is possible to recognise you as my kin. I must take seriously that I am no more special than the Other and that in our collective sharing and listening, wisdom is revealed. I will hold onto this promise as I await tonight’s results. And in this orientation toward prayer, I hope those who receive the trust to lead will begin to listen to one another. In such listening, possibilities are often revealed that “Right/Wrong” thinking can never sow. There is too much at stake for us not to do so. As we are children of Creator, so too is this place we call home and those entrusted to steward for the Holy’s Creation, our task is to ensure it thrives, not for the benefit of a few, at the expense of others. In this prayer, then, May it Be So.