Beyond politics

November 21, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 23
By Will Braun | Senior Writer

I’m a sucker for politics. I read the papers, stay up late on election nights and get far too emotionally involved. But at the same time, I maintain a fundamental suspicion of partisan politics. While I know and respect people in the political sphere, I will never buy a party membership, go door-to-door with pamphlets, or bang a sign into my front lawn. I care about the path society takes but I choose to care in other ways.

So while I could criticize Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) vehemently and from various angles for “reminding” the publishers of this magazine not to be partisan, I have to admit that there is a part of me that cringes whenever I read references to specific parties in Canadian Mennonite, even if I agree with the viewpoint offered.

Though I have mentioned three cabinet ministers myself in articles written in the last two years—all Conservative and all in articles they would have rather not seen published—I feel more comfortable avoiding partisan politics altogether. (Incidentally, none of my articles were among the six fingered by CRA as overly partisan.)

While I often write about matters that many would consider “political,” I try to focus on issues more than parties. Ideally, I try to do more than just advance one side of an argument. I try to delve deeper, to present nuances. Admittedly that involves a good deal of grey area as well as some lapses (and/or advised exceptions).

Enough other commentators in society focus on politics. The discussion they carry out is important, but it is also predictable and seldom creative in a deeper sense. I think church writers should strive for a truly distinctive voice on public policy issues, rather than adding to the political banter (though at times they will have to report on government actions that have implications for the church).

The challenge is to rise above partisan politics, to operate in a different sphere, to engage “political” issues in an altogether different way. This could involve looking seriously at the elements of truth on various sides, modelling a non-polarized posture. It could involve considering the spiritual dimensions underlying political issues, such as the fear that seems to drive so much immigration and justice policy, and the self-interest behind so much economic and environmental policy.

It should not, in my view, involve anything that partakes in what John Howard Coder called the “grasping for levers of control.” As Christians, our role is not to get sucked into power games and simple dichotomies. An article shouldn’t feel like a pitch for a particular side.

Following the election of George W. Bush in 2000, I heard an interview with Noam Chomsky, the prominent lefty scholar and writer in the U.S. At a moment when Chomsky’s side was beaten and enraged, he was eminently calm. This shocked me. Knowing well the consequences of the election outcome, his message seemed to be that life will continue. Just keep on living.

Since then, at times when I felt my partisan impulses fire—such as when I heard about the CRA reminder—I have recalled his equanimity. It is important to think incisively about what the CRA action means, but it is equally important to take a step back. Not to be drawn in. To remember that when the authorities confronted Jesus, his ultimate response was not to fight back, but to humbly trust in something of an entirely different and unthinkably paradoxical realm.

(For the benefit of both Mennonite and CRA readers, perhaps I should clarify that I am not equating the “reminder” letter to crucifixion nor CRA to crucifiers, I’m just drawing a general parallel about how to respond to opposition.)

None of us should be in any way intimidated (or flattered) by the CRA action.

As the great mystic Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well, and we shall see it.”

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