While we won’t endorse candidates of the five political parties in the upcoming May 2 election, or tell you how to vote, we do ask Mennonite voters to both examine the political views and voting records of candidates regarding our deeply held core beliefs in peacemaking, compassion for the poor and care for creation before placing your ballot in the ballot box.
With the rise in militarism as an unquestioned solution to increasing terrorism, with the economy too often built on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable, and with the corporate greed apparent in providing our never-satisfied hunger for fossil fuel-supplied energy, this is the opportune moment to ask the tough questions of those wanting our vote.
Much of the campaign rhetoric has bypassed many of these issues, but they should matter most for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, who came to bring peace, not a sword; who threw out the money-changers of the ancient Jerusalem temple because the religious establishment was exploiting the poor; and who told the rich young ruler to “sell all his goods and give the proceeds to the poor” if he wanted eternal life. In today’s parlance that would be cut to, “Get a life!”
Historically, we have been far too quiet and passive on these matters. Our acculturation in recent years has dulled our consciences and silenced our witness. With a certain smugness we feel more comfortable and authentic doing service assignments in far-off Kenya or Haiti, noble a calling as these creative acts of kindness are. We shy away from the public square because of its noise, its deception, its glamorous media mirages, its repetitive inability to walk the talk, its cyclical broken promises.
“It’s all such a fraud,” we say in disgust to ourselves and our friends. And then, wanting to be good citizens, we inadvertently fall in line with the partisan culture of our times, voting in the self-interests on which most candidates build their platforms.
There is an alternative to this. We appeal to you to rise above your cynicism, to take seriously the call to be, in this case, countercultural as the “salt” in an unjust world.
Fortunately, there are impatient voices calling us to action. In a recent letter to the editor (Jan. 24, page 14), peace advocate Gerhard Neufeld of Winnipeg, Man., called us to pay special attention to Bill C-447, which languished in Parliament after its first reading in March 2010 until the dissolution of Parliament last month. This Act, supported by Mennonite Church Canada, seeks to establish a Department of Peace with its own minister at the federal level. This proposed legislation needs a push from the grassroots to initiate ongoing discussions as a viable alternative to war.
Does your favourite candidate know about this and will he/she advocate its formation?
There are 18 different bills dealing with issues aligned with our faith beliefs listed on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ottawa website: Canada’s immigration and refugee protection policies, criminal records, consumer protection, free trade between Canada and Colombia, corporate accountability for oil and gas mining, prevention of climate change, respect for conscientious objection to the use of taxes for military purposes, elimination of poverty in Canada, and regulation of corporate practices in the purchase of minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
Unfortunately, the political voices with a background in our core beliefs—such as Vic Toews, Canada’s Public Security Minister who was born in Paraguay to a Mennonite refugee family—have succumbed to the fear-mongering of the present government by postponing Bill C-49, which would provide a safe haven for refugees and not return them to their country of origin. Instead, Toews has called the Tamils who came to our shores last year, “terrorists.”
And in a recent hearing regarding the much-publicized ballyhoo of International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda’s “not” funding of a $7 million CIDA grant for Kairos, the church-based aid group of which MCC is a partner, Harold Albrecht, MP for Kitchener-Conestoga, Ont., went to some lengths to distance himself from Mennonites, clarifying that he was a member of the Brethren in Christ (BIC) denomination. Even though BICs are of the same communion, as members of Mennonite World Conference, it seemed more important for him to dissociate himself from our core beliefs than to come to grips with the political motives of denying the grant.