Caleb Ratzlaff has always had an interest in theology and politics. After spending time in seminary, he ultimately decided to complete a master’s degree in political philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. Last November, he was elected to the St. Catherines city council, at which time he left his position as pastor of Westview Christian Fellowship.
From early on, Ratzlaff had been interested in the politics of Christ. Although he found it difficult to read Old Testament stories, such as the Tower of Babel, the Israelite exile and King David’s leadership, through an evangelical lens, which encourages non-Christians to trust Christ as their Saviour, these stories came to life for him when he allowed himself to apply a political perspective to them.
“I got a better understanding reading scriptures through a critical theory lens, asking the question, ‘Who has power, wealth and authority, and who doesn’t?’ ” he says. And that, he says, “is a political question.” He feels there is a close connection between religion and how people organize their lives, which he calls politics.
Working as a pastor for the last seven years at Westview, which has birthed the Westview Centre4Women, Ratzlaff sees the neighbourhood as misunderstood and looked down on. The Queenston neighbourhood is often not seen for its strengths of resilience, compassion, and how the members are helping and supporting each other, he says.
“They’re doing much of the heavy lifting around opioids, addictions and mental health, that other parts of the city refuse to address,” he says.
The neighbourhood association he and Westview are part of, wants to make this known by elevating the collective voice of those who work, live and play in the area. Ratzlaff wants to be part of this change.
Tension between his Christian beliefs and the work of the council came up at council recently. When council made a motion to support continued federal funding of military aid for Ukraine, he shared his grandmother’s immigration story of how she came to Canada a century ago, fleeing persecution in present-day Ukraine. His grandmother’s pacifism, despite persecution, inspired him to abstain from voting on the motion, he says.
How does the church community shape congregants into a just community, a community of Christ followers, a community pursuing justice and peace rather than greed and control? With their feet on the ground, Ratzlaff says, and their hands helping those that need a hand. Christians need to open their eyes and ears to see where they can do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with God.
And, for Ratzlaff, that is being a city councillor, having run on a platform of dealing with affordable housing and alternative transportation, among other issues.