Young voices on politics

June 14, 2011 | Young Voices
Emily Loewen | Young Voices Editor

After the May 2 election, Young Voices asked some readers their thoughts on faith and politics.

Along with three anonymous responders, these fine folks gave us their opinions:
• Gerald Ens, 21, Bethel Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Man.
• Elise Epp, 24, Toronto United Mennonite Church, Ont.
• Brad Lepp, 32, Toronto United Mennonite Church.
• Darren Neufeld, 23, Glenlea Mennonite Church, Man.
• Allan Reesor-McDowell, 29, Community Mennonite Church, Stouffville, Ont.
• Reece Retzlaff, 29 Nutana Park Mennonite Church, Saskatoon, Sask.

Q. Who did you vote for in the May 2 election, and why?

Neufeld: NDP. They endorsed a lot of values that I hold. They want to keep healthcare public so everyone has access to the same quality of care, fund more social programming and work to improve pensions. I didn't want to vote for corporate and individual tax breaks. In the future (after school is done), I won't mind paying taxes if the money will be used wisely.
Anonymous 1: The biggest reason I voted for the Green Party is that I have an immense amount of respect for Elizabeth May. I have seen her speak a few times and I have always been blown away by her charisma, her intelligent comments, and her ability to reconcile her ideals and principles with pragmatic courses of action.
Lepp: Liberal. I feel like I'm more of a progressive centralist. I've heard Mr. Kennedy [local Liberal candidate] speak a couple of times and think he's genuinely a good guy, though he was not re-elected. I'm not a fan of the Conservative Party's social or environmental policies, and the closed-door policies of the [Prime Minister’s Office], where it appears that dissenting voices are silenced.
Anonymous 2: I chose the NDP primarily because I think the party’s values align with my own. It believes in social justice and support for community programming which support minority and marginalized groups in this country. I was looking for a party that could return Canadian soldiers to the days of UN peacekeepers, rather than our current armed combatants.
Ens: I voted NDP. My primary concern was voting against Harper because of the party’s stance on:
•The environment. I know that climate change will affect, and already is affecting, the most vulnerable populations on our planet. The Bible tells me that they are my neighbours. I would like my country to act neighbourly towards them.
•Low-income families.
•The CBC. I don't like what the Harper government is doing to it.
•Crime. Not only are tough-on-crime policies horribly ineffective and expensive, but I think that they are also completely opposed to the ethic of love that Christians are called to embody.
•Centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Q. Did your faith influence the way you voted?

Epp: Honestly, I believe that it is un-Christian to vote Conservative. To me, the Conservative Party stands for the self. Its emphasis on lower taxes—especially for those who are well-off—goes against the teachings of Jesus. Didn't he believe in helping the poor? The Conservative Party also believes in war as a means to solve problems. This contradiction with Mennonite beliefs should be obvious.
Ens: I want to be clear, I do not think that to be a true Christian you had to vote against the Harper government. People will have many different well-considered opinions. However, when I took my faith into account, voting against Harper seemed to me to be the best answer.
Anonymous 1: Not in any direct way. I think it influenced my vote by teaching me to value the principles of equality and self-sacrifice in looking out for others. Policy-wise, that means I support parties that promote looking after vulnerable people in our society, and those that see taxes as a way of pooling our resources to achieve great things together, instead of as a drain on individuals' freedoms.
Lepp: I'd like to think that I try to vote for what's best for us as a society, and less about what's best for me and my pocketbook.
Anonymous 2: God commanded us to “love your neighbour.” To me, this means more than caring for the well-being of our actual neighbours and friends, but also to do good to others who aren’t in the literal boundaries of our community, to seek ways for them to be taken care of and treated well. Don’t we need to make sure that that children living in poverty are supported? That the aboriginal population living up North have access to water?
Retzlaff: I felt that the social justice issues present in the NDP platform fit better with my faith. As well, I would have difficulty voting Conservative because of their desire to keep troops in Afghanistan.
Anonymous 3: Only generally, not specifically. Fairness, justice, environment and peace are important to me because of my faith, and this influenced how I voted.

Q. Are Mennonites called to be politically involved? Why? Why not?

Anonymous 3: We're called to be involved, but politics isn't the only way to be involved.
Reesor-McDowell: I believe that everyone is created in God's image, and each one of us has gifts to share. Not all will be called to high-level political engagement, in the same way that we are not all called to be preachers, teachers and missionaries. But some of us will be called to engage at that level: to think, pray and be active in addressing larger policy and structural issues—the big-picture systems.
Neufeld: Definitely. Our participation in politics is an active response to our government and issues in our country and the world. Participation in politics puts our beliefs into action, and exerts influence to a far-greater degree than we could on our own. The most clear example I can think of is when Mennonites—and other groups—advocated for conscientious objector status, a decision that reflected a commitment to pacifism.
Ens: I struggle with this one. In the broad sense of the term, we are absolutely called to be politically active. I believe that the church is called to be active in the world; this is being political. Whether or not Mennonites are called to vote is a trickier matter. The state does wield the sword and by participating in the work of the state, we also participate in the sword. On the other hand, there are many other issues that governments deal with that Christians should be concerned with—militarization, for example—but then it looks as though we are trying to be an effective body rather than a faithful body.
Anonymous 1: I feel that all people should be politically involved, if only to safeguard vulnerable people in our society. I see it as one way of feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and tending the sick. I think it is especially important that all those who have voting power use it to prevent abuses of this power, even if they don't want to be involved in the political system in any other way.
Anonymous 2: While Christians are not to live of this world, we do need to be actively engaged with this world. I think that if we have the physical, verbal, financial, mental or emotional power to make change for good, then as a person and as a member of the church, we have the duty to do something. I don’t think it is enough to take part in Canada’s democratic process, but that Mennonites and Christians should be involved in helping people and taking care of God’s creation in other ways. We should also be praying for our leaders.
Lepp: I'm fond of the saying 'pacifism is not passive,' and am reminded that our values need to be mirrored by our actions every day. And those actions can't just be reactionary. Voting is one action, but as so many community groups demonstrate, we shouldn't leave it up to politicians to do the right thing for us.
Epp: I'm confused about this one. On the one hand, I feel we are absolutely called to be politically involved, and I like thinking of Mennonites as social activists. Voting can also be a way to make our beliefs more tangible, by voting for parties who will put money into programs we find important. On the other hand, I believe that church and state are, and should be, very separate things.

Q. What were the most important things you considered before casting your vote?

Lepp: This might sound weird, but in addition to reading up and gathering information, I try to remember that each of the candidates is a real person with a family. And that those who voted for someone I disagree with are not ignorant, but are also real people, and have their own realities they need to address.
Retzlaff: I looked at the peace stance, social justice issues and environmental issues.
Anonymous 1: The biggest issue for me in this election was the democratic process as it was being carried out in Parliament. Other issues that were important for me were Canada's recent history of being obstructionist in climate-change negotiations, the Conservative's insistence on creating a big jail system.
Neufeld: Party platforms. Key issues, such as environmental stewardship and education.
Anonymous 3: Candidates in my riding—their level of experience, education and knowledge of the area and its issues.

The interviews have been edited and condensed.

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