Harm, healing, hope: reflections on Restorative Justice Week

This week’s guest writer is Eileen Henderson, Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Ontario. 

This week  is Restorative Justice Week in Canada. Across the country, people are celebrating restorative justice (RJ) through a variety of activities and events. From Church Council on Justice and Corrections’ Imagine Justice Art Gallery, to a national symposium in Quebec City, to seminars within some of our federal prisons — organizations and communities are holding events and hosting conversations with the intent of engaging the larger community in the concept of restorative justice and the use of restorative practices.

Restorative justice (RJ) is a way of looking at crime that moves us from viewing it solely as the breaking of laws to regarding it as the breaking of relationships. It moves us beyond arrest, plea and sentencing to the needs of all those who have been impacted, including the recipient of harm (victim), the author of harm (offender) and the larger community.

imagine-justice-banner-RESTORATIVE-JUSTICE-WEEKFor the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of working with an amazing group of colleagues at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO) and with others across the country who are committed to walking alongside women and men returning to the community after incarceration. Through Circles of Support and Accountability, community-based work (ARISE here at MCCO), or prison visitation initiatives, staff and volunteers have committed themselves to walking with those have created harm, listening to their stories, offering support, requiring accountability, encouraging and advocating for truth to be told, while never losing sight of the needs of those who have experienced pain and loss due to victimization.

In other areas of our RJ work, we have the privilege of sitting with seniors who have experienced elder abuse, listening to their stories and being a presence in the midst of pain. We meet weekly with women and sometimes men who are in abusive relationships marked by trauma, again listening, supporting and advocating for them as they begin their journeys toward hope and healing. Yet another aspect of RJ work involves supporting congregations that are struggling with boundary crossing and sexual violence, longing to discover where God is in the midst of the pain and brokenness.

In the midst of working with broken inter-personal relationships marked by pain and desperation, grace and hope, RJ workers are also caught up each day with the pain and brokenness of the wider world.  The news of destruction, violence and fear this past week from Paris, Beirut and Baghdad seems a difficult if not impossible backdrop to Restorative Justice Week.

RJ candle

At the conclusion of a learning tour on prisons, participants shared ideas and commitments to action on small pieces of paper. MCC Photo/Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz.

As a person of faith, a follower of Jesus and a citizen committed to the concept of restorative justice, it has been pivotal for me to return to the foundations from which I work. This is where I find strength and am enabled to move beyond my fear or anger into a place of engagement and resilience. All of us are created in the image of a loving God who invites us into relationship with himself — a relationship that offers grace and mercy, forgiveness and restoration — no matter who we are, what we have done, or what has been done to us. This is always my starting point and the foundation for moving to the next level: namely, that out of our relationship with a loving God we are called into relationships with each other — relationships that are to be defined by grace, mercy, inclusion and an invitation for change. My faith grounds me in restorative justice work which is all about relationships which have been broken and relationships where there is the opportunity for hope and a movement toward change and healing.

These are the foundations that keep me going during the difficult days, the days when change is hard to see and where hope seems illusive, days when the events locally and on the world scene feel overwhelming.

Today and for the rest of this Restorative Justice Week, the lyrics from an old hymn will be the ones playing over in my head and in my car: “This is my Father’s world, and though the wrong seem oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Remembering: Lest we forget

This week’s blog entry is written by Tim Schmucker, Toronto regional representative for MCC Ontario and a contributor to this year’s Peace Sunday Packet, the theme of which is “Crossing to the other side: Living as people of peace in a time of fear and terror.” 

Remembrance Day is, at its core, about remembering the sacrifice of our soldiers and the horrors of war. Without strong and clear remembering, we will forget.

Remembering. Lest we forget.

Today, we live in a context of growing fear. Fear about terrorism. Fear about terrorists hiding among refugees. Fear of the other, the ominous stranger. And Canada is once again at war, to defend us from our enemies.[1] Military power, many say, will keep us safe and protect our freedoms.

On this Remembrance Day, followers of Jesus must remember who they are.

Lest we forget.

Jesus and his disciples also faced fear and enemies. In Mark 4-5, Jesus is in Galilee teaching beside the sea. At the end of the day, he and the disciples embark for the other side. A great gale arises, the disciples fear perishing, but Jesus calms the storm. They then continue crossing to the other side . . . to face their enemies.

After the storm. Photo credit Deposit photos.

After the storm. Photo credit Depositphotos.com.

Crossing the Sea of Galilee meant going to the country of the Gerasenes, to the Decapolis, into the heart of the Roman occupation. Here, thousands of Roman military veterans were stationed and settled; they represented the enemy and the oppressor. Yet Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side.” The disciples were terrified.

Perhaps the great storm that rose up was a storm of fear within them, as they journeyed to enemy territory with Jesus’ teachings reverberating in their ears: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Love your enemies.” We also would feel great fear, taking the initiative to go and meet our enemies and oppressors.

So the disciples, filled with a storm of fear, woke Jesus in panic. “Do you not care if we perish?” Their trust in Jesus was being tested. In times of great storms, Jesus asked the disciples, and he asks us today, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Have you forgotten?

Remembering. Lest we forget.

Jesus calms the storm, but insists that they – and we – continue crossing to the other side. Canada is at war against extremist Islamists in the Middle East, our enemies. Many voices have sounded the alarm of Islamic extremism here at home, suggesting we ought to be very fearful. In spite of the horrific refugee crisis in Syrian and Iraq, some people oppose expediting refugee processing because there might be terrorists among them. Others repeat rumours about Muslim refugees throwing Christians off boats in the Mediterranean.[2]

Ancient Rome's road system facilitated the military control of a vast territory. Photo credit History.com.

Ancient Rome’s road system facilitated the military control of a vast territory. Photo credit History.com.

In the midst of this fear, Jesus asks us to trust him, to remember his Way. He reminds us, as he reminded his disciples,  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Love your enemies.”

Jesus and the disciples arrive at the other side, an area of cities colonised with settlements of Roman soldiers and veterans – the enemy oppressors. They are met by a wild man with an “unclean spirit” named “Legion.” Jesus heals the demoniac, and the unclean spirits enter “a great herd of swine” who then rush down the steep hill into the sea and drown.

Ultimately, this is a story of facing fears and enemies and how Jesus transforms them both.[3]

The demoniac is a symbol of the Roman Empire’s oppression, and of its militarism and war. The unclean spirit possessing the man says, “Legion is my name.” A legion was a division of 2000 Roman soldiers, and these legions were stationed in the Decapolis to control that part of the Roman Empire. “A great herd of swine” is not a reference to a literal group of pigs, but rather a large group of military recruits. “Pig” was also the mascot of some Roman legions and, additionally, a derisive name for new military soldiers.

The demons possessing the man also represent Roman militarism, oppression and war. Jesus expels these unclean spirits into the pigs who run into the sea and drown. Note the clear parallel to Exodus liberation. The enemy drowns in the sea, and the oppressed Jewish people are liberated! However, Jesus doesn’t end the story that way.

The “swineherds” then run off and tell what happened “in the city and in the country,” i.e., among the settlements and barracks of the Roman military. People come running to see for themselves, and, finding the demoniac in his right mind, become afraid. So they beg Jesus to leave the military settlements and go back to Galilee. Jesus and the disciples comply. However, the healed man asks to go with them. But Jesus says no, and sends him back to his community, with a mission: stay among your people – including the Roman military – and share with all how the power of violence and military might has fallen and how love, mercy and peace have ascended!

peace buttonsAs followers of Jesus, we are called to live faithfully in a world permeated by the fear caused by extremist violence. Our faith encourages us to face our fears, reaching out in friendship and love to the stranger, to our Muslim neighbours and newcomers. As followers of Jesus, we renounce all violence and place our trust and hope, not in military might, but rather in the One who calms the storm and calls us to join him in crossing to the other side.

Let us remember. Lest we forget.


[1] On October 21, 2015 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canada would withdraw from Operation Impact, the bombing campaign against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.  But as of November 7, those attacks are still occurring. See http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations-abroad-current/op-impact-airstrikes.page

[2] See http://ryandueck.com/2015/09/16/im-sorry-christian-but-you-dont-get-to-make-that-move/. The incident Dueck says some North American Christians are referring to as the norm can be found here: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/16/europe/italy-migrants-christians-thrown-overboard/

[3] The following interpretation is derived primarily, but not completely, from the work of John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (New York City: HarperCollins, 1995) and Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988).

Resilience in Afghanistan

This week’s guest writer is Alain Epp Weaver, co-director of MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department.

As I reflect back on my trip this past May to Afghanistan to meet with MCC’s Afghan partner organizations and to visit MCC-supported projects, the most enduring image for me is of bread, or, in Dari, naan. Drive through the streets of Kabul, and every few blocks one sees bakeries proudly displaying their wares. Naan is a staple of the Afghan diet, a flat bread that my traveling companions and I looked forward to each morning at our guest house, brought to us piping hot from a nearby bakery.

Naan bread for breakfast. MCC photo

Naan bread for breakfast. MCC photo.

While its smell and taste were heavenly, what was most striking to me about the naan was its visual presentation. Different bakers take pride in expressing themselves artistically through the shaping and decoration of the loaves: some craft squares, others circles, and still others triangles and parallelograms, with each baker then decorating these loaves with varying geometric designs.

These ornamented loaves of naan express for me the amazing beauty and resilience of the Afghan people. I approached my visit to Afghanistan with my imagination shaped by words such as violence, insecurity, and occupation. And such words do capture some of the realities with which Afghans live day in and day out. The intensification of fighting around Kunduz and the U.S. bombing of the Médicins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) hospital in that city are recent reminders of the stark fact that Afghanistan is a country marred by years, even decades, of war and foreign occupation. And personal insecurity has become a routine fact of life for many Afghans.Yet my lasting memories of this visit to Afghanistan are not of stories of insecurity, death, and violence, but rather of the beautiful strength and resilience displayed by the people we met.

Students at MCC-supported center for before- and after-school education. Names withheld for security reasons. MCC photo.

Students at MCC-supported center for before- and after-school education. Names withheld for security reasons. MCC photo.

Over the course of my visit I met Afghans working hard to secure a better future for all of the country’s diverse peoples. MCC accompanies organizations that work to provide informal before- and after-school education for children in low-income neighborhoods, increase women’s literacy and numeracy skills, empower young women to be leaders, reduce violence against women, and increase food security. These organizations are staffed by unbelievably committed women and men who view Afghanistan not in terms of its deficits or the violence that scars it, but in terms of its future and its potential. To be sure, Afghanistan faces significant challenges, quite apart from ongoing violent conflict. An underdeveloped educational infrastructure, for example, means that many government schools operate up to four shifts a day, with students coming for only two or two-and-a-half hours of instruction daily. Even then, classroom space is often inadequate: in one girls’ school our group visited, some classes were meeting in the hallway. Yet these same young women spoke optimistically and passionately about the importance of schooling and their love of learning, exhibiting the spirit of strength and resilience I encountered throughout my brief time in Afghanistan.

Street art in Kabul.

Street art in Kabul.

Many Afghans with whom we met spoke passionately about their desire for peace, for an end to the violence that has consumed the country for years. On one of our last days in Kabul, I saw some Banksy-style street art on the outer walls outside of an office compound. In it, a young Afghan takes aim at a drone: the drone, we see, has been fractured in two, not by a stone or a rocket, but rather by a heart.

The unknown artist would not, I imagine, want to claim that love and nonviolence present some direct, simple solution to the complex, tangled histories of foreign occupations, resistance, and internal conflicts that have shaped Afghanistan for decades. Instead, this piece of street art struck me as an impassioned plea from the heart, a cry that violence—be it carried out by U.S.-led coalition forces, by the Afghan military, by the Taliban, or by others—needs to end, a plea for a future marked by love instead of violence. As disheartening as the political and security realities in Afghanistan might be, the persistent resilience of MCC’s partners in Afghanistan left me hopeful that such a future is possible.

From Canada to Reunion Island: Finding common ground through faith and compassion

This week’s writer is Cora Siebert, advocacy research intern for the Ottawa Office. Cora is a graduate of the University of Guelph in political studies. 

Over the past year I spent seven months living and working on a small island in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius, La Réunion or Reunion Island. Now I’m sure you’re either wondering why you’ve never heard of this place before, or you’re having flashbacks to the major news story of Malaysian Flight 370, found on Reunion Island this past June. Even with this momentary claim to fame, Reunion Island really should be timelessly well known: because it’s amazing.

Takamaka Mountains. Photo by Cora Siebert.

Takamaka Mountains. Photo by Cora Siebert.

Yes, it’s amazing because it’s a tropical island with beautiful beaches, incredible mountains and tasty food fusions. But in my opinion, what makes it most amazing is the unique blend of people it holds. With a population of 840,000 there is a great deal of diversity within an island roughly half the size of Prince Edward Island. Ethnically, Reunion is a mix of people from African, Indian, European and Chinese origin who identify with a variety of different religions including Catholicism, Hinduism and Islam.

In such a small and isolated place like Reunion, I was not surprised by the great importance people placed in religion. I was, however, amazed by the sense of shared identity among people in Reunion Island no matter which religion they identified with. Some people practiced multiple religions, for example by attending services at both a church and a mosque. At the high school I worked at, one of my students told me that she had started to practice Hinduism as a personal choice, even though the rest of her family was Muslim. Most people were very open to talking about their religion and were interested to know about my beliefs.

Kavadi. Photo by Cora Siebert.

Kavadi. Photo by Cora Siebert.

On Reunion Island people were constantly celebrating some religious holiday, whether it be Easter or the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. While I was there I attended Kavadi, a Hindu celebration of sacrifice, which involved a huge procession of different ceremonial rituals of offering. With a multitude of different celebrations and customs practiced, there was a sense that everyone did these things from a common starting point–faith. Religion wasn’t what divided people into separate communities, faith was what drew people of various religions together. I was told the reason behind its name, “La Réunion”, was to celebrate the coming together of many different peoples.

I thought about this shared bond of faith when I came across an article in the Globe and Mail in early September. The article identifies communities of different faiths from across Canada, creating partnerships in order to sponsor Syrian refugees. Mennonite Central Committee has partnered with the Islamic Family and Social Services Association in Edmonton, so far reconnecting 32 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Turkey and Egypt to relatives in the city. This number will surpass 150 by the end of the year. Likewise, a United Church in Perth Road Village, Ontario was looking to sponsor a refugee family, but had a hard time fundraising with a congregation of only 50 people. After partnering with 21 churches, as well as the Islamic Society of Kingston, they were able to bring a refugee family to Canada — relatives of someone from the Islamic Society.

To me, the Globe and Mail article demonstrates the positive impact of people seeking to focus on common goals they share with others, instead of letting differences leave them to work in isolation. As Canadians, we tend to pride ourselves in being a multicultural society, which we are. Yet I think it’s easy to find ourselves living our day to day lives in more of a divided fashion than we give ourselves credit for. Canada’s metaphor of a cultural mosaic may lead us into living within the social and religious lines that have already been drawn for us. We’ve become accustomed to attending certain social gatherings or being members of associations in which we have commonalties with others. And we may not recognize the commonalities we have with those outside our regular routines.


A cross atop of Le Grand Bénare. Photo by Cora Siebert

These joint efforts to assist refugees demonstrate that compassion for others is another virtue all religions share. The notion that we should treat others as we would like to be treated is something agreed upon by peoples of numerous religious and ethnic backgrounds. And as we find ourselves living within a world which can appear to be plagued with violence and hatred between religions, this shared ideal of showing compassion to others should not be forgotten. If you haven’t heard of Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion, launched in 2008, I highly recommend checking out her website or TED talk. Armstrong is a British author, known for her writing on the commonalities among religions. In her writing she calls for people to recognize compassion as a dynamic force in an ever so polarized world.

I think the Globe and Mail article portrays real-life examples of Armstrong’s idea of positive action brought about through the shared ideal of compassion. The joint projects to help refugees shine an encouraging light on ways in which we as Canadians have and should continue to reach out to those of other religions. Faith was what caused communities I found in Reunion Island to celebrate and worship together. Likewise, a common desire to help those in need is helping to build bridges between religious groups in Canada. Faith and compassion are principles shared by billions of people around the globe. I think that’s something to recognize, celebrate, and build on.

Donuts and mining: Canadian elections, trade and foreign policy

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, MCC advocacy and policy analyst for the Latin America Caribbean region. She lives in Bogota, Colombia and is from Canada’s Yukon territory. This piece originally appeared on MCC’s Latin America Advocacy Blog.

I was in a grocery store in a small Colombian city the other day, hoping against hoping to find the elusive holy grail of imports: cheddar cheese. While I did not find any cheese, what I did come across was even more unlikely. There, in the middle of the bakery section, were stacks of boxed donuts, each one adorned with a maple leaf sticker proudly proclaiming the contents a Product of Canada.

Just like those donuts, we may not often expect to find Canada in Latin America, yet the longer I live in Latin America, the more I learn of Canadian presence in the region.

The Marlin Mine,  San Marcos, Guatemala.  Photo by Anna Vogt

The Marlin Mine, San Marcos, Guatemala. Photo by Anna Vogt

We are currently in the midst of an election campaign in Canada, but within all the rhetoric, there is not a lot of honest analysis about our policies outside of Canadian borders, especially in the Americas. Part of what it means to be part of an active citizenship, however, is being aware not only how Canada’s policies impact Canadians, but how our policies also impact those living in other parts of the world, such as Latin America.  What Canada does as a country in the rest of the world shapes who we are as Canadians? Elections are a strategic time to think critically about connections and possibilities.

The current government has three goals for its engagement in the American Hemisphere, first outlined in 2007 under the title The Americas: Our Neighbours, Our Priority:

  • Increasing Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity;
  • Addressing insecurity and advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; and
  • Fostering lasting relationships.

In practice, these goals have been highly focused on trade and economic policy in the region, implemented through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Currently, Canada has Free Trade Agreements with seven countries in Latin America (Honduras, Colombia, Panamá, Perú, Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico) and is in negotiations for five more (Caribbean community, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic).

Guatemalan community displaced to build the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Guatemalan community displaced to build the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Trade can have a positive impact on a society, but if precautions are not taken, engaging in trade with few regulations in countries of conflict or with high levels of human rights violations can increase harm and cause negative social impacts. In the majority of Canadian FTA negotiations, local civil society has spoken out against the agreement because of fear of worsening conditions. Colombia, for example, is the most dangerous country in the world to be a union leader. Civil society worries that the current FTA, which does not adequately monitor its impact on human rights, provides implicit approval for impunity. Also in Colombia, the FTA has opened the doors for assault weapons export–weapons currently banned in Canada–to Colombia, a country that already has over six million internally displaced people because of violence.

Many of our FTAs facilitate Canadian company access to extractive sectors in Latin American countries. These corporations are viewed as the most important actors in generating economic growth, yet there is a concerning lack of accountability, amid accusations of human rights violations and irreparable environmental destruction. Currently, Canadian companies are only responsible for upholding voluntary corporate social responsibility standards. As a recent Globe and Mail article states “Canada is host to 75 per cent of the world’s largest exploration and mining companies, as well as more than 100 medium– to large-sized oil and gas companies, many of which operate in developing countries. Major and minor players in Canada’s extractive industry have been the subject of serious allegations of complicity in grave human rights abuses.”

Small farm near the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Small farm near the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

The Marlin Mine in Guatemala, owned by the Canadian company GoldCorp, is one of the most emblematic for concerns raised about human rights violations, environmental degradation and lack of prior consultation, but it is not unique. In Honduras, for example, Canadian mining has displaced Indigenous groups and contributed to violence, after an FTA was signed after a military-backed coup in 2009.

In fact, laws and regulations currently in place favour the activities of Canadian companies abroad above all other considerations.  A report entitled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s Responsibility, outlines how Canadian companies are taking advantage of, and actively encouraging, weak legal frameworks around extraction in multiple Latin American countries.

It is important to keep in mind that previous governments, from other political parties, have also encouraged similar policies in the past, especially where extractive industries and free trade are concerned. We must hold all parties and candidates to account on these issues.

Let’s make sure, therefore, to ask questions to all parties about their foreign policy platforms when in office, including questions about economic policies. Is trade conditional on human rights standards being met by local governments, or does Canada engage in trade under any condition? How will different parties regulate Canadian companies working abroad accountable to respect human rights and uphold environmental protections?

As a Canadian living in Latin America, I would like Canada to be more known in the region for its donuts than for harmful foreign policy. Sadly, this has not been the case so far, but elections are a great opportunity to raise critical questions and demand change.

To vote or not to vote?

As the federal election campaign grinds on, I am feeling increasingly disillusioned.

More than 7000 people gathered to walk for reconciliation. The walk began at Ecole Secondaire de l'Ile in Gatineau, Quebec, and ended aproximately 5 kilometres away at Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Members of First Nations communities, faith communities and many others participated including those from Mennonite churches and MCCer's from across the system.

More than 7000 people, including many Mennonites, walk for reconciliation in the closing days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. MCC photo by Alison Ralph.

As an Anabaptist-Mennonite and an MCC worker, I am discouraged that some of the issues that should be front and centre in this campaign are hardly being mentioned. I think of the calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other issues related to the relationship of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.  I think of the needs of people who are truly poor and unable to provide adequately for their families. I think of the changing climate and the many issues related to the devastation of our natural environment.

I am also disgusted by the lies, the attack ads, the bad behaviour and the fear-mongering. Not to mention the ways that the entire parliamentary process itself has been eroded over the past years.

Why bother voting and participating in a system which falls so far short of what it should be?  What is a modern-day Anabaptist to do?

A colleague of mine has said, “Just complaining is irresponsible.”  He says to people like me, “If you think the electoral or political system needs improving, get involved.”  He has done exactly that by serving as a campaign manager for a candidate he supports.  My own father had a similar response back in the early 1980s – he ran for office in two federal elections.  Many others have made similar choices.

What a long way we’ve come since the 16th century!

Anneken Janz, a Dutch Anabaptist, was drowned on charges of sectarianism in 1539. Engraving from Martyrs Mirror; scan from Mennonite Library and Archives.

Anneken Janz, a Dutch Anabaptist, was drowned on charges of sectarianism in 1539. Engraving from Martyrs Mirror; scan from Mennonite Library and Archives.

For my Anabaptist forebears, voting, campaigning or even running for office would have been unthinkable. They knew where they stood when it came to issues of the state – far away! They saw “two kingdoms” – the church and the “world” (including the state). With some exceptions, they believed that the state, while having a God-given purpose to maintain order in society, was out of bounds for followers of Jesus. As people committed to nonresistance, they could not conceive of participating in state institutions and “bearing the sword” on its behalf. In the words of martyred Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler, they saw the state as “outside the perfection of Christ.”

To be sure, the concepts of democracy and universal suffrage were still centuries in the future from those early Anabaptists. So was the idea of the state as a vehicle for the common good.  So we can forgive those Anabaptists for their dualistic and separatist beliefs and attitudes about engaging with the state and the instruments of society. Many states were, after all, killing them!

The separatist stance of the early Anabaptists is no longer possible or even appropriate in our 21st century Canadian context – except perhaps for people like the Old Order Mennonites, who do not vote, but who also do not participate in numerous social programs, such as CPP, medicare and so on. There is integrity to their separateness.

But most of us in the Anabaptist tradition in Canada today are so enmeshed with the systems of the state and of government–indeed, we benefit enormously from those systems!–we left our traditional “two kingdom” theology behind long ago.

So where does that leave us, especially at election time?  If we don’t remove ourselves completely from the entire political process, do we dive in with wholehearted abandon? My response is no.

For me as an Anabaptist-Mennonite, it is important to retain a healthy suspicion of state institutions, including their political and electioneering processes. It is important to remember that no party has a monopoly on truth and no government will usher in the reign of God, even though I personally believe that some candidates come closer to articulating policies that reflect kingdom values. Indeed, where governments and political systems perpetrate systemic evil and egregious injustice, they must be resisted.

At the same time, as an Anabaptist-Mennonite, I believe that during election time, I have a responsibility to bring my faith convictions to the public sphere. I am responsible to use my power and privilege – and my vote! – in service to others. And I am called to take into the polling booth, my commitments about care and compassion for the poor and vulnerable; reconciliation with Indigenous people; the pursuit of justice and peace; care for God’s creation; integrity, honesty and respectfulness in public life.

In his recent address to the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis stated:  “Politics . . . is an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interest in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”

With all due respect to Michael Sattler, the pope’s words help to lift my disillusionment.

So, yes, I will vote.  I hope you will too.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, public engagement coordinator for the Ottawa Office.