“What are you doing on Parliament Hill” is a frequent question we receive. Of course the question’s connotation depends on the tone of voice. Sometimes the questioner wants to know what we’ve been focusing on lately, while other times they are asking about the Ottawa Office’s raison d’être. (And if there’s a subtle accusatory tone, the implication is that we shouldn’t be there at all, that Christians should stay out of politics. We’ll save that for a future post.)
So why are we in the halls of power? The customary answer is that the Ottawa Office serves as a “conduit of information and bridge for relationships between the federal government of Canada and MCC Canada’s diverse constituency.” I’m quoting the statement on our website – it’s that good!
And it continues, saying that the Ottawa Office “witnesses to government on issues of peace, justice and human dignity that arise out of MCC ministry at home and around the world.” Then, after a line about working with coalitions and bringing our “unique, Anabaptist perspective” to bear on the work of political advocacy, the statement concludes that we are “motivated by the conviction that loving our neighbours compels us to witness to government.”
Witnessing to government. Sharing our experience around the world. Advocating for steps toward more justice and peace. Those are the primary components of the usual answer. And primary they should remain.
But there’s more. And that “more” is about us, and who we are as a people; it’s about shaping us, rather than influencing them. Thus, the locus of influence moves inward rather than outward.
Paul Heidebrecht, Director of the Ottawa Office, expressed this best in a presentation to the Society of Christian Ethicists this past January in Washington DC. Participating in the legislative process, Paul suggests, creates spaces for churches to “embody what they believe,” witnessing to Jesus’ gospel of justice and peace in the context of real political systems and structures.
Paul goes on to suggest that effecting change in government policies should not be the primary objective of Christian advocacy. He insists that, while advocacy is indeed about ethical formation, “that formation occurs primarily in those doing the advocacy,” rather than in governments.
So again, it’s more about us, rather than them. While political advocacy does indeed have a “formative impact,” those being formed are primarily those doing the advocacy, rather than the government receiving the advocacy.
In short, while we are in the halls of power to witness to our policy makers on issues of justice, peace and human dignity, in our work there we are both being faithful to our calling to love neighbours and participating in our ongoing formation as a people who are Jesus followers.
Having recently joined the Ottawa Office team as MCC Canada’s new Public Engagement Coordinator, I am looking forward to inviting constituents and churches to participate with us in our shared witness to government. And in this process, we all grow in our faithfulness to Christ.
Tim Schmucker, MCC Canada Public Engagement Coordinator