Navigating the interface of faith and politics

This week Ottawa Notebook features a book review by Justine F. Foxall of MCC Alberta. Justine has worked with numerous NGOs and served in various capacities with MCC including as assistant director of the MCC Ottawa Office. She has lived in Tanzania, Rwanda, Serbia, Chad, as well as Israel and Palestine. 

Preston Manning, Faith, Leadership and Public Life: Leadership Lessons from Moses to Jesus (Burlington, ON: Castle Quay Books, 2017), 360 pages.

“Politics at the highest level is ultimately about the reconciliation of conflicting interests.”

Preston Manning, former Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament, returns frequently to this phrase—the reconciliation of conflicting interests—in his thoughtful and passionate book, Faith, Leadership and Public Life.

Preston Manning book on faith and public life

This book is divided into four parts, with lessons from: 1) the public life of Jesus, 2) the life of Moses, 3) the life of David, and 4) the lives of the exiles. In each section, Manning relates how these lessons have informed and inspired him in his own life as a practicing Christian, business consultant and sometime mediator, politician, and Member of Parliament. Furthermore, he offers guidance about how to live our lives at the interface of faith and politics with excellence and integrity.

In the first part, my attention was captured by Manning’s profound observations of how William Wilberforce and his co-strategists followed the way of Jesus in their campaign to abolish the slave trade and slavery. Manning relates these lessons first through a discussion of Jesus’s temptations; then illustrates how Wilberforce strategically and pragmatically practiced the wisdom and grace of Jesus who said “… I send you forth not to be vicious as snakes but gracious as doves, gracious as the spirit of God himself.”

Based on the Wilberforce story, Manning recommends that contemporary activists conducting a modern issue campaign:

  • legitimate the discussion, graciously;
  • do the necessary research thoroughly and well;
  • make maximum use of the tools of democracy.

He asks, “Out of whose mouth will our message(s) be most credible?” and advises, “Wisely and graciously manage the middle.”

Hence he arrives at the theme of reconciliation. Manning declares that Jesus shows us the way of reconciliation through self-sacrificial mediation motivated by love and, using examples from the New Testament, offers these principles of Jesus’s approach to the reconciliation of conflicting interests:

  • Love is the motivation.
  • A new and better relationship is the objective.
  • The approach is non-coercive.
  • The mediator is willing to pay the price of reconciliation.

Following Jesus in the public arena means looking to Jesus himself, resisting the temptation to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth by seizing authority or by compelling obedience to the Christian agenda.

Parts two and three of the book—on Moses and David—are not merely re-hashed Sunday school lessons. Manning digs into these characters and relates them to the rough and tumble of political life today.

The last part examines the lives of several people from the Hebrew Bible who became leaders in societies and political systems that were, for the most part, hostile to their values and beliefs. Manning outlines the stories of Joseph, Daniel and Esther, connecting their stories pointedly to the present context where, he says, our materialistic, humanistic and secular society prefers to purge the expression of religious faith from the public square.

Preston_Manning_February_2014

Preston Manning, February 2014

Manning challenges the follower of Jesus today to live faithfully in this kind of exile. Believe in the sovereignty of God. Be a constructive influence in your constituency. Pray. Seek the enlightenment and peace of the political community—serving as truth tellers and reconcilers of conflicting interests.

Finally, my attention was particularly held by Manning’s discussion of the good and evil of bureaucracies, for this is the ‘public space’ (large or small, governmental or non-governmental) in which most of us find ourselves. He urges Christians that we “are there to protect that bureaucracy from its dark side and ensure that it functions as an instrument for good rather than as a source of unintended harms.”

Again Manning provides some practical guidelines for how to do this. Whether we are then called to act on a micro or macro level, Manning reiterates how important it is to nurture a disciplined and diligent inner life of solitude, prayer, lectio divina, physical self-care, examen of consciousness and conscience, spiritual discernment and Sabbath observance. Differing distinctly from the rhythm of contemporary public life, these resources in Christ are crucial to living with integrity in the arena of the faith-political interface.

Faith, Leadership and Public Life is long and sometimes pedantic; yet there is an authenticity to Manning’s perspective that I found engaging. I enjoyed his evident wide reading as he draws from great literature, political and military history, contemplative Christian authors, and, of course, the Bible. The last part, Lessons from the Lives of the Exiles, brilliantly prevented me from tossing the book aside with an “irrelevant to my life” shrug. We do live in a pluralist and secular society. How we live our faith in the public square matters.

My assessment of Preston Manning’s book: I commend it as an excellent read for issue campaigners, policy change advocates, aspiring and acting parliamentarians and everyday citizens who care about the well-being of our country.

 

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