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.

Elections and matters of the heart

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office. For the Ottawa Office’ s Federal Election Resource, click here.

As I was drafting this post, the global refugee/forced migration crisis – an issue very close to my heart – FINALLY captured the full attention of media outlets around the world. It also finally made its way into the Canadian federal election campaign. It’s incredible how one heart-breaking story can capture the attention of so many people, even though a full year ago the UNHCR reported that the scale of people forcefully displaced around the world had reached numbers not seen since the Second World War – 60 million people.

Amidst the sadness and overwhelming nature of this crisis, my hope is that this global crisis and other issues like it remain at the forefront of the Canadian federal election campaign: creating energy, enthusiasm and excitement – driving substantial policy debates, discussions and plans, leading right up to Election Day.

Hannah and her eight children arrived in Jordan as refugees from Syria in 2914. One of the children has multiple disabilities. MCC photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen.

Hannah and her eight children arrived in Jordan as refugees from Syria in 2914. One of the children has multiple disabilities. MCC photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen.

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I remember the 1995 Quebec Referendum all so clearly. My brother and I were sitting in the family room, eyes glued to the TV, watching the Yes/ No votes swing between 51/49 and 49/51, respectively. My parents were watching with us, my Dad pacing back and forth across the room, saying to himself over and over again: “This is a social studies teacher’s dream… It’s a social studies teacher’s dream!”

It was getting late; way past my bedtime! I remember begging to stay up just a little longer, but to no avail. I would just have to wait until morning to learn the outcome. Besides, it was not until the wee hours of the morning when the official results were finally declared: 51% No, 49% Yes. The federalist vote had won!

Many of us remember the moments when our various interests and passions were first ignited. The Quebec Referendum was such an occasion for me. It ignited a passion for politics (in case you didn’t catch that already!): the process, the debates, the policies and definitely the elections.

My adolescent and teen years were full of election moments: explaining the First-Past-the-Post system to my classmates; accompanying my parents to the polling stations; my Dad quizzing us constantly on local candidates and party platforms in the car or around the dinner table; attending any and all local candidate debates; watching leadership debates on TV; meeting various MPs on a school trip to Ottawa; and finally casting a ballot for the first time!

GNMThere’s no doubt my own love for politics has strong roots in the excitement around elections and the political process in general. But for me, beyond the exhilaration of watching the election results roll in, are the ideas, issues and policies behind each candidate and party. These various key ideas and prospective policies are the building blocks (at least in theory!) that will define the mandates of the new Parliament. Election campaigns provide an opportunity to get directly involved in the shaping of the policies that will govern us!

For Christians, elections are also a time to consider the political implications for our faith. They are times to discern, with humility, how Jesus’ call to love our neighbours may be reflected in the public good.

My love for politics developed alongside my faith from a young age. For me, the intersection of faith and politics took the form of a passion and desire for justice, peace and human dignity, firmly rooted in the teachings of Christ and Scripture as a whole. I believe that it is the responsibility of both government and our society in general tobe champions of peace, justice and human dignity for all.

These principles can be reflected in any number of global and national issues. In the MCC Ottawa Office’s Canadian election resource, we speak to concerns raised by MCC program and partners in Canada and around the world and the potential role of government. Some of these include: responding to the global forced migration and refugee crisis, promoting peacebuilding in areas of conflict, supporting small scale farmers around the world, walking alongside Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and many more.

Each of us is impacted in our way by these and other key issues. For me, the global refugee/forced migration crisis is one of those themes always weighing heavily on my heart, striking to the very core. For me it symbolizes one of the fundamental places where my own faith and love for politics meet – in the deep yearning to protect human dignity, to reach out in love to our neighbours, and to build a sustainable peace for all.

What are the issues that speak to you? What ignites your political and/or faith passion?

At election time, as parties and candidates reveal their plans and promises on many key issues, we invite you to scrutinize, ask questions, join movements, get involved in your communities, speak to your neighbours and candidates, and ultimately show up at the ballot box. You won’t want to miss it!