Faith and Politicians

Deborah Gyapong, of Canadian Catholic News, has written an insightful and thought-provoking article about the spiritual side of Jack Layton. Though raised in the United Church, institutional religion did not play a major role in his life. He shared his desire to explore faith issues after experiencing “this incredible sense of joy” after his public disclosure of his battle with prostate cancer. The entire article can be found on The Catholic Register online,

Jack Laytons spiritual side revealed during battle with cancer – Canada – The Catholic Register.

Jack Layton and the NDP party presented the same conundrum to card carrying Catholics in Canada that Democrats do to our American sisters and brothers. On the one hand, they espouse and fight passionately for social justice issues. Their preferential option for the poor, environmental sensibilities, and desire for a more equitable and just economy are spot on with Catholic social justice teachings.  On the other hand, their pro-choice and gay marriage stance puts them squarely on the other side of our moral fence.

As the tributes, memories, and stories of Jack’s life keep pouring in, it’s hard to ignore that he was a man of moral conviction. A good man. This was acknowledged by Bishop Pierre Morissette, the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In an official statement of condolence, he described Jack Layton with the following words,

He was a dedicated politician who served his country with devotion and generosity, was concerned for the common good, and gave a wonderful example of courage and hope, especially during recent months when struggling against cancer.

It’s difficult not to make comparisons with right-wing, fundamentalist Christian politicians on both sides of our border. On the one hand, we have a man who firmly believed in respectful dialogue. After the past election Jack vowed that his party would no longer participate in the childish heckling that had become part and parcel of parliamentary debate. Instead, they would commit themselves to challenging the government to work, together, for the good of the country. For him, the good of the country did not mean allowing the rich to get richer on the backs of the poor.

On the other hand, we have conservative, Christian politicians who are vociferously pro-life. They are anti-abortion and anti-gay rights, but have no problem with capital punishment. (George W. Bush presided over 152 executions during his six years as Governor of Texas – the most of any Governor at the time.) These same pro-life politicians support tax breaks for the rich and cutting social programs for the poor. They believe that it is their God-given duty to dig their heels in and convert the rest of society to their way of thinking.  Dialogue is not in their vocabulary. Sometimes they don’t even get the concept of debate. Have you seen the media clips of Michele Bachmann robotically repeating her beliefs without answering the questions given to her?

Which politician is the better person? Which one has the potential to make the most effective change in the world? The one who wears their religion and their righteousness on their sleeve? Or the one who quietly goes about trying to live basic gospel values?