Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
Where's the Party?
A political home for Orthodox Christians in Canada?
"My Kingdom is not of this world," - John 18:36
Most Orthodox Christians across time and place would certainly agree that there cannot be an Orthodox political party. Even the Orthodox empires of Byzantium and Holy Russia were states made up of people of varied faithfulness; the two-headed eagle reflects the correction the Church and its saints often had to give to the state (interestingly, the United States has a one-headed eagle, like pagan Rome).
Canadian political parties all have shortcomings: some will compromise on the care of those who are in need, some will sacrifice critical moral issues like marriage and abortion, and all of them miss the fundamental orientation that this world is only a tip of the iceberg of the universal reality of human life.
All this being said, what would a Canadian political party look like, in terms of policies, for Orthodox Christians to be able to vote for it with a clear (or clearer) conscience? As we approach the next national election, we might consider the following factors, which should inform our conscience as Orthodox Christians as we approach the ballot box:
A multicultural outlook: Most traditional cultures take a similar approach on issues of basic moral issues, like family, support and role of the elderly, abortion, marriage, sexual issues; Christians, along with traditional Indian Hindus and Sikhs, most Buddhists, and to a certain extent Muslims have some common ground here, which does not find its way onto the stage of Canadian politics (most politicians from these backgrounds either hide or dispute the foundational beliefs of their own religion). Authentic, traditional cultures have a moral common ground with each other on many issues than they do with secular, western popular culture. These common issues are the ones usually in Canadian public life.
Solid Moral Tradition: Orthodox Christians would look for candidates and parties who would protect the traditional definition of marriage, and which would allow religious groups freedom from state control on questions such as to whom religious groups should be required to offer rites. Similarly, one would look for leadership that would protect employee freedom of conscience on medical issues (such as participation in organ donation or abortion), or the promotion of sexual immorality in printed or electronic forms.
A Charitable Outlook: Orthodox Christians might look for a government that would match dollar-for dollar the charitable efforts of churches, turning the institutional face of social services into a human face. As Saint John Chrysostom suggests, such initiatives could set up a house of charity in every city, or provide a full 50% tax rebate for all charitable gifts (i.e. one can either pay the government, or give it to support good works).
Free the Workforce: Work time is destroying families, who provide the essential character builder in any healthy society. Institutions can never fill this void, since institutions cannot ever provide love - only human beings can do that, and only voluntarily (e.g. one may pay a public employee more for various good reasons, but that pay does not determine the amount of love they can or will offer). To this end, Orthodox Christians might look for a government that would stop taxation on stay-at-home parents, and dramatically cut taxes for parents who work for limited hours or limited wages. One might strengthen poorer families by offering them more time together, without a tax on any benefits, or on minimal pay, or set a maximum number of hours for the work week, and stick with it (perhaps setting a huge double- or triple-time rate for those working over forty hours). Such leadership could make it easier for lowest paid jobs (the Walmart folks) to organize, while putting strict limitations on the greed that can drive larger unions to paralyze communities in order to obtain higher pay. One might also look for leadership that would make profit-sharing a benefit for private businesses, by offering meaningful tax incentives to companies who share their profits with their share-holding employees, building closer ties within each workplace.
All Politics is Local: It is very difficult to have faith meaningfully influence representatives who are few in number, and far from the people whom they represent. Since Canada covers the largest area of any democratic country in the world (one can argue about Russia), one might look for leadership that advocates more representatives who are paid less, and who make many more significant decisions at a local level. In the spirit of the village church of all times and places, one might seek a government that gave town halls back to local communities dealing with local transportation, safety, and other issues, purchasing services from a common central provider.
Clean up the Country: Sensibly, Orthodox Christians would look for the same standards on air and water pollution as laws for littering, phased in over a few years. Since automobiles are a major source of pollution, allocate most resources to clean-driving cars, and eliminate the tax on them.
As Orthodox Christians, the exercise of conscience at the ballot box is essential, not in terms of achieving an untenable pipe dream of a theocracy, but as an integral part of living an Orthodox Christian life in a country that tries to operate as a democracy. Just as we choose our activities, our friends, our spouse, and even our foods as Orthodox Christians, so too we must exercise our franchise with the same conscience.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.