On Kings and Kingdoms
It’s Election Day here in the province of Alberta, and for the first time in nearly half a century, it seems that the election will be more than a foregone conclusion. For the past forty-four years, the Progressive Conservative party has been in power in our province, often winning elections in laughably overwhelming numbers. Alberta simply is PC blue. At least that’s how it’s been until now. The political climate is changing, it seems. The PCs iron grip on the province seems to be weakening. There is even talk that they could be defeated. In other words, we have a meaningful election on our hands for the first time in my lifetime.
I won’t pretend to offer any political analysis here. I have my opinions, of course, and I did my duty and went out to vote this morning. But people say that you shouldn’t talk about religion or politics in polite company, and I already talk about religion for a living, so…
I simply offer a few rambling observations.
It’s been fascinating to watch how the campaign has unfolded in the only arena that seems to really matter these days. I’m speaking, of course, of social media. Like many people, my Facebook feed contains friends who are very conservative and those who are very liberal. So for the past few weeks, the articles and fear mongering have been flying back and forth through the ether. The liberals post articles about the corruption of the present government, about how they are in bed with big business, about how they waste money and neglect the poor, etc. The conservatives post content warning of the dangers of electing a “socialist” government, about how the NDPs will bleed the province dry with oppressive taxation, etc. On and on it goes. The passion with which political opinions are held is something to behold sometimes.
It’s particularly interesting when the above scenario takes place among my Christian friends. I’m not suggesting that Christians shouldn’t be politically engaged, but sometimes I find myself thinking something along these lines: “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if Christians were as keen to locate their identity, meaning, and purpose in Christ and his church as they are to do so with a political party/agenda?” Yes, Election Day is a bit of an artificial time to take the temperature of people’s political fervour. I know. But still, sometimes it seems that Christians are pinning more of their hopes on Jim Prentice or Rachel Notley or Brian Jean than they are in, well, Jesus.
Anabaptists have always had a bit of an interesting relationship to politics. At times throughout the history of our people, the main questions on our minds with respect to those in political office seemed to be, “Will they leave us alone and will they allow us to avoid military service.” I think it would be fair to say that the very founding of the Anabaptist movement was predicated on deep suspicions of political power and how it was exercised. The kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world were seen by early Anabaptists as utterly antithetical to one another, and one’s primary, if not exclusive allegiance, belonged with the former, not the latter. I’m not saying that I think this understanding was always right, or that it can/should be rigidly applied in any and all social contexts, but this has been at least part of our story as a people. And given that the above is in my DNA (biological and theological), it may not be surprising to hear me—a Mennonite—expressing some ambivalence toward the whole political process.
I came across an interesting quote in a podcast yesterday morning while walking the dog. The context was an interview with New York Times columnist David Brooks, who quotes Samuel Johnson thus:
Of all the things that human hearts endure, how few are those that kings can cause or cure.
This quote resonates with me. I realize that it has definite limits that must never be minimized (how might a North Korean respond to it? Or a Syrian?), but on some level, it rings as profoundly true. A change in government will not result in a change in the human condition, the human heart, the human predicament. Much as we are drawn toward narratives of darkness and light, all politicians are human beings (last I checked) and all human beings are prone to the abuses and temptations of power. We like to have heroes and we love to believe in the possibility of change. Oh, how we love it. And I’m not suggesting that change is impossible or that some governments might be (marginally) better than others. It’s just that, I don’t know, my hopes aren’t particularly high. These cycles of impossible hopes and predictable disappointments seems to play out with alarming regularity when it comes to politics. Maybe this will be the election that changes all that. But I’m not holding my breath.
Tomorrow morning, Alberta may have a new government in place. Or an old government. Or (quite likely) a minority government of some kind or another. And the world will keep turning, and people will keep getting sick and dying and starting wars and abusing one another and refusing the things that make for peace and shutting out the voice of love. There are things that no king, whatever their political platform, whatever the colour of their party, can cause or cure. There are things that require the hand of a different king and the spread of a different kingdom.