Saturday, 20 October 2018

Political engagement better than cynicism

A GENERAL election looms and our thoughts are turning to policies and who might get our

A GENERAL election looms and our thoughts are turning to policies and who might get our vote this time. Are you Left, Right, centre, Green or... (fill in the gap)?

Enjoying long–standing democracy, it’s easy for us to forget that in countries where dictatorships or apartheid of some nature have been the norm, governance by the people’s mandate is a precious thing.

Perhaps it is because we do take our freedoms for granted that apathy and cynicism are often more the order of the day than informed and enthusiastic engagement with the political process.

Recently a jaundiced journalist explained how the more negative side of media and public life, witnessing personal attacks and invasions of privacy, had affected how she wrote about public figures.

Having started out idealistically, she now was not above a nasty dig where it might bring someone down. That was life. It was a sad picture of where we find ourselves when cynicism sets in.

It has always puzzled me when people complain about church figures “getting political”. “Stick to religion”, they say. But spiritual and physical wellbeing are linked. Agreed, sometimes a closer look at all the facts might help but surely it’s better to care than be apathetic?

We all lead a common life together and church is also about ordinary people and their full flourishing. Adequate healthcare, a safe environment, enough school places, affordable housing and having hope for the future â?? the bread and butter of local politics â?? are the everyday topics of conversation among those I meet daily, church–goer or otherwise.

It’s important not to replace engagement with cynicism. When I went into the Church there was one thing that made me think more sympathetically about politicians. The word minister, widely used about anyone licensed to lead in the Church, is the same word for an elected politician, its etymology the Latin word for â??to serve’. So, in an important sense, both priest and politician are seeking to serve â?? and that can be a tough call.

So this general election, as a public representative of the Church, I find myself with some sympathy for those who seek public office, while also being aware that motivations can get clouded and the lives of public figures need to be squeaky clean. People have little time for scandal and are quick to judge. When a well–known figure does something reprehensible it’s a difficult one. Do we recognize that in an unguarded moment we may have reacted similarly and let them have a second chance or write them off?

Before I jump in, I might first recall something in the New Testament about looking at the plank in my own eye before trying to remove the speck in my fellow human beings. Happy voting.

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