The Christian faced by the elections

This article was written for the Sunday Times (pub. Feb 11, 2013) by Alfred J. Micallef, SJ

Fr. Alfred Micallef SJ was a lecturer at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta.  He is now retired although he continues as a visiting lecturer.  He studied Philosphy at Heythrop College, UK and Theology at the Gregorian University, Rome from where he also obtained his doctorate. He did a post-master's degree in Pastoral Psychology at Fordham University, New York.  At present he lives at Manresa House, Victoria, Gozo.

The Christian faced by the elections

In one of the riddles of the gospel, our Lord says that his disciples are not of this world and yet he sends them to the world and insists he is not asking the Father to remove them from the world. The solution of the riddle: for the evangelist, the word ‘cosmos’, the Greek for ‘world’, has two meanings: sin and the created world.

The Christian should never be uninterested in the affairs of the world; on the contrary, the Christian should feel very immersed in the world and committed to its well-being because Christ, through the Incarnation, became fully inserted in and committed to the world to make it more liveable by all, especially the weak and the vulnerable.

This assumes great importance for Christians, especially at election time. All, in their own way, can strive to make the world a better place, but those who govern are in a position to do much more good and, alas, a lot of harm.

Making the right choices at election time is a Christian duty. Let’s clarify a few ideas. After every election there will be winners and losers. But would there be, really?

A political party wins the right to govern but it does not follow that those who would have voted it in would have won. After the choice of a government it is the whole population that would be either a winner or a loser.

Bernard Shaw rightly says that the democratic system assures us that we won’t have a better government than we deserve.

This raises a few pertinent reflections. Supporting a political party is not like supporting a soccer team. We support a soccer team blindly, simply because we like it, probably sticking to a choice made when we were kids. When it comes to soccer it is alright if we wish our team to win even though it may not be as strong as its opponent.

Unfortunately, quite a few support a political party much in the same way, independently of what that party can bring to government. Maybe exaggerating a little, I believe that a Christian should not belong to a political party unless they have some possibility of influencing the party agenda, making it more Christian.

When it comes to voting in an election the Christian is duty bound to vote for the party which gives the greatest reassurance that the country will be a better place under its governance. Granted, this is not easy with so many variables in play.

Parties emphasise some values and marginalise others. Take the US, for instance. The Democrats care more for the poor but believe that freedom should allow individuals to choose abortion; the Republicans say they are against abortion but do not care very much about the poor and the weak of society.

Furthermore, when we say the country will be a better place what do we mean exactly? Some may take it to mean that we will be richer; others that we will have a better environment; still others that we will have greater peace. Add to this the ability, trustworthiness and reliability of those who will run the show.

The Christian should focus on the truly Christian values which are human values and not necessarily strictly religious values. One way of choosing in a Christian mature way is to draw two lists for each party, one with the good and the other with the less good that one reckons each party would bring with it to government. This helps one weigh the odds more objectively.

However, this exercise needs some preparation. First we need to be informed, and we are informed by listening critically and objectively to what everybody is saying.

Secondly, we need to be emotionally detached from any of the parties. The more detached we are the more likely it will be that we choose well and contribute towards making all the people a winner.

A moment of prayer for illumination won’t do any harm at all.

Alfred J. Micallef SJ 

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