Peo­ple of faith can con­trib­ute to po­lit­i­cal sys­tem when not ex­cluded on prin­ci­ple

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - JOHN MILLOY

There were many ca­su­al­ties in our re­cent fed­eral elec­tion: truth, ci­vil­ity and rea­soned pub­lic de­bate — to name only three.

The great­est wounds, how­ever, ap­pear to have been in­flicted on the no­tion that peo­ple of faith can con­trib­ute — in a pos­i­tive way — to po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

In­stead, we wit­nessed re­li­gious faith car­i­ca­tured, ma­ligned and mis­rep­re­sented. We hit a new low re­cently when Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer, a prac­tis­ing Ro­man Catholic, was asked whether he be­lieved that be­ing gay was a sin.

For the record, the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that “be­ing gay” is a sin. Sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is part of an in­di­vid­ual’s iden­tity and the church teaches that every hu­man be­ing is cre­ated in the im­age of God.

“That’s just se­man­tics,” some will charge, point­ing to the Catholic pro­hi­bi­tion against same-sex sex­ual ex­pres­sion.

Hold that thought for a sec­ond. In­stead, take a step back and con­sider the broader is­sue.

Let’s start at the be­gin­ning. Mil­lions of Cana­di­ans be­lieve that there is a tran­scen­dent power greater than them­selves that gives their lives mean­ing and pur­pose. For many, this be­lief is ex­pressed through a par­tic­u­lar re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tion that has its own tra­di­tions, teach­ings and moral code.

Re­li­gious faith doesn’t end with your per­sonal life. Catholics, for ex­am­ple, are called to en­gage with the wider world and build God’s king­dom on Earth. Liv­ing out your faith means be­ing con­cerned about so­cial jus­tice is­sues as well as our re­spon­si­bil­ity as stew­ards of cre­ation.

This pub­lic ex­pres­sion of faith goes be­yond in­di­vid­ual ac­tion. It was Canada’s churches and other re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, for ex­am­ple, that fought against the Macken­zie Val­ley Pipe­line and helped de­velop Canada’s pri­vate refugee spon­sor­ship pro­gram.

I en­coun­tered many faith groups in the most re­cent fed­eral elec­tion. They were ac­tively work­ing for cli­mate jus­tice; bet­ter im­mi­gra­tion and refugee poli­cies; greater sup­port for the poor; and In­dige­nous rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Yes, peo­ple of faith some­times ad­vo­cate for laws to re­strict cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties. At least from a Catholic per­spec­tive, these calls al­ways need to be bal­anced against re­spect for per­sonal free­dom and the right of all in­di­vid­u­als to act ac­cord­ing to their own con­science — cor­ner­stones of Catholic teach­ing.

As a prac­tis­ing Catholic who spent many years in politics, I know first-hand about strad­dling this ten­sion be­tween per­sonal free­dom, con­science rights and the com­mon good. All Catholic politi­cians have to iden­tify when ac­tion is nec­es­sary, and when free­dom of choice needs to pre­vail.

Which brings us back to the church’s teach­ing that same-sex sex­ual acts are sin­ful. The church teaches that sex­ual re­la­tions should be re­stricted to mar­riage be­tween a man and a woman. In other words, sex­ual ac­tiv­ity be­tween any un­mar­ried in­di­vid­u­als, as well as adul­tery, is also seen as sin­ful. The church also rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of per­sonal con­science and free­dom in these matters, which is why you would be hard-pressed to find a church leader call­ing for the state to po­lice the bed­rooms of our na­tion.

In fact, when it comes to sex and politics these days, the only real ques­tion is whether our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers will pro­tect the rights of all Cana­di­ans, re­gard­less of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or ac­tiv­i­ties.

So, what if we dropped the asi­nine ques­tions about sex and sin­ful­ness and in­stead fo­cused on the pos­si­bil­ity that faith might bring some­thing pos­i­tive to the ta­ble?

What if we ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to con­sider the ideas of Canada’s re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties?

All our ma­jor party lead­ers are self-pro­claimed peo­ple of faith. What if we asked them how their faith contribute­d to their work? How does it guide their de­ci­sion­mak­ing? We des­per­ately need good peo­ple in politics these days and we en­ter dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory when we start dis­qual­i­fy­ing peo­ple of faith from their ranks.

If you are look­ing for a gotcha mo­ment, why not ask some of our Catholic politi­cians how their sup­port for pipe­lines aligns with the pope’s en­cycli­cal on cli­mate change.

John Milloy is a for­mer Lib­eral MPP and cab­i­net min­is­ter cur­rently serv­ing as the di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Pub­lic Ethics at Martin Luther Univer­sity Col­lege and Prac­ti­tioner-in-Res­i­dence in the Depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity. Email: jmil­[email protected] A ver­sion of this was orig­i­nally pub­lished at Na­tional/Newswatch.com

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