There is a troubling disconnect in Canadian politics between belief and practice. In recent years, the intersection of religion and politics has been dominated by conservative groups, often espousing policies that directly contradict the tenets of the faiths they represent. Any talk of faith and politics has become associated with rigid positions on a narrow set of issues.
It wasn't always this way. We don't have to look far back in history to find a very different picture. From global examples like Martin Luther King, Gandhi or Aung Sun San Kyi, to local leaders like Tommy Douglas, Lorne Calvert and Nettie Wiebe, we have a rich tradition of political action springing out of a vibrant spiritual life. Rather than ceding all political and social discussion of faith-related issues to parties that use them to silence critics and narrow the conversation, New Democrats can and should claim space in the political dialogue for the issues that are central to the work of many in our province: advocating for justice, providing food and shelter for those in need, ensuring access to quality health care, education, peace, and responsible care of the planet that sustains us.
Social justice work often has its roots in a deep faith – this can be a faith in God, a belief in the interconnectedness of all things, or a commitment to working towards a society where every person has what they need to grow and thrive. We all benefit from making space for a diverse dialogue – one that respects and explores a variety of views, that makes room for interfaith partnerships and advocacy, and that allows for spiritual grounding, reflection and renewal in the work of building a better future together.
Commitment to and acceptance of religious diversity – including the full range of theistic world religions as well as agnostic and non-theistic perspectives – is critical to a healthy society. To achieve this, we need respectful dialogue, not awkward silence, about the connections between people's deep beliefs and values, and their work for social and economic justice.
The search for deeper meaning is part of being human. By failing to engage with people on this level, we risk alienating groups that share our passions, our hopes, and our commitment to a vision of a healthy society. We allow the terms of the conversation to be set by groups that shift the focus away from what we share in common, from our core commitments to justice, generosity and peace. By marginalizing any discussion of issues related to belief, we don't create an environment of religious diversity and openness, we create one of religious invisibility, ignorance and intolerance. People should be able to talk openly about the intersection between their deepest values and how they live their lives.
We can do things differently. The conversation on how to build a truly healthy society encompasses people's sense of physical health, social and economic health, and spiritual health. As a party we can make space for all perspectives, reaching out and engaging diverse groups in an open, respectful and wide-ranging conversation about how we can take action based on common values. This involves connecting with a diversity of faiths and perspectives – including traditionally organized religious groups as well as less defined but equally vibrant spiritual communities.
We can and should:
- establish a Faith and Social Justice commission, modelled on that established by the Federal NDP, to open a space for dialogue within the party on the intersection of faith and politics;
- following the guidance of this commission, implement an intentional outreach strategy to proactively engage faith groups, listening deeply and seeking to find common ground between their motivations and the egalitarian values of the social movement at the heart of the CCF/NDP;
- use the connections forged and ideas developed through this dialogue to bring party policy back to communities of faith, acknowledging differences while celebrating common goals.
A proactive approach to the intersection of faith and social justice gives the Saskatchewan NDP a means to connect with people at the heart of what motivates them to work with others towards common goals. By engaging people in an open discussion about how their political lives intersect with their spiritual lives, we can engage the whole person in a more complete conversation about what we want for our future, and how we might work together to get there.
Please share your ideas for bridging faith and social justice below, or review and weigh in on other ideas that have been shared with us here.