preserving and maintaining the
system of civil, political and social
freedoms in our society. Our society, although influenced by a
Christian culture, was explicitly
established on secular political,
social and civil principles and values. Those are good things.
When Christians think about
influencing society, they need to
think about preserving democracy
as a fundamental concern. West-ern-style democracy is not perfect.
But would we want to change it for
any other system we see in the
As Christians, we want to see
society reflect Christian values [so
it is] more likely to nurture human
beings and to manifest the divine
image. But that doesn’t mean we
should advocate a theocracy.
Take public education. In
21st-century society, it’s essential
for people to have the opportunity
to thrive, to embody the divine
image. As Christians, we ought to
be concerned about the livelihood
of people, and therefore also about
the public education system, which
needs to produce people who can
be productive members of society.
We can’t claim to love our neighbours as ourselves if we are unconcerned with the plight of people
who are created in the divine image.
If you could offer one single guiding
principle for Christian political
engagement, what would it be?
Politics is essential for the Christian life. It’s not extraneous. That
doesn’t mean we all need to become
political activists and 24-hour news
junkies. But we do need to be
people who are concerned about
homelessness, about the ability of
others to thrive, about the environment, about a lot of things to make
ours a better world.
We should see politics as one of
the dimensions of the life for which
God created us.
In A Public Faith, you observe that
members of all religious groups
want their convictions and practices
to shape public life. Is this an
appropriate desire for Christians?
It’s more than just appropriate, it’s
our responsibility, with the moral
vision we have, to shape the culture
and the larger social world in which
we find ourselves. The critical
question is how that shaping should
For instance, what is the role of
coercion in that shaping? To what
extent ought one to advocate for
supporting a particular vision in
the broader legal provisions in society? Those would be central kinds
of issues. The best way to proceed
is to transform sensibilities. But
sometimes the law is our master.
You believe that coercive faith is
malfunctioning faith. How can we
safeguard against coercive faith in
our private and public lives?
We need to emphasize freedom of
religion, freedom of conscience,
the separation of church and state,
and to not make the state an instru-
ment of the realization of Christian
vision. When that happens, coer-
cion is often the result.
Christian faith was born as a
marginal community and it functions best in the position of mar-ginality, which defines itself by
absence of power to impose its vision. It’s much more significant to
appeal to the heart … than to impose certain moral convictions
upon the unwilling.
What should be the boundaries for a
Christian’s political activism?
There are situations in which it’s
futile to be active, situations in
which it involves too great a compromise. I advocate an ad hoc position. In some areas, we can be fully
involved; in others, partially. The
judgments as to when and how we
get involved cannot be made in
advance of a situation. They’re informed by the entirety of the moral
sensibilities that the Christian faith
Final thoughts for Canadian
Christians on how theology ought to
inform our political engagement?
I would say to be courageous and not
think that Christ is irrelevant to
politics. Expressing and giving voice
to the radical character of Christ’s
vision is what we’re called to do.
Act in hope, and hold before
others our own better selves, so that
somehow we can come together to
create and to enjoy a world that is
worthy to be called our home. /FT
Moral Man, Immoral
Society: A Study in
Ethics and Politics
by Reinhold Niebuhr
Knox Press, 2013 ).
The Mighty and the
Almighty: An Essay in
Political Theology by
The Spiritual City:
and the Urban by
Philip Sheldrake (Wiley
To Change the World:
The Irony, Tragedy,
and Possibility of
Christianity in the
Late Modern World by
James Davison Hunter
Patricia Paddey of Mississauga, Ont., is a
senior writer at Faith Today.
IT’S MUCH MORE
SIGNIFICANT TO APPEAL
TO THE HEART … THAN TO
IMPOSE CERTAIN MORAL
CONVICTIONS UPON THE
PROFESSOR OF SYSTEMATIC
THEOLOGY AND FOUNDING
DIRECTOR AT THE YALE CEN TER
FOR FAITH & CULTURE
Author of A Public Faith: How
Followers of Christ Should Serve
the Common Good (Baker, 2013) and
co-author of Public Faith in Action:
How to Think Carefully, Engage
Wisely and Vote With Integrity