As protests continue in our nation’s capital, there are a many things I would like to see less (intimidation and hate symbols for instance), but there are also a few things I would like to see more. One thing I would like to see more is the use of that very Canadian phrase, “peace, order, and good government.” The phrase comes from the Constitution Act of 1867, and it’s long been held as one of the articulations of Canadian political values that distinguishes this country from others.
I do think there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the ongoing cost and value of various public health mandates. However, the way the current sloganeers are boiling everything down to ‘freedom’ is not helpful. We exist at all times and in all places in a network of relationships where our freedom and the freedom of others have relative limits. The freedom of one to go without a mask affects the freedom of another to remain healthy while participating in public.
Freedom is precious, but sometime a cry for ‘freedom’ is cover for one group wanting their interests to supersede those of another. Government’s role is to help us all negotiate the ways our interests align or intersect. That task is, in my opinion, captured nicely in the phrase “peace, order, and good government.”
Another thing I would like to see more, is the careful use of public theology. A debate about freedom or about the appropriateness of a government regulating what individuals do with their bodies is a debate about fundamental matters, matters that cannot be settled by observational science or the endless repetition of slogans. To be clear, governments are always and everywhere regulating what individuals do with their bodies, that is not new, and it is because what one does with his or her body affects others. There must be limits to this regulation, but where those limits lie is a philosophical (or theological) question that requires reasoned discourse and judicious appeals to beliefs and convictions.
Careful use of public theology means that God is never simply assumed to be on our side. It means that God’s will is not something we can slap onto our politics to relieve us of lurking doubts. People of genuine faith, who genuinely seek God’s vision for the world, will disagree, but they will also regularly be disturbed and reoriented. In a Christian context this is because we believe God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, is alive and active, disturbing as well as comforting.
Christian political convictions are not derived once and for all but are constantly given new life as we encounter new situations. Some convictions, like the basic posture of service taken by the church to the wider world, do not change. However, what it means to enact such a conviction does look different in different circumstances. What this means, at least in part, is that a Christian commitment to any political party or agenda is always provisional. When we cease to consider other possibilities, and especially when we cease to be able to see others as beloved of God, then we know it is time for a change in course. This is what we have long called repentance. It is an essential part of the Christian way of life. It is how we find freedom from assumptions and habits that would otherwise march us steadily on toward death and division.