Faith is not just about beliefs it is about how we live. Faith changes the ways in which we make decisions and what actions we take. Faith is often associated with particular values, such as truth, or honesty or integrity and may lead to peace-making, non-violence, or disarmament. A simple life-style may also be a consequence of Faith. All of these result in Faith connecting to politics and economics, and often controversially.
One example of someone whose faith led them into political activity was Dom Hélder Câmara (7.2.1909 – 27.8.1999). He served as Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil from 1964 to 1985 during the military regime of the country. Câmara was an advocate of liberation theology. He is remembered for his social and political work for the poor and for Human Rights and democracy. He wanted a church closer to the marginalised people and practiced non-violence. He said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
Another example is the Extinction Rebellion movement today. Many of those involved in protests are moved by their faith. Their concern for the planet and its variety of life prompts them to urge Governments and all of us to change policies and practice, to move away from using fossil fuels and adopt renewable forms of energy.
Not everyone will agree with a particular political activity, even if they are from the same faith community. But recognising that a concern is genuinely held and respecting it should be part of our democratic society. Faith groups and charities have the right to engage in political activities if they further their charitable aims. This is different from supporting one political party or candidate.
We are going through a turbulent time both with regard to faith and politics. It is vital that we have conversations with each other about what we believe, what our values are and how we should live together. Listening to each other and sharing our own understanding of truth is the way to greater acceptance of each other and a deeper grasp of what can and should be done.
Many of the great religious leaders have played a significant part in the political movements of their times, for example, Martin Luther King Jnr., Mahatma Gandhi and Hilda of Whitby. Sister Gerard Fernandez (one of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2019) is a Roman Catholic nun in Singapore, who worked for three decades as a death row counsellor. Now 81, she has “walked with” 18 inmates before their deaths, describing her calling as helping “people who are broken”. “A female future, like any other, would be one filled with kindness, dignity and equality; a world without discrimination or hate, one that’s driven by compassion.”
It is not just those who lead but all of us who can make a difference by living out our faith, beyond the confines of our religious buildings, and into the arena of politics.