Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
'Cast a vote,' bishop urges
She’s not saying which party to support, but a national church leader still has a strong recommendation for Canadians contemplating their options this federal election.
"We're called to be good citizens and to cast a vote," says National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
"I think everyone should be voting. How they vote is up to them."
After studying the election results from the last five federal elections, it is clear Christians make up their own mind on how they cast their ballots, says Don Hutchinson of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
"Evangelicals pretty much vote along the same lines as their neighbours, tending toward a little more fluidity, depending on the issues," he says in an interview from Ottawa.
Hutchinson says from 1996 to 2008, Evangelical Christian voters shifted from voting predominantly for the Liberals to supporting the Conservatives. But overall, Christians can't be slotted into any one political camp, he says.
"The evangelical community and the broader Christian community do not vote as a monolithic block of voters, says Hutchinson.
"I would not say there are two or three issues that would tip the balance."
Johnson says Lutherans are interested in a broad range of issues around compassion and justice including poverty, international development, human trafficking and aboriginal rights, which is why her denomination has prepared an online election package with questions and background information on those topics. She says Evangelical Lutherans have already taken action on some of these issues at their national conventions or through their programs, and the election material pulls it together in one package as a reminder.
"It's a lens (through) which they can read party or candidate material," Johnson says of the four-page document, available on their website. "If a candidate shows up at your doorstep, here are some specific questions you can ask instead of just listening."
The Canadian Council of Churches has developed a similar backgrounder, as well as posting responses from political parties to an April 1 letter to national party leaders outlining eight areas of concern. At press time, the Liberals, New Democrats and the Green Party had replied and their responses are available at http://councilofchurches.ca/.
"These are all the issues that the Canadian Council of Churches has solid work and policy on," says Rev. Karen Hamilton, CCC general secretary.
In addition to policy papers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's election kit also provides a general overview of the Canadian parliamentary system and guidelines on acceptable political activities of churches registered as charities with the Canadian Revenue Agency.
Hutchinson says congregations need to understand they need to be non-partisan during an election campaign. Churches can't invite candidates to speak at different times, promote or oppose any one candidate or party, or post campaign signs on church property, he says.
"We know that a number of Christians and congregations want to get engaged in the election process," he says. "We encourage people to work their way through the full guidelines put out by the Canadian Revenue Agency."
Johnson's main concern is that churchgoing voters be prepared and informed before they decide who will represent them in Ottawa.
"I'm not telling people what to do," says the Winnipeg-based bishop. "I'm telling them to reflect and make wise choices."
WITH advance polls set for the holiest weekend of the church calendar, voting early in the upcoming federal election may be a problem for Christians.
Advance polls for the May 2 election are set for noon to 8 p.m. on Good Friday, April 22, Easter Saturday, April 23, and Easter Monday, April 25.
"Elections Canada is well aware this has been noticed by the Christian community," says Rev. Karen Hamilton of the Canadian Council of Churches.
"What they have done is asked me to contact people to remind them of their options because Elections Canada is extremely aware that having advance polls on Easter weekend is problematic."
The Canada Elections Act stipulates that advance polls must be held on the tenth, ninth, and seventh days before an election.
Voters who want to cast a ballot before May 2 can also chose to vote by mail or vote in person at the local Elections Canada office.
The conflict with the Easter weekend could have easily been avoided by simply consulting a calendar, says a spokesman for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which represents a broad range of evangelical churches, schools and organizations.
-- Brenda Suderman
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2011 J13
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