Dr Nishant A.Irudayadason
Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune
As I write this column, assembly elections in some states have begun and a few states will go for poll to choose their legislatures. Often times, Christians are confused with their involvement in politics – can we engage in politics, should we abstain from political discussions, etc. Let us remember that human beings by nature are political and it is impossible for us to be apolitical. But can the Church as institution involve in politics? What is the teaching of the Church in this matter? Keeping in mind the significance and relevance of these questions that preoccupy many Christians, in this column, I intend to summarize my article published recently titled “The Political Involvement of the Church”. Despite many contrary opinions to these questions throughout many centuries, the Church has all along been clear on one point: The Church as a visible sign of the Kingdom of God cannot and should not engage in party political. The Church leaders therefore should not instruct people to vote either for a particular party or against a particular party.
Does it mean that the Church should remain detached from the political life? No, on the contrary, the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of the Vatican Council II exhorts Christians “to vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labour, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all”, but at the same time cautions us not to not to confound one’s Christian duty with involvement in political affairs as there is a distinction between the affairs of the church and of politics. The Church needs to challenge the political structure which can cause peril to our freedom including religious freedom (LG 36) “Christians should show in practice how authority can be reconciled with freedom, personal initiative with solidarity and the needs of the social framework as a whole, and the advantages of unity with the benefits of diversity” (GS 75).
It is quite striking that the Church asserts that our political involvement should be meant for the sake of justice and not get one party elected to power to get personal or institutional favours. This idea gets echoed in the Vatican Council II: “Prudently and honourably let them [citizens] fight against injustice and oppression, the arbitrary rule of one person or one party, and lack of tolerance. Let them devote themselves to the welfare of all sincerely and fairly, indeed with charity and political courage” (GS 75). As Pope Benedict XVI succinctly puts it, “justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics” (Deus Caritas Est 28). Pope Francis continues the emphasis that the Church makes on the principle of justice when he reiterates that “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good” (Evangelii Gaudium 205). This common good, which is another name for justice is the reason for the political involvement of all citizens and this justice is not limited only to human persons but extended also to the whole of creation as is exemplified by Pope Francis: “Unless citizens control political power–national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment” (Laudato Si’ 179)
The ecclesial institution, therefore, must not give instructions to the people on the choice of the party for which they vote, but it can and must help their reflection. It does so by organizing debates in parishes, councils, synods, publishing documents that are informative, and studies that deepen the issues on the agenda. “Civic and political education is today supremely necessary for the people, especially young people. Such education should be painstakingly provided, so that all citizens can make their contribution to the political community” (GS 75) In doing so, the church does not leave her mission, rather she fulfils it. She contributes seriously to the commitment of the faithful. Often, the political debate is more emotive than thoughtful, more spectacular than profound. Instinctive impulses take precedence over lucid and in-depth analysis, which means that we quickly slip into fanaticism, extremism and fundamentalism on all sides. This applies to all areas including politics, and perhaps today especially for politics where it is important for the Church to introduce and develop thinking, rather than siding with any single party even under the pretext of safeguarding our institutions if we do not want politics to degenerate.