Elections. They are the strongest symbol of democracy. Although they galvanise opposing understandings of how best a nation, a state, a town should be run, they are, at the moment, the best opportunity we have of ensuring a degree of fair go for all in our society. We listen to the opposing arguments and then decide how to vote and in the case of the federal election, we also get to decide how our vote is distributed according to our preferences for the groups or individuals offering themselves for election.
I sometimes wonder what value I’m attaching to my vote. Is it a commitment to willingly involve myself in the various structures that are available to ordinary citizens to ensure that our democracy really works as it should? Do I cast my vote and then follow it through with community service? Or is casting my vote a way of exonerating myself from further action? After all, I voted and maybe my vote helped elect the representative of my choice, so he or she can get to work and repay me for my support. Or, my vote was deemed useless for the ‘other side’ won, so, I can claim that what the elected representative does is no business of mine because I didn’t vote for them!
Voting is meant to elect the type of representative that can be counted on to oversee the various laws needed to run our society as it should, for the benefit of all, for a fair go for all. The only problem here is that too few of us are really committed to a process which would ensure that justice is reflected in the laws passed. What we end up getting for our vote is a legislature dominated by groupings with their own agendas – albeit generally fair and benevolent, but still lacking an essential commitment to principles of justice which bring integrity to both laws and the people who live by them.
In the generations one has to observe this process, it does seem that, in the matter of hope for progress for the human family it is ‘two steps forward and one back.’ Maybe that’s why our election processes are essentially becoming more and more ‘presidential’ in nature, us hoping for one strong character to be able to unite all the disparate souls and take us forward to a better existence.
As I was thinking about the forthcoming election and the promises from the major parties to pass the necessary laws our nation will need to conduct its affairs for another three years, I got to wondering about the state of the Church, especially about the rural scene of Church in Australia. The National Church Life Survey of 2006 provides a good picture of the health of congregations until next year’s survey. Its research reveals some of the pressures facing the Church in rural areas of our nation. Ageing and dwindling congregations and the challenges of keeping hope alive, the hope of faith itself and then the hope that remaining committed is making a kingdom difference for the local area; difficulties in meeting the recurrent costs of maintaining local clergy; the issues surrounding finances for maintenance of buildings and then the ‘what to do’ issues of just what ministries will effectively answer Christ’s command to proclaim the Good News; are issues worthy of any election campaign. The mind is stretched with the thought of what laws would be implemented if the Church held a general election on such issues.
Would those seeking election seek a mandate for justice, or, sadly, like our civic elections, only a mandate for laws of expediency, to see them through one term to success in the next election? Like rural Australia, the rural Church is at the mercy of those who live in urban areas. The mercy decided upon needs to be framed in principles of justice, not in laws of expediency.
Father Mick MacAndrew is parish priest of Bombala-Delegate in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
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