Render unto Caesar, and don’t dismiss the theocons

Social conservatives are a “spent political force.” So declared Queen’s University professor James Farney. The National Post’s religion reporter Charles Lewis observed that with same-sex marriage and abortion off the table, socons would be watching the 2011 election from the sidelines – issueless and toothless. (Yes, 2011.)

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After the October 19, 2015 federal election comments from several media personalities ardently submit that the time of social conservatives has passed fully and completely from Canada’s political scene and public square.

However, as I noted five years ago, you can’t dismiss the socons so easily. The word “conservative” in social conservative is not spelled with an upper case “C” but a lower case “c”. Socons have been described as “politically Conservative promoters of traditional values”; but, it is wrong to assume the media can properly assign a narrowness to traditional values or that the proponents of those values are politically constricted in scope or expression.

To further taper the socon label, the term “theocons” – theological conservatives – was applied by some to describe what they resolved was a more eccentric group of socon activists and voters. Alleged by the media to be a voting block, in similar fashion to U.S. media political commentators’ references to candidates pursuing the non-existent “evangelical vote,” theocons in fact align behind neither a single issue, party nor political leader.

Theocons are not defined by political alignment, something Rick Hiemstra and I wrote about in 2009. Theocons are defined by shared values – the principles for living in community with others – which are founded in commonalities of our worldviews because of religious beliefs. These principles inform our quest for good public policy as a pursuit of human flourishing, the common good. They also provide sufficient space for that pursuit through a variety of interests, with self-definition of issue priorities for policy engagement.

Yes, those labouring for legal protection of the child in the womb have been predominantly, but not near exclusively, theocons. We advocate because we acknowledge the inherent dignity of all human life, before and after birth. But not all theocons so advocate.

Yes, those who engaged in the national political conversation to retain the definition of marriage in its historical context, one recognized by almost all religious and non-religious communities, as between one woman and one man were in majority theocons, from a variety of religious traditions. But not all theocons so engaged. Most who did have accepted that the civil definition of marriage has changed, and appreciate the constitutional and legal recognition that religious beliefs and traditions are not to be infringed by the Canadian parliament’s redefinition of marriage in 2005.

But have you considered that theocons have also been in the forefront of both street level action and the political push for a national strategy to address homelessness and poverty? Many are engaged in leadership of the movement for creation care – a vital part of action to protect the environment – and have informed political action on that front. Whether pursuing resolution to historic and festering aboriginal pain in Canada or coordinating refugee settlement, you are likely to find yourself aligned with theocons. And in times of international disaster, theocons are often first on the scene because they were already there finding safe drinking water for villages, educating children, microfinancing local business opportunities and building libraries, hospitals, schools and, yes, churches.

I have theocon friends who supported the Liberal Party in the last election, some now sitting as MPs. And friends who supported the Conservative Party, the NDP, the Green Party or a selection of others.

What those of us who are “Christian” theocons have in common is a sacred text which proffers the call to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” in relationship with rendering unto God the things that are God’s. I plan to write more in the coming weeks about the two sides of the rendering relationship, but for now just one thought.

One of the principal things our sacred text, the Bible, tells us is that we are to pray. We are to pray for all people, whether friends or enemies, and particularly those in authority, our governments (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

Praying for our mayors and councillors, premiers and legislators, and our Prime Minister and parliamentarians is not optional. In the context of a political democracy, praying for our elected political leaders is expected of us whether we voted for them or not. It’s both something we render unto Caesar and something we render unto God.

No, don’t dismiss the theocons. We’re praying.

We’re also pragmatically practicing what we preach. And, we’re participating politically.