On the day after the country was galvanized by changes in the leadership of the Labour Party, at St Matthew-in-the-City we hosted a pre-election conversation.
It wasn’t a conversation with the politicians. Political parties were not mentioned. It was a conversation amongst people of faith about what questions to ask, what issues to reflect on as we come to vote.
We had three speakers, each from a different faith group: Jewish, Muslim and Christian.
We had asked each speaker to tell us from their faith perspective about how to prepare to vote and what would be their top three election issues.
Each speaker spoke about the importance of voting and participating in our democracy; that it was both a privilege and an obligation.
Deb Levy spoke about her Jewish faith focusing on the importance of people, the book (the Torah) and the land. And so her issues of focus were the security of people, being protected from hate based crimes; education as the way to improve lives; and the land of Israel and its importance for the Jewish people.
Mohamud Mohamed reminded us that the first Muslims who came to Aotearoa arrived from China in the gold rush of 1874. They and all Muslims in NZ since follow the faith of a compassionate God who calls on us to care for others. And so for him housing, unemployment and mental health social services were his top three issues. He spoke about how the Muslim community is trying to mentor and assist their young people as they face unemployment.
Bishop Richard Randerson spoke about the creation story from Genesis being a story of mutuality and interdependence. We are called to exercise stewardship and care of the earth and so climate change was the top of his list. Then closely followed by the high rates of incarceration in NZ (especially for Maori) and rising inequality which brings with it punishing poverty.
In the conversation that followed the audience made up of people from these three and other faiths asked questions and raised other issues. We discussed welcoming the stranger (immigration); thought more about poverty and homelessness, and conscience issues. In our small population we were urged that it was not difficult to be proactive in approaching our MPs. They need to hear the varied views on such issues together with the concerns we share as people of faith.
Nobody raised what might be in the election platforms for “me”; everyone was interested in the welfare of the other; and especially those suffering in our land.
There was much energy and excitement at having these conversations together across our faith groups and that we might be able to continue these conversations. Over coffee the consensus seemed to be that we report back on these issues to our own communities and then after the election we reconvene with those elected locally to take up the conversation and work together for change.
Politics and faith – a potent mix. People of faith willing and wanting to engage in the issues of our secular nation, seeking to make a difference.