Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Democracy—in the presence of God

What a gift it was to have 24 hours with other Canadian church leaders on retreat last week, thanks to The Canadian Council of Churches.

In the midst of soul and community practices of praying, eating, and pouring our hearts out together about our hopes for our churches, we naturally shared hopes for our society as well. Many of you know how indebted I feel to Quakers within my own journey of faith, and last week I received yet another Quaker gift from Anne Mitchell, clerk of the Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends—a gift of being introduced to the soulful communal Quaker practice of “scrupling.”

Quakers in Toronto are “scrupling” about the erosion of our democracy. A long-time member suggested they take this approach to address uneasy feelings arising from conscience about the apparent erosion of engaged citizenry, alongside of what appears to be decreasing response from elected officials and decreasing opportunity for democratic involvement. They scrupled about how greater involvement might be rekindled. As I understand it, about 50 of the community gathered last Sunday afternoon with two of the Members of Parliament they had invited to join them—not to debate or argue, but rather to listen to Spirit’s guiding in and between spoken words, to scruple together about how to become more fully engaged in governmental decision-making and how to see governments more fully engaged in democratic processes. When Anne told us about this, another church leader mused aloud about how she hears government leaders describe us more often as consumers than as citizens these days! (Anne and I are noodling the idea of an ecumenical scrupling session.)

This reminded me of my visit to our sister network of African Christian lay education centres in Ghana in 2000, where one of their major programming areas is training for citizenship in democracy. I was told that when democracy is as new and fledgling as it is in many African states, a call to Christian faith is also a call to nurture informed and engaged citizens. I returned home from that visit marvelling at how we as Canadians take our fragile democracy so for granted compared with Africans.

I like this notion of scrupling about matters weighing on our hearts and communities, including our concerns for creation. Praying with this week’s lectionary passages, I’m taken with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:1–2 in The Message:

Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

Sounds to me like the practice of scrupling—of putting the whole truth on display, to see and judge in the presence of God. I wonder what more we should be scrupling about?

And speaking of community, it was thrilling to hear about a great launch of Black History Month at my home congregation last Sunday. I’m wondering about what you all are doing to celebrate? There are fantastic resources on the United Church’s Black History Month page and a great video, “Black History Month 2010,” written and hosted by Adele Halliday on YouTube.