Box 03-164 ADDRESS BY REV. CALVIN MCQUESTEN in Edmonton, Alberta
Jan 1 1911
THE CHRISTIAN'S PLACE IN POLITICS
(An address delivered by Rev. Calvin McQuesten under the auspices of the Edmonton branch of the Temperance and Moral Reform League in the Orpheum Theatre January 1, 1911.)
What part should the Christian play in politics?: this is the question which we are going to discuss for a few minutes this afternoon. Are we who attempt to follow Christ as our leader going to adopt the attitude that 'Heaven is our Home' and that we have no more to do with the administrating of mundane affairs than if we were transient strangers, in a foreign country. To these such a course as this would not be to follow the lead of the prophets of old who ever sought to find practical remedies for present conditions rather than to picture an imagination suspended in mid-air. The prophets of Israel did not hesitate to play a part in the politics in their day. Isaiah, Ezekial, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea and all the great preachers of righteousness dwelt on social and civic scenes. They dwelt on hardly anything else.
Jesus did not preach political reform because to do so would have been to precipit [sic] a revolution and to cut the proposal of great universal principles for the sake of what would have been at best not merely a premature but a partial application of them. The people of the country in which Jesus preached were not a free people governing themselves. They were the conquered subjects of the Roman Empire and they could not have had a voice without bloody and apparent hopeless revolution.
Yet it was quite clear that the object to which Jesus aimed was not simply the regeneration of individuals but the foundation of a kingdom, and that of a kingdom which should have its commencement in this age and on this earth. I cannot but believe that it is a function of Christians not merely to present pupils for Paradise but to permeate and purify every sphere of human activity. With this view I do not doubt that you all agree, the only point of difference will be in regard to the way in which it is to be brought about. Such organizations as this Temperance and Moral Reform League are doing a great work in making organized attacks on the more flagrant social vices in the hope of stamping out the brothel and the saloon. But it is not enough simply to remove these excrescences. Would not such an achievement be negative? Even if this were accomplished it would still remain to impregnate the old political organization with the positive principle of Christianity.
Now is this to be done? Is it enough for us to simply lead pure, clean wholesome lives ourselves? I think a man might keep every one of the ten commandments and yet be anything but a good citizen. In order to be a good citizen it is necessary for us not only to lead good lives ourselves but to realize our individual responsibility to Almighty God for the administration of our public affairs. According to the principle of righteousness it is necessary for everyone of us to realize the extent to which he is individually to blame for any corruption that exists.
It is not the superior numbers of the crooks and grafters in the country that enables them to dominate political life. It is simply the culpable indifference and abject cowardice of the so-called respectable proportion of the community. There are altogether too many of us who do nothing but wring our hands and make loud lamentation about the corruptness of the public life without doing one single thing to cleanse the corruption that we howl about. If we were taxed with this, we would make excuses that politics were too dirty for us, instead of getting into the game with the determination that we will do our part to make them cleaner. Too many of us are altogether too high and mighty. We think that only questions of imperial politics are of sufficient importance to deserve our exalted attention. Dominion and even provincial politics are not only too modern but too pretty for us and anything so trivial as municipal politics are quite beneath our notice.
Now, this is where we make our basal blunder. In that tendency to belittle the small local political spheres lies the crucial cause of most of the political corruption of the day. In the elections for the city and rural and municipal councils lies the key to political greatness. It is by this that most of the men who are a menace to the Dominion and her public life. Where is the place to get to know your men and to nip predatory career in the bud. They are dealing with transactions which come within the personal knowledge of most of the constituents, and it is possible to keep a check on their conduct and the motives behind it. (Illustrate by contract for side walk which is necessary).
In municipal politics it is there we can learn out first lesson sizing up public men. The doings of the council at each meeting, are published in the papers with a certain amount of the business that they transact we are personally familiar, and when a vote on any deal is taken in the council we want not a very large number of cases to be able to know which is the right side and which is the wrong and accordingly to know by the side they vote on which members of the council should be returned to council another year or elected to some still more important position, and which should be eliminated at the very outset of their career.
Now with a little pains the doing of this is not beyond the capacity of any of us, and if we would simply take the trouble to clip out of our daily paper the report of how the members voted on questionable issues which arrives from time to time and to keep those clippings, we would, when election day came, have the record of each man before us, and we would not be dependent upon the highly coloured expressions of opinion as they are presented to us in the party press at election time. Instead of having to be guided by the opinions of party editors and of still less capable party healers and private grafters, we would have our own knowledge of definite facts to go on. Of course, in voting their will be no clear-cut line between capacity and incapacity, between honesty and dishonesty, and every year, unless this city, in which I am as yet a stranger, is different from any other city I have ever lived in, certain votes will be taken from which will show the men on one side to be lacking whether in business capacity or in common honesty.
It is not necessary for us in these cases to decide which of these two things is responsible for the stand taken by each member either in capacity or dishonesty alone is sufficient reason for discouraging the further progress in public life of the man who possesses it. Of course even moderately good and capable men are occasionally making slips but if as you look over the reports of the voting in council meetings as you have them in your clippings at the end of the year, you will see clearly which men line up on the side of the questionable deals and which men oppose them.
To some of you this may seem like a trivial attention to detail and not worthy of such distinguished citizens as yourself, to ourselves to the community and to its representatives in the council to see that in casting our vote we are guided not by ignorant prejudice but by personal knowledge of the facts. Not only is it essential that we should do this because a larger proportion of public revenue is expended on municipal affairs than on anything else, but because this is the best training school we have in which to learn to penetrate into the true inwardness of provincial and national administration. When we complain that party men do not offer themselves as candidates for public office, we too often forget that there is little encouragement to a good man to sacrifice himself, and his business interests for the public welfare; when the great majority of people who blind themselves to the eminent respectability are both indifferent in regard to the conduct of public affairs. So much for municipal politics.
When we turn to provincial and national politics the further consideration of party lines has to be taken into account. There is a lot of ignorant nonsense talked by people who say they do not believe in party politics. So far the only practical system that has been contrived for administrating provincial and national affairs has been the party system and as yet I see no substitute in sight. It is true that the system has been much abused by blind and flagrant partisanship, and no man should consider it out of the question for him to vote against the party with which he generally allies himself, but until we get something better we are bound to stick to the party system which is the only system we know of that provides us with both a responsible government and an organized opposition to watch the government.
Because the existence of two parties is an essential feature of the only system of government that has so far proved practical, we must recognize the place of the party in our political system, if our part in political affairs is to be made at all effective. What I mean is this: it is useless to wait until election day and then complain that the best we can do is to make our choice of two evils, that is to say of two bad candidates. If we are to count at all in the public life of the country, we must not only cast our vote at the poles, but we must have a voice in the nomination of the candidate.
In order to do this, I believe that it is absolutely necessary that every citizen who realizes his responsibility as a citizen should ally himself with one or another of the local party associations. To some of you this may seem to be going altogether to far, but a man's vote is of little value on election day if grafters and the men with the axe to grind have contract of the caucuses at the party nominees were chosen. I do not mean that a man should not regard himself as perfectly free to vote against the candidate of his party if he thinks it right. But I do hold that the only effective way in which either you or I can contribute to the purification of politics is by first contributing our part to the purification of either one party or the other.
It is a shame to us that we find time to devote to all kinds of lodges and societies whose excuse for existing at all is very difficult for me to discover--And to leave the affairs of our country to be controlled by selfish grafters and corporation plunderers. I have very little use for the kind of patriotism that shows itself merely empty shouting when the nation is engaged in iniquitous war with some of her neighbours and looks on with indifferent glances while the other is being plundered by those from within. You ought to be her protectors and only whine when the shoe pinches their own toe. Let us stop this business of wailing like old women. The politics are so dreadfully rotten that we did not dream of touching them with dear delicate little hands. Let us stop running up and down the touch line wringing our hands because politics are such a dirty game, and let us get into the game ourselves and do our part to make the play clean.