(In case you don’t know, WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?) How does one discuss an important topic like voting, but maybe also a sensitive one, in families? For many families, it might not even have been discussed over the years, with us just continuing in the same way as we had done before. 1994 did of course bring changes. But these days families are growing more diverse in our backgrounds, life experience, attitudes and values. Just as the Church and society are changing. For example who was aware of the consequence of climate change?
I was recently asked to give a talk to an ecumenical church group on OUR DIVERSE FAMILIES AT A GLANCE. I like the topic, and in the course of promoting and developing family ministry at parish level I have done quite a lot of work around it. An early introduction more than 25 years ago was to the US Conference of Catholic bishops’ document A FAMILY PERSPECTIVE IN CHURCH AND SOCIETY. The approach of its four elements; a Christian perspective, the family as a changing and developing system, family diversity and the partnership between families and social institutions is still a helpful overall vision. The definition of a family as “an intimate community of life and love, bonded together for life by blood, marriage or adoption” was taken from Pope St John Paul II. The 1994 African Synod with its model of “Church as Family” based on ideal family qualities invited the whole Church to use the ideal family as a model, but also has to challenge families to live up to this. I kept this in mind in interacting with the SA Social Development Department, Family Directorate, in working groups developing the national family policy, which is now in the form of a Revised White Paper on Families (2021). Family life has and is changing, and there are different forms, whether we like it or not, but effective functioning and strong relationships remain essential for well-being in society. Have the changes been beneficial, to families as units – the core of society – to women, men and especially to the children of our country, more then half of whom today are not living with both their parents in well-functioning families? Much more has to be said on this but it is an important aspect to be taken into consideration too as we go into the local elections which should be for creating and sustaining the best quality of life for us in our streets, neighbourhoods and houses. Building a Better World!
Which brings me to the environmental focus which concerns needs such as water, electricity, clean air, clean and healthy environments. Climate change and its multiple effects is an overarching factor behind the immediate issues. Even the coronavirus which has so profoundly broken down so much in the world around us, is a consequence of environmental deterioration.
Returning briefly to the four elements of the family focus, where does God feature in our deliberations? Do we care for our neighbour or only for ourselves? Are we partners in building up society or expect our needs to be met by government or other institutions?
With the local elections looming on the horizon, I have not found much of a focus on families and their needs in party statements and general reporting and also not much on environmental matters. The SACBC Pastoral statement begins with “Let us not go back to normality, sick with injustice, inequality and environmental degradation. The normality to which we are called is that of the Kingdom of God, where there is bread for all and the social organisation is based on contributing, sharing and distributing.” (Pope Francis, 30 September2020).
Bishop Sipuka’s statement calls for an ethical approach to politics, making a moral choice from an informed conscience, not out of self-interest or party loyalty, but for the common good, equality and concern for the poor Accountability for failures, clean governance and effective service delivery should be values kept in mind. There is concern that parties, government and the media should do their best to promote a fair and peaceful election and avoid violence that has already affected some communities.
As families, we come from many backgrounds with many experiences. Let us share with our youth, who are more easily influenced by political rhetoric, share our hopes and experiences, listen to their ideas too, but let us also do our best to promote moral values for the younger generation. Together let us pray,
Heavenly Father, we pray that the Holy Spirit may enable us to choose upright leaders committed to human dignity and the common good.
Give us the courage to work for your Kingdom through promoting justice and peace in our society. May your Holy Spirit continually transform us so that we become examples of your mercy and peace in our families and to others.
We pray for peaceful elections. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.