Important people, companies and governments love having missions. Sometimes they feel the need to write a ‘mission statement’ so that everyone else will know about their mission. Perhaps, like me, you feel that most mission statements are simply an attempt to appear relevant and useful; little more than a marketing tool.
Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, don’t usually write mission statements, or even think about them; we just try to get on with making a living, seeing to our families, and maybe finding the time and energy for some recreation and fulfilment in our lives.
But, without wanting to sound too pious about it, for those of us who try to be Christians, our mission statement was written for us a long time ago. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. You must love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22: 37–39).
The second part of this mission statement can be difficult to put into operation. All too often it is reduced to the most convenient and superficial kind of charity—putting a little money into the second collection, or dropping a few coins into a tin at the supermarket check-out. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but we need to do more if we want to take our mission seriously.
One option that is open to all of us is to take part in politics. Not the kind of politics that involves corruption, lust for power, self-advancement and a disregard for the truth, but rather a politics of caring, solidarity, service and integrity. Fifty years ago, in paragraph 75 of the document Gaudium et Spes, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council wrote:
“Let all Christians appreciate their special and personal vocation in the political community. Let those who are suited for it prepare themselves for the difficult, but most honourable art of politics.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that we all need to rush off and join a party, even less that we should all put ourselves forward for political office. Notice that the Bishops encourage “those who are suited” to prepare themselves for political service; certainly, we are not all suited for that kind of work. But notice, too, that “all Christians” have a “special and personal vocation in the political community.” It’s interesting, also, that the Bishops speak of politics as a “most honourable art”. That is surely not how most of us would characterise it. We have become so used to being lied to by politicians, to their cynical and self-serving behaviour, to the absence of honesty and sincerity in so much of the political world, that we may have forgotten that politics, at its heart, is about community—building community, making it work, making sure that it leaves no-one behind.
We are fortunate in South Africa that we have a political system which is open and transparent, and governed by a Constitution and the rule of law; and that we have regular elections which offer us a variety of options to choose from. In that respect, we are part of a privileged minority in world terms. And yet it seems that far too many of us do not appreciate our good fortune: only around 60% of registered voters went to the polls in the August election. And only about 75% of South Africans who are eligible to register have actually done so. Even allowing for those who cannot vote, or register, due to illness, distance, poverty or other factors, the fact is that less than half of our people take the trouble to vote.
Political involvement, at least to the point of exercising a vote, is not the only way of showing love of neighbour, and it is not the only way of living out a Christian vocation; but it is an important way of doing both these things, and an important aspect of our mission. It is one which, as a nation, we need to take far more seriously.