Christian social action is a game played largely by coalitions. Christians involved in the public square—which includes much more than politics—come from a hodge-podge of various backgrounds, and approach the public square with a diverse set of agendas.
Now, I'm not holding my breath in expectation of a book from the venerable Marci McDonald called The Peace and Light Factor: Charting the Rise of the Religious Left, but I am struck by how much the existence of the NDP's Coalition shows the folly of her first book. As Walter Russel Mead suggests, Christians in the public square work in ways much more free flowing and much less rigid than one might expect.
Those of us concerned with recognizing the fundamental importance of having religion inform discussions within the public square should applaud the creation of such a group. The existence of the NDP Faith and Social Justice Coalition, alongside the Manning Centre's work on the Faith Political Interface, shows a growing appreciation (or at least acknowledgement) of the importance of religion in the public square on both the right and the left of the political spectrum in this country.
But, while this development is a good thing, it raises some serious questions and temptations for Christians (and members of other faith communities). Why are adherents to our common faith placed on opposite ends of the political spectrum? The temptation is to have one's political loyalties shape one's religious commitments, rather than vice versa.
This should not be misinterpreted as suggesting that there can be no difference of opinion in terms of policy. Politics is by definition contingent, and there is a host of appropriate responses to any policy question of the day.
That said, there is a significant danger of having legitimate political differences arise not from prudential considerations but from fundamental differences of faith. Division isn't always bad—particularly in politics—but, as Pope Benedict XVI says: "Every division among the baptized in Jesus Christ wounds that which the Church is and that for which the Church exists; in fact, 'such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching the Gospel to every creature.'"
Which is why at the same time I applaud the proliferation of groups examing the interface and effect of faith on political life in this country, I wonder if there should not be, at the same time, a renewed commitment to a bit of intramural baseball. Politics is one manifestation of our common life together, and it relates to our deepest commitments about what it means to be human. Surely it behooves Christians—of whatever partisan stripe—to speak to each other, argue hard with one another, outside of the political arena about what it means for us as followers of Christ to act in the public square.