TORONTO – The separation of Church and state is engrained in the identity and culture of Western democracy in order to protect religion, not eliminate it, says the Very Rev. Lois Wilson.
But that definition has become less and less believable, Wilson told young adults gathered at a Theology on Tap event.
"Faith is a perspective on what public policy should be about," said Wilson, a former Canadian senator and the first female moderator of the United Church of Canada. "When you become a politician, you carry your faith into the new area if your faith means anything," said the 84-year-old Wilson. "You don't just shed it, but you have to figure out what you're going to do with it.
"It's a good thing that, in Canada, no religious group can form a political party, but it's also a good thing that faith informs political decisions and economic decisions. Otherwise, what's it for?"
While Wilson described her own accounts of using her faith to guide her political decisions, she recognized the classic problem of being a Christian – or any faith for that matter – in office.
"What do you do if you are a member of Parliament and something comes up that your conscience disallows, or your Church was against the party policy?"
Wilson was quick to point out some obvious examples – abortion and gay marriage – adding that "the sexual areas seem to be the main areas of disagreement."
In a "pluralistic society" where the fastest growing belief is unbelief, the role of a Catholic or Christian MP is a difficult one, she acknowledged.