Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 14, 2010
One brand of conservatism does not fit all
Bestseller maintains that alleged Christian cabal is taking over Ottawa
Journey to Justice
Marci McDonald's new book has not only reached the best-seller lists - it's creating controversy and conversation.
A Calgary Herald headline called the book "shrill nonsense" and others have accused the author of dredging up "hysteria" about the role of some Christians in politics.
The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada argues that the religious right is growing in influence in Ottawa, especially under the successive minority governments lead by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. McDonald first broached the topic in a 2006 magazine article entitled, Stephen Harper and the TheoCons.
Her book goes further to document the positions of influence in Ottawa now held by conservative evangelical Christian MPs, in Parliamentary staffs, well-financed evangelical lobby groups, media messaging through television and the Internet. McDonald also posits that the successful strategy for such growing influence has been imported, and in some cases financed, by the larger, better known and stunningly successful religious right in the United States.
McDonald links the influence of the religious right to federal Conservative policies such as the exclusion of abortion in overseas maternal health programs, the defunding of women's groups, the withdrawal of subsidies to gay pride events, unwavering support of Israel, the funding cuts to KAIROS, as well as unprecedented financial grants to Bible schools.
McDonald is particularly interested in one strain of "Christian nationalists" (sometimes variously referred to as "dispensationalists," "Christian Zionists," or "Christian Reconstructionists") who believe the end times are soon coming and that Canada must become a "truly Christian nation" in order to fulfill its biblical prophecy.
Many feel Canada is suffering from "gross moral decay, family breakdown, immorality and perversion." Some evangelicals, who are often biblical literalists, believe in the battle of Armageddon and The Rapture as features of the end times, even though there is no mention of this in either the Old or New Testaments.
Several of my evangelical friends complain that the book has lumped all evangelicals together.
There are almost four million Canadian evangelicals, and they come from a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds. It can be perilous to focus on a particular persuasion while drawing conclusions for all.
For example, the executive director of one evangelical foundation which formerly funded Faytene Kryskow of TheCRY, (a group that receives ample attention from McDonald) now regrets that decision, defining this group as a "vocal and ultra charismatic fringe."
A vice-president of ministry services at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada bristles at McDonald's claim that "theirs is a dark and dangerous vision, one that brooks no dissent and requires the dismantling of key democratic institutions."
On the other hand, other Canadians wonder if McDonald is indeed on to something. In 2006, according to pollster Ipsos Reid, 64 per cent of weekly Protestant churchgoers - most of them evangelicals - opted for the Conservatives, a 24 per cent jump from the previous election. The Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism acknowledges a "disproportionate preference" for conservative parties among their members, yet they attribute this trend more to Liberal alienation of evangelical voters than the power of the religious right.
Whatever your read on these issues, Catholics might see another volume waiting to be written: illuminating the links as well as the differences between Catholics and evangelicals.
McDonald's book tries to have it both ways: she argues that the religious right in Canada is less influential than in the U.S. because Canada has a larger Catholic population.
Yet she also mentions the growing and intentional links that are building between conservative Catholics and evangelicals on "family values issues" such as same sex marriage, euthanasia and abortion.
Voting patterns do not seem too dissimilar. The 2006 federal election also marked a milestone in Catholic voting: for the first time since polling was done, a majority of the most devout Catholics shifted their allegiance from the Liberals to the Conservatives.
Religious belief and values cannot be shoved off to the margins of public life. Citizens for Public Justice believes that "if religion is understood to be one's ultimate commitment or life orientation, then it cannot be confined to private life, particular rituals or institutions."
But an archbishop once reminded me how priests in Quebec would preach from the pulpit on the Sunday before an election. "Le ciel est bleu, l'enfer est rouge." If heaven was blue and hell was red, a good Catholic could never vote for the red party. Just look at the fallout from that practice in Quebec today!
The real issue is how people of faith can and should positively contribute to "a hopeful citizenship." And a particular political party, even a conservative one, cannot be the only home for Christians.
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, http://www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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