Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 30, 2006
Author deems Harper's faith to be 'cerebral'
Lloyd Mackey says the prime-minister-elect customizes his beliefs
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Now that Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper is going to be prime minister of Canada, interest is growing in his religious beliefs, especially after his party was painted by the Liberals as having a scary, hidden religious agenda.
In his acceptance speech in Jan. 23, Harper thanked supporters for their donations and their prayers and closed the speech, as he often does, with the words "God bless Canada."
Some might wonder what he means.
According to Lloyd Mackey, author of The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper, Harper is a Protestant who "customizes" his faith, as do Canada's other political leaders.
In other words, Harper is a critical thinker, who "does not necessary take the word" of his pastor or religious leader as the ultimate authority, Mackey says.
In his political biography, Mackey reports that Harper attends Ottawa's Eastgate Alliance, a working class, immigrant Church with four or five different congregations affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.
Mackey recounts seeing Harper with his children on one "shoe box Sunday" when they delivered gift-filled boxes for Franklin Graham's Operation Christmas Child.
"Harper looked on with some satisfaction," Mackey writes. "Conservative economist that he is, he welcomes the opportunity for international aid most when the nongovernmental sector is involved."
Many evangelical churches in Canada take part in the shoebox program.
"His faith, grounded as it is in a thoughtful, reflective, and respectful approach to the Christian Gospel, enhances his ability and that of his party to approach issues in both a moral and an ethical framework," Mackey writes.
During the recent election campaign Harper described his personal views on abortion as "complicated," refusing to discuss them, but he promised not to reopen the abortion debate in the House of Commons.
According to Mackey, Harper prefers the more cerebral Christianity of C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge.
While Reform Party founder Preston Manning, an evangelical Christian, played a role as a spiritual mentor, Mackey reports that Harper's spiritual metamorphosis from a nominal Christian to a more serious believer began when he started working for Deborah Grey, the first Reform MP elected in 1988.
In an interview with CCN last summer, Mackey said Harper applied the same approach to studying the Christian faith as he had to the study of economics. He started reading classical texts, just as he had read classical economics texts.
Mackey never had the opportunity to sit down and discuss religion at length with Harper or his wife Laureen Teskey, who attends church with him. But through brief conversations and interviews with family friends, he was able to garner some interesting tidbits.
A moderating force
"Laureen provides a different kind of spiritual support for her husband than do many wives of political leaders who happen to be evangelical Christians," Mackey writes. "Experiences in her family background have caused her to be cautious about becoming too involved in church activity. Some of her relatives became so immersed in a high-demand Christian group that everything else - family, work and recreation - was left subservient."
"Laureen's vow, apparently, was to provide some guard against whatever temptations Stephen might have to become more caught up in Church life than his time or energy would permit," he writes.
Mackey writes that the Harpers' strong marriage reinforces Harper's belief in the traditional definition of marriage.
When the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) asked Canada's political leaders to describe the role faith played in their politics, Harper's essay was among the most specific.
Harper wrote about the vital role religious institutions play in Canada, as well as that of faith-based charities in "feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming strangers and visiting prisoners."
"Church and faith-based schools educate hundreds of thousands of Canadian children. And charities like World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, or the Mennonite Central Committee help Canadians share with the developing world," he wrote.
"A Conservative government would recognize the vital work done by religious institutions and ensure that religious charities are eligible to participate in government programs on the same basis as other charities and non-governmental organizations."
"But churches and faith-based organizations are more than charities. They are animated by deep convictions about the nature of God and our moral obligations towards God and each other.
"Government must respect these convictions and not attempt to interfere in the free public expression of religious belief. Sadly, freedom of religion has come under attack in recent years in cases ranging from religious organizations being expected to rent facilities for same-sex marriages to pastors being threatened with human rights charges for expressing their religious beliefs."
"A Conservative government will be vigilant to ensure that freedom of religion is protected in Canada."