Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Pulpit and Politics, by Dennis Gruending


Published on

Dennis Gruending, an Ottawa-based author, blogger and former Member or Parliament, has written a provocative new book called Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public Life. Kingsley Publishers of Calgary will release it in October 2011.

Published in: News & Politics, Spiritual
  • Be the first to comment

Pulpit and Politics, by Dennis Gruending

  2. 2. PulpitandPolitics
  3. 3. “Dennis Gruending brings both insight and hands-on experience to that fraught crossroads where faith and politics intersect, helping to trace not only the rise of a Canadian religious right but also the first stirrings of a reawakened religious left. His collected contemplations in Pulpit and Politics are a must-read for anyone who wishes to grasp the spiritual tensions at play behind Stephen Harper’s majority government.” —MARCI MCDONALD, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR OF THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR“Dennis Gruending’s well-informed observations on the role of faith in politics, and the politics of faith, are an insightful guide to the current political landscape.” —REV. BILL BLAIKIE, MANITOBA GOVERNMENT CABINET MINISTER AND FORMER MP“Faith communities that espouse a social compunction to serve must constantly reflect on the political dimension of loving our neighbours. Dennis Gruending not only lends his considerable journalistic talents to this task; he’s focused like a laser on the analytical heart of today’s burning issues.” —JOE GUNN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR PUBLIC JUSTICE
  5. 5. Copyright © 2011 Dennis Gruending All rights reserved. Published in Canada and the United States by Kingsley Publishing Cover and interior design: BookWorks Front cover image: iStockphoto Printed in Canada by Friesens 2011/1 First Edition Ordering information Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Gruending, Dennis, 1948- Pulpit and politics : competing religious ideologies in Canadian public life / Dennis Gruending. Bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-926832-07-4 1. Religion and politics—Canada. 2. Religion and state—Canada.3. Conservatism—Canada—Religious aspects. 4. Religious right—Canada. 5. Liberalism—Canada—Religious aspects. I. Title. BL65.P7G78 2011 322’.10971 C2011-905208-3
  6. 6. To Martha, Maria, Anna, & our good times together Also by Dennis Gruending: Gringo: Poems and Journals from Latin America, 1983 Emmett Hall: Establishment Radical, 1985 Promises to Keep: A Political Biography of Allan Blakeney, 1990 The Middle of Nowhere: Rediscovering Saskatchewan, 1996 Great Canadian Speeches, 2004Truth to Power: The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk (editor), 2010
  7. 7. pulpit and politics Contents Acknowledgements and a Disclaimer / IX Preface / X Introduction: Competing Religious Ideologies / XII Political and Religious Polarization in 2011 / 1 The Harper Majority / 1 Make Climate Change an Election Issue / 5 Canada Celebrates Israel: Christian Zionism and the Election / 8 Former MP Tony Martin Pushes Poverty Elimination / 11 Religious Right / 15 Religious Right Growing in Influence / 15 Charles McVety in the Halls of Power / 19 Catholics, Evangelicals Make Common Cause / 22 See How They Pray: Ottawa’s National House of Prayer / 24 The CRY: Young Conservatives and End Times / 27 NHOP Promotes Israeli Prayer Walk / 30 The Armageddon Factor Traces Religious Right / 32 The Armageddon Factor and Its Critics / 35 See How They Vote / 38 Frequent Churchgoers Vote Conservative / 38 Lakoff Says Conservatives Use Family Metaphor: Elections 2008 / 41 My Questions for Election 2008 Debate / 43 Churches Weigh in on 2008 Election / 46 Canadian Evangelical Voting Trends / 49 Religious Progressives / 53 Churches Publish A Health Care Covenant / 53 Reverend Lois Wilson on Sacred and Secular / 55 Citizens for Public Justice Questions Oil Sands / 58 Douglas Roche and Creative Dissent / 61 Citizenship as Ministry / 64 vi
  8. 8. seen from abroad MP Paul Dewar Says Faith Is Political / 68 Canadian Churches and the US Health Care Debate / 71Politics and Pulpit / 76 NDP Creates Faith and Social Justice Commission / 76 Harper Promotes Religious Rightists / 78 Richard Colvin and Afghan Torture / 82 KAIROS Fights CIDA Cuts / 85 Jason Kenney as St. Francis of Assisi (Not) / 88 People First and Toronto’s G20 Summit / 91 Selling Potash Corp: Greed and Market Fundamentalism / 94 Conservatives Attack the Long-gun Registry / 98 Bev Oda Ignored CIDA, Betrayed KAIROS / 101 Dirty Tricks at Rights and Democracy / 104 Bev Oda and the KAIROS Fiasco / 108 Remembering My Friend, Allan Blakeney / 110Catholics Left and Right / 115 Journeys to the Heart of Catholicism / 115 Morgentaler’s Order of Canada Ignites Culture War / 117 Gerwing Family Returns Order of Canada Medal / 120 Gunn Says Catholic Social Teaching a Well-kept Secret / 122 Development and Peace Attacked by Catholic Right / 125 Controversy Continues for Development and Peace / 129 Catholics and Child Sexual Abuse / 132 Women Priests and Pope Benedict’s Visit to Britain / 137 Father James Gray: Bush Dweller / 139Peace and War / 145 John Dear: Non-violence or Non-existence? / 145 Murray Thomson Says No to Militarism / 148 COAT versus CADSI: Ottawa Arms Bazaar / 151 vii
  9. 9. pulpit and politics Bible References Found on Gun Sights / 154 Izzeldin Abuelaish and Remembrance Day / 158 Accommodation / 161 Will Kymlicka on Multiculturalism / 161 Shafia Deaths Stir Immigration Debate / 164 Demographic Winter and the Religious Right / 168 Banning the Veil / 171 Seen from Abroad / 176 Mahatma Gandhi: Revered but Ignored in India / 176 Obama, McCain, and Canadian Religious Politics / 179 Obama Hikes Religious Vote in Election / 181 Ms. Penelope’s Vatican Tour / 183 Obama’s Inaugural Speech Will Draw on Lincoln, King / 188 Karen Armstrong, Tim Flannery, God, and Climate / 191 Carter, Mandela, Elders Say Religion Oppresses Women / 195 Christians Fleeing Middle East, Says William Dalrymple / 199 Mark Juergensmeyer on Religion and Global Rebellion / 202 Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens Debate Religion / 208 Coptic Christians, Al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower / 212 Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson, and the Gun Culture / 218 Epilogue / 222 Select Bibliography / 226 Index / 230 About the Author / 238 viii
  10. 10. seen from abroad Acknowledgements and a Disclaimer T here is a long road to travel in conceiving and writing a book. The task involves the work of many hands andminds. The ideas I deal with here arise largely from a blog called Pulpit andPolitics, which I have been writing since late 2007. It explores the connec-tions between religion and public life in Canada and elsewhere. My friendDavid Blaikie helped me set up the blog and continues to assist with thechoice and look of photos. My wife, Martha Wiebe, reads everything thatI write before it is published and always provides wise counsel, not to men-tion her constant love and support. Readers of my blog have contacted mewith constructive criticism and ideas for stories that I might pursue. Manyof those suggestions have made their way into this book. Charlene Dob-meier of Kingsley Publishing Services is a project manager without peer andthe source of much practical advice. Meaghan Craven is an astonishinglygood editor. Lyn Cadence of Cadence PR is an expert at promotion andknows how to get results. I should mention that the opinions I express inthis book are my own and not necessarily those of anyone with or for whomI have worked. ix
  11. 11. pulpit and politics Preface O ver the past few years I have been struck by the grow- ing competition between religious progressives andconservatives for power and influence in Canadian politics. This is an his-toric rivalry and one that will become even more pronounced now thatStephen Harper has won a majority government in 2011, partly throughthe efforts of religious conservatives. Their political agenda is anchored inopposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, publicly funded childcare, a dis-like of many social programs, and a general suspicion of government. Sinceits inception in 2006, the Harper government has courted conservativeevangelicals, along with some Catholic and Jewish voters, to join a politicalcoalition that would change Canada into a leaner and meaner state, albeit itone with more prisons and a larger military. I will look closely at their political ideology and tactics in these pages,but that is only half the story. I will also report on efforts by religious pro-gressives who are struggling to have their voices heard on issues of equality,justice, human rights, and peace. This is an effort that plays out on Parlia-ment Hill, as well as in church basements, synagogues, and temples. It is notmerely a topic of casual interest; the consequences for our future are poten-tially dramatic. Religious faith informs political decisions about the divisionof wealth in our society, education and race relations, immigration, respectfor democracy, foreign policy, and environmental issues, to name just a few. The following pages also examine religiously inspired ideas andevents elsewhere that are having an impact in Canada. We cherish ourreputation as a peaceable kingdom, but we are not immune to religiousfundamentalism, even extremism. The bombing of Air-India Flight 182bound from Toronto to New Delhi in 1985 killed 331 people, making itthe most widely felt terrorist attack in Canadian history. It was plannedand executed by Sikh religious extremists living in Canada. There areno tranquil islands in an increasingly globalized world of ubiquitous jet x
  12. 12. prefacetravel, round-the-clock news feeds, and secured Internet chat rooms.There is a fine body of research and writing in the United States and else-where about the importance of understanding the motivation and tactics ofreligious groups involved in public life. Far less attention has been devotedto the topic in Canada. I am determined that Pulpit and Politics will helpto fill this gap. xi
  13. 13. pulpit and politics Introduction Competing Religious Ideologies T here was a time when religious denomination was the major fault line in Canadian society. When Métis lead-er Louis Riel, a devout, if erratic, Catholic, was on death row in Reginafollowing the Northwest Rebellion in 1885, there were impassioned pleasfrom Quebec to spare his life. John A. Macdonald, a Protestant prime min-ister, was famously quoted as saying: “He shall hang though every dog inQuebec bark in his favour.” Riel’s execution sealed the political fate of theConservatives in Quebec for more than a century. But in twenty-first-century Canada, the old religious divisions havelargely given way to new polarizations that fall along a conservative to lib-eral religious spectrum rather than among denominations. The competitionnow is increasingly found between religious conservatives and progressives.For example, conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants make com-mon cause on issues like same sex marriage and publicly funded childcare.In fact, they often feel more at home with one another than they do withthe liberal members in their own congregations. There is an enduring con-test between religious conservatives and progressives over who should wieldthe greatest influence in Canadian public life. Faith and organized religion are deeply embedded in Canadian culture.Beginning in the early 1600s, religiously motivated leaders, such as Samuelde Champlain, along with Catholic priests and religious sisters, were the keyto the French colonization of North America. We have only to think of theGrey Nuns hospitals and Catholic schools and universities, not to mentionthe Catholic missionary efforts of the Jesuits, Oblates, and others. The Protestant presence in Canada gained momentum as the Britishsecured a foothold in the Atlantic Provinces in the 1700s, especially afterthe fall of Quebec in the Seven Years War, which ended in 1763. Later, a xii
  14. 14. introductionflood of United Empire Loyalists streamed into Canada during and after theAmerican revolutionary war in the years 1775–83. These migrations andothers from both the US and Europe attracted people from many faiths,including itinerant Protestant preachers who staged popular revivalist meet-ings. Evangelical influences, thus, also run deeply in Canada. The Catholic Church occupied the (unofficial) position of statechurch in Quebec until the 1960s, when, of necessity, it began to accept amuch more modest role. During its reign, however, the Catholic hierarchyand clergy interfered regularly in politics. The bishops were opposed to theLiberals, who they believed were kissing cousins of the revolutionaries inFrance, and so in Quebec the Church supported the Conservatives untilthe execution of Riel. This clerical activity is documented in a wonderfulbut virtually unknown book called The Race Question in Canada, written in1906 by a French academic named Andre Siegfried. According to Siegfried,a local priest in Quebec said this during a by-election campaign in 1876:“Do not forget that the bishops of this province assure you that liberalismresembles a serpent in the earthly paradise which creeps close to men inorder to bring about the fall of the human race.” Siegfried also wrote that in1878 Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal said: “No Catholic is allowed tocall himself a liberal, even a moderate liberal.” Wilfrid Laurier was elected to the Quebec provincial assembly in 1871and the House of Commons in 1874. He was a marvellously gifted politi-cian, but the bishops attacked him with a vengeance because he was a Lib-eral. In the longer term, however, Laurier was more than their match andhe won every federal election he contested between 1874 and his death in1919. During his time most Quebecois became Liberal supporters. Catholi-cism and Protestantism both changed greatly during the settlement of theCanadian West, when people from many Protestant denominations andsects, as well as Catholics from a variety of European backgrounds otherthan French, immigrated and took up lands. Canadian Christianity beganto develop along sectarian lines, with Catholics competing with Protestants,and a variety of Protestant faiths competing with Catholics and with oneanother. For example, the Catholic and Protestant missionaries who arrived xiii
  15. 15. pulpit and politicswith the English and French fur traders vied for the attention of Aboriginalpeoples in eastern and northern Canada, at times creating competing mis-sions in the same settlements. Religion, on this competitive basis, remaineda strong presence in Canadian society throughout the nineteenth century. The twentieth century dawned with Catholics forming a solid major-ity in Quebec and a minority throughout the rest of Canada, where theywere not very influential politically. Protestants were a minority in Quebecand the majority elsewhere, but they were divided. In English Canada, itwas the mainline Protestants, including Anglicans and Presbyterians, whoconstituted the political class. There has been an abiding chasm among Protestants since the early yearsof the twentieth century, and it continues to this day. Mainline Protestantscame to embrace modernism and liberal ideas—for example, an attempt toreconcile Christianity with the rationalist and scientific thought that arosefrom the Enlightenment. They came to practice “high criticism” of the Bible,teaching that it could be interpreted critically, just as one might approachany other document. They believed that critical reading allowed the Bibli-cal story of creation to coexist with scientific theories of human evolution.The acrimonious debate about evolution in the 1920s and beyond became aflashpoint, which led to a bitter division between liberal and fundamentalistChristians, who upheld a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible. Many mainline Protestants also embrace the social gospel, which restson the premise that Christianity must seek to realize the kingdom of Godin this world. This agenda led them to promote reforms leading, for ex-ample, to Canada’s universal health and social programs. Fundamentalistsand many evangelicals, however, believe that a personal conversion to JesusChrist is the only means to salvation. They mistrusted the state and resentedits incursions into health, education, and social assistance—endeavours thatconservative Christians believed should remain the responsibility of church,family, and the individual. The competing tendencies of these two Protestant groups can be per-sonified in Tommy Douglas and Ernest Manning, two western Canadianpreachers who became premiers. Douglas was a Baptist pastor in Weyburn, xiv
  16. 16. introductionSaskatchewan, and responded to the Great Depression by becoming in-volved with the Farm-Labour Party and later the Cooperative Common-wealth Federation (CCF). The West’s social gospel tradition had its practi-tioners in people such as Douglas, J.S. Woodsworth, and Stanley Knowles,who all had been propelled into politics through religious conviction. Ernest Manning was raised on a Saskatchewan farm and experienceda religious conversion while listening to the radio broadcasts of Alberta’sWilliam Aberhart. Young Manning presented himself to Aberhart in Cal-gary and soon became his mentor’s right-hand man. Aberhart decided toinsert religion directly into politics and became the Social Credit premierof Alberta in 1935. When Aberhart died in 1943, Manning succeeded him.Throughout his years as premier, Manning continued to appear as a laypreacher on Back to the Bible, the religious radio program he inherited fromAberhart and which prompted his conversion. On occasion Manning re-cruited his son, Preston, to stand in for him on the show. Ernest Manning ruled Alberta from the right, particularly after thediscovery of oil in the 1950s. He grudgingly introduced welfare measures,such as building homes for the aged, but believed none of that would benecessary if people shouldered their Christian duties to care for one another.In Saskatchewan, Douglas ruled more from the left and his party intro-duced North America’s first state medical care insurance program in 1962.When Ottawa proposed Medicare for all Canadian provinces later in thedecade, Manning was opposed. His political tradition has been carried byhis son, Preston, who led the Reform Party (1987–2000), by Stockwell Day,a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, former Alberta MLA, and the firstleader of the Canadian Alliance, and Stephen Harper: all are also evangelicalChristians. People like former MP Bill Blaikie, or current MPs Joe Comar-tin and Charlie Angus, have kept the Woodsworth-Douglas tradition alive,but its flame is flickering. Despite Ernest Manning’s political prominence, most fundamental-ist and evangelical Christians responded to the modernist-traditionalist de-bate early in the twentieth century by retreating into their own communi-ties of faith. By the 1960s, however, they had moved from the margins of xv
  17. 17. pulpit and politicsCanadian society toward its centre. They were increasingly well educatedand prosperous, but they retained their religious beliefs. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Pierre Trudeau became a symbol of every-thing that many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians found wrongwith society. Trudeau liberalized laws regarding divorce, abortion, homo-sexuality, and the dissemination of birth control information (promotingbirth control was illegal well into the 1960s). What appeared to many to bean overdue modernization of Canadian legislation was to others a sign thatCanada had formally ceased to be a “Christian” nation. The 1970s and 80ssaw the emergence of a growing network that supported a religiously andsocially conservative worldview. In the 1980s the Evangelical Fellowship ofCanada (EFC) opened an office in Ottawa under the effective leadershipof Reverend Brian Stiller, a Pentecostal minister. The EFC began to lobbygovernments on issues like abortion, Sunday shopping, and gay rights. When Preston Manning created the Reform Party in the 1980s, itresonated well with conservative Protestants. Manning is an avowed andproud evangelical Christian, and with his arrival evangelicals had a newoption. Religious historian John Stackhouse writes in a book called TheCanadian Protestant Experience 1760 to 1990 that, “Not one but two politi-cal parties (Reform and Christian Heritage) were formed with evangelicalsupport in the late 1980s and fielded dozens of candidates in the federalelection of 1988.” Political scientist David Laycock profiled the rise of the Reform andCanadian Alliance Parties in his book, The New Right and Democracy inCanada: Understanding Reform and the Canadian Alliance: “With theirevangelical Christian leaders,” Laycock writes, “Reform and the Alliancehave also appealed to social and moral conservatives uncomfortable withwhat they have seen as an over-secularized society. Such voters have wor-ried about the threats both to the traditional family and to citizens’ sense ofpersonal responsibility that they attribute to the modern Canadian welfarestate.” By the 1990s Canadian evangelicals had arrived on the public scene,and they brought their worldview and a growing political sophisticationalong with them. xvi
  18. 18. introduction During the Trudeau era, the Catholic bishops were also shifting to theright. In the liberalization that followed the Second Vatican Council, theChurch in Canada began to participate in coalitions with mainline Protes-tants on a range of social justice initiatives at the national and internationallevels, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Those efforts have largely beenreplaced by the Catholic hierarchy’s growing partnership with religiousconservatives on so-called family issues. The Harper government has beeneager, where possible, to oblige these groups, hoping to win favour withreligious conservatives in order to form a permanent political coalition. These trends have been building for years—the decline of mainlineProtestantism, the emergence of evangelicals, the Catholic hierarchy’smove to the right and its growing cooperation with evangelical groups—but until recently they have gone largely unnoticed. Most academics andjournalists believed that secularism reigns and that religion has becomelargely irrelevant in the public sphere. Writing in the Canadian Journal ofPolitical Science in September 1974, political scientist William Irvine saidthat the persistence of religious affiliation as a factor in voting behaviourhad come to be treated “as a moderately interesting, but strikingly peculiar,houseguest who has overstayed his welcome.” Researchers may well haveattempted to show this houseguest the door, but it would appear that hehas returned—if ever he had left—and interest is now reviving. A groupof Canadian academics has collaborated in a project called the CanadianElection Study (CES), which analyzes polling data to explain how peoplevote in each federal election. Theses academics include, among others, An-dré Blais of the University of Montreal and Elisabeth Gidengil of McGillUniversity, and they have begun to include information on religion as onedeterminant of voting behaviour. Churches and religious organizations are not monolithic in their think-ing and action. Many evangelicals, for example, are considering whethertheir agenda should remain narrowly focused on the personal sphere, orif they should place more emphasis upon issues like climate change andpoverty. Catholics are easily the largest and most diverse religious group inCanada, but many of them do not agree with the increasing focus of the xvii
  19. 19. pulpit and politicshierarchy on moral conservatism. Add to these factors Canada’s increasingethnic and religious diversity. This country attracts about 250,000 immi-grants every year. They are drawn from many races and creeds, and mostpoliticians recognize that religion generally plays a more prominent rolein the lives of recent immigrants than it does in the lives of native-bornCanadians. There is a lively competition among political parties for whatis known as the “ethnic vote.” Religion appears poised to play a larger roleon Canada’s public stage in the foreseeable future than has been the case formany years, but there is no way to predict with any certainty which factionwill exert the greater political influence. xviii
  20. 20. political and religious polarization in 2011 Political and Religious Polarization in 2011 The connection between religious faith and politics did not often make headlines in the 2011 federal election campaign, but it is real and it was present. Religious conservatives and progressives look at the world in significantly different ways. Progressives gathered in church basements to talk about how to convince politicians to combat climate change and eradicate poverty. In other churches and synagogues, people with a different take on faith were meeting to promote the interests of Israel, with a little help from Conservative politicians. The election is now history. The Conservatives won a majority, and the religious right helped them to do it. We are witnessing a growing polarization and the competition among religious ideologies will continue with an enduring intensity. The Harper Majority S tephen Harper won his long-coveted majority govern- ment in the May 2011 federal election, receiving justunder 40 per cent of the votes cast by the approximately 60 per cent ofeligible Canadians who bothered to show up. An exit poll of 36,000 votersconducted by Ipsos Reid on May 2 yielded some predictable results basedon the religious affiliation of voters, but it also served up some surprises. One thing to note is that 55 per cent of Protestants voted for theConservatives, a figure far higher than the number of Protestants who sup-ported other parties. This is not a surprise because evangelical Protestantsin particular have provided strong support to the Conservatives in a stringof elections. 1
  21. 21. pulpit and politics Secondly, the NDP did well among Catholics, winning 39 per cent oftheir vote, compared to the 30 per cent of Catholics who voted Conserva-tive and 16 per cent who voted Liberal. The NDP vote rose dramaticallyin Quebec where a large percentage of people identify as Catholics even ifthey seldom attend religious services. It is highly likely that those peoplewere voting primarily as Quebecois who were not impressed by what theysaw in the Conservative, Liberal, or Bloc Quebecois Parties. It is unlikely inthis case that they were voting based on strongly held religious preferences. Catholics had moved to the Conservatives in significant numbers inthe 2006 and 2008 elections, but that trend may now be in question. Ofcourse, a big story in the 2011 election was the huge losses endured by theLiberals. They had long been the party of choice for Catholics in Canada,but their poor overall performance in the 2011 election was also reflectedin the party’s results among the Catholic constituency. The Catholic vote isnow up for grabs and the stakes are high. Catholics constitute more than 40per cent of the Canadian population. This may be why Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney quickly helda meeting with Monsignor Patrick Powers, the general secretary of the Ca-nadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in Ottawa and planned tomeet with the CCCB president, Most Reverend Pierre Morrisette, in June.Perhaps the bishop could begin by asking Kenney about his public letterin December 2010, which stated that “ideological bureaucrats” were re-sponsible for a CCCB letter criticizing the government’s human smugglinglegislation. Was Kenney implying that the bishops do not have an analysisof their own or that their staff is out of their control? A third observation based on the Ipsos Reid exit poll is that the Con-servatives did well among Jewish voters in the 2011 election but that theydid poorly among Canadian Muslims. Among Jewish voters, 52 per centvoted Conservative, compared to 24 per cent who voted Liberal and only16 per cent who voted NDP. The Harper government has courted Jewishvoters by offering uncritical support for Israel, replacing the more balancedpolicy toward Israel of previous Liberal administrations. Jewish voters havein the past been strong supporters of the Liberals, but Conservatives have 2
  22. 22. political and religious polarization in 2011been eating into that support for several elections. It is worth noting, how-ever, that Jewish voters are not of one mind because almost half of them didnot vote Conservative in 2011. There is another reason for the Conservatives to be cheerleaders forIsraeli government policies. A committed fringe element of Christian fun-damentalists is the Christian Zionists, who believe that Biblical prophe-cies are being fulfilled by the creation of Israel and its hegemony in theMiddle East. In supporting Israel’s government, the Conservatives play toboth Christian fundamentalists and some Jewish voters. Early during theelection campaign, a series of gatherings occurred in four Canadian cities.They were thinly disguised political events and featured former Conserva-tive MPs Stockwell Day and Jim Abbott among their guest speakers. We can expect more of the same from the Conservatives regardingIsrael. Following the election in May, Prime Minister Harper stood aloneamong G8 leaders meeting in France in his opposition to the release of ajoint statement calling on the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution on the basis of Israel’s borders before the 1967 Six-Day War.Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has flatly rejected that pro-posal, and the newspaper Haaretz reported on May 31 that he spoke toHarper about the matter. Haaretz says that the G8 works on consensus, sobased on Harper’s opposition the group’s final statement removed any refer-ence to the 1967 borders. The prime minister received quick praise fromfundamentalists for his actions. The National House of Prayer in Ottawa isone such group. On May 27 the organization’s website offered the followingprayer: “That Stephen Harper will be given courage and wisdom regardingCanada’s stance towards Israel and will continue his stance to see the 1967borders fall out of debates.” Harper is isolating Canada internationally and he also forfeits the voteof Muslim Canadians, but that is a price he appears prepared to pay. Amongthose Canadian voters who identified as Muslims, only 12 per cent votedConservative. Significantly, 46 per cent of them voted Liberal in an elec-tion where the party’s vote dropped to historic lows. The NDP received38 per cent of the Muslim vote, and presumably the party will attempt to 3
  23. 23. pulpit and politicsimprove on that performance. There are three times as many Muslims asthere are Jews in Canada, but the Muslim groups are not as well establishedand influential as those of the Jewish population. Christians, of course, ac-count for the bulk of the Canadian population. Statistics Canada reportsthat more than 75 per cent of Canadians identify themselves as Christians. A fourth observation regarding the Ipsos Reid exit poll deals with thegrowing political polarization between voters who identify as religious andthose who say they have no religion. The Conservatives drew the supportof 50 per cent of those voters who said they attended a church or templeat least once a week. The NDP received the support of only 24 per cent ofthat group. Many polls taken at different times in both Canada and the USindicate that regular church attenders are more likely to vote Conservative(or Republican) than are people who attend a church less often. The reasonswhy would merit a chapter on their own but likely mean that people inclosely knit groups tend to influence one another in voting behaviour, inthis case in a conservative direction. On the other hand, the NDP won thevote of 42 per cent of the no religion group of voters in the 2011 election,while the Conservatives received only 27 per cent of that vote. Reginald Bibby, a University of Lethbridge sociologist, has com-mented on the growing number of people who say they have no religion.That group, Bibby says in his recent book, Beyond the Gods and Back, ismore numerous than any single religious denomination in Canada, savefor Catholics. The no religion group is highly represented among youngerpeople and is poised to grow as a percentage of the population. One ques-tion is whether there will be growing friction and disrespect between thosewho follow a religious faith and those who do not. In strictly politicalterms, the no religion group is amorphous and unorganized while frequentchurch attenders are easier for political parties to reach because they belongto communities that are often tightly knit. The coming polarization promises to be both religious and political.The NDP is a social democratic party that trends to the left of the Liberalsand certainly to the left of the Conservatives. It has a strong base amongpeople who profess no religion, as well as considerable support among those 4
  24. 24. political and religious polarization in 2011religionists—Protestant, Catholic, and other—who attend church less of-ten. The Conservatives have strong support among frequent attenders, par-ticularly Evangelical Protestants, Christian fundamentalists, and Jews. Some suggest that Harper is more of a social than a religious conser-vative. He promised during the 2011 campaign that he would not allowthe abortion debate to be reopened and he appears to have put the issue ofsame-sex marriage behind him in the previous Parliament. It is worth not-ing, however, that Conservative backbenchers continued to bring forwardprivate member’s bills that could curtail a woman’s right to abortion. Wecan expect religious conservatives to keep applying pressure, even as theycontinue to support Harper as their preferred alternative. I received, by wayof example, an automated telephone call late in the campaign from JimHughes, chairman of the Campaign Life Coalition, asking me to supportthe Conservative candidate in an Ottawa riding. Shortly after the electionin May, a National March for Life event drew about 10,000 people to Par-liament Hill in Ottawa. Their clear message to the Harper government wasthat the abortion debate is on again. Religious progressives should not expect to see action from this gov-ernment on abolishing poverty, mitigating climate change, or pursuing nu-clear deterrence, which are issues promoted by some mainstream religiousgroups. They, too, will have to decide on their strategies. The next four yearspromise to be intense, and progressives—religious and secular—will have todecide how to respond if, as expected, Harper attempts to move the countrysharply to the right. Make Climate Change an Election Issue I was in an Ottawa church basement along with about eighty other people a few days after the 2011 election wascalled, listening to a panel called Environment & Climate in Peril. Thefrustration was palpable. “Climate change is the key moral and ethical di-lemma of our time and we have to engage it,” said Reverend Lillian Roberts 5
  25. 25. pulpit and politicsfrom the United Church’s Ottawa presbytery. “We are facing a developingcrisis and there is a need for an urgent response, but you won’t hear aboutit on the leaders’ debates,” said David Selzer, executive archdeacon for theAnglican Diocese of Ottawa. Sadly, that turned out to be true. American economist William Nord-haus has written that any politician who will not support placing a price oncarbon is not really serious about slowing climate change. This pricing cancome in the form of a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, which allowscompanies exceeding set carbon emission limits to buy credits from compa-nies that create less carbon pollution. In Canada this issue was sidelined after the 2008 election when theConservatives launched a devastating attack against Stéphane Dion’s GreenShift plan. Dion proposed to tax carbon polluters and use the money col-lected to reduce personal income and other taxes. The Conservative mantrawas that no tax is a good tax and that Dion’s proposals would ruin theeconomy. The Harper government promised to introduce intensity-basedpollution targets for industry, but they are a joke. They might slow the rateof increase in greenhouse gas emissions somewhat but will still allow pollu-tion levels to rise for many years to come. In the 2011 campaign, the Liberals announced that they would estab-lish a cap-and-trade emissions system, but they did not say where that capwould be set. The NDP said it would tax big polluters and leave individualsalone, and that they would use the money collected from corporations toinvest in green programs and technology. So the Liberals offered an unde-fined cap-and-trade and the NDP a tax on corporations. The Conservativesoppose both of those. Fortunately, most people are coming to accept the basic science ofclimate change, and the number of deniers is thinning. Most now agreethat carbon dioxide and other gases being pumped into the atmosphere as aby-product of fossil fuels consumption are heating up the planet. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted temperatureincreases of between 2.5 and 10.4°C in the twenty-first century. In his book Now or Never, Australian scientist Tim Flannery says the 6
  26. 26. political and religious polarization in 2011IPCC estimates have proven to be too conservative and are already beingovertaken. He says that the difference between the low and high estimatefor warming temperatures is profound. According to Flannery, humanitymay be able to manage a warming of less than 3°C, but 10.4°C of warmingwould be catastrophic. The signs of what may come are all around us. My home insurancerates increased by 20 per cent between 2009 and 2011 because of severestorms and resulting flooding, but this pales compared to the deadly wild-fires and flooding in Australia, widespread droughts and global food short-ages, worldwide glacier melts, and a looming water crisis. Canada is developing an international reputation as a laggard on policyand action related to climate change. Our government’s negotiators playedan obstructionist role at recent international conferences in Copenhagenand Cancun. They will have a chance to redeem themselves at another in-ternational meeting in Durban in November 2011. We have to modify our habits of consumption if we are to reducecarbon emissions, but politicians are afraid to tell us that. In addition, thecarbon industry has an immense amount of lobbying power in Canada. Iteffectively bankrolled the creation of the Reform Party, where Prime Minis-ter Stephen Harper apprenticed in politics. Back in the church basement, Archbishop Brendan O’Brien, fromKingston, Ontario, called for asceticism. “We are in a critical situation, butwe have to find ways for people to incorporate all of this into their livesin prayerful contemplation. We should appreciate what we have, but thenew way we seek is one of being restrained in our consumerism.” O’Briensaid a new asceticism would fit well with the Church’s prophetic tradition.“Those involved in social movements talk of the impact of social and politi-cal structures on people. The ecological situation we face will have its great-est impact on the poor, and we must develop a prophetic sense about that.” My question for all political leaders is borrowed (with a slight revi-sion) from the ecumenical group Citizens for Public Justice: “Should a na-tional carbon tax policy or a mandatory national cap-and-trade system beimposed?” 7
  27. 27. pulpit and politics Stéphane Dion was right about the issue in 2008, but vested interestsprevailed. Who will now have the courage and wisdom to take the nextsteps? Likely, it won’t be the new Conservative majority government. Theyhave a long and cozy relationship with oil and gas companies, and theycampaigned in the past two elections against a tax on carbon. The answerto future action on climate change may well be found among those 60 percent of Canadians who voted for one of the other parties. Canada Celebrates Israel: Christian Zionism and the Election O n day twelve of the 2011 federal election campaign, Stephen Harper was in Markham, Ontario, pursuingimmigrant voters. That same evening in Ottawa, several hundred peoplegathered at the Peace Tower Church, not far from Parliament Hill. Therethey pledged fealty to the state of Israel and praised Prime Minister Harperas that country’s benefactor. The event, called Canada Celebrates Israel, wasone of four that occurred in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouverwithin a few days in early April. The rallies featured three Israeli politicianswho are members of the Israeli Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, as well asa cast of fundamentalist Christians from Canada. The four events receivedvirtually no coverage in the mainstream media, but an Ottawa-based stu-dent newspaper did a look-ahead piece in March. In that story one of thetour’s organizers is quoted saying that the events were an outreach effort toJewish and Christian communities to show support for Israel and that theycertainly were not political. Perhaps. But the Conservatives just happened to be well representedat the rallies. Jim Abbott brought greetings on behalf of the federal govern-ment. Abbott was the long-time Reform, Canadian Alliance, and later Con-servative MP for Kootenay-Columbia, but he chose not to run again in the2011 election. Stockwell Day, the recently retired Minister of the TreasuryBoard, had been billed as a guest speaker at the Ottawa event, but instead 8
  28. 28. political and religious polarization in 2011he provided a message on videotape. However, Day was available in personat the Canada Celebrates Israel event in Montreal on the previous evening.The Canadian Jewish News reported on it and described Day as giving “astrongly pro-Israel speech” that earned him a standing ovation. The news-paper described part of his speech as follows: “Day earned wide applausewhen he said Israel, as a Jewish state, has ‘an aboriginal right to exist’ andthat the Hebrew scriptures, written as far back as 1,000 years BCE, providehistorically accurate evidence of the Jewish presence in what is now Israel.” According to the newspaper, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and“several Canadian fundamentalist Christian groups” had organized the tour.Those Canadian groups included Christians for Israel, For Zion’s Sake, andReturn Ministries, an Ontario-based organization whose website missionstatement says the group “encourages Jews and Christians to work togetherto fulfill God’s plans and purposes for Israel and the nations according tothe Word of God.” These groups are Christian Zionists, who believe thatthe return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the state ofIsrael are prerequisites for the Second Coming of Christ. They have found aneager ally in the Israeli government, which is desperate to avoid being diplo-matically isolated for its shabby treatment of Palestinians and its continuingillegal occupation of their land. In Canada the Conservatives work hard toattract both Christian Zionists and Jewish voters—hence the appearance ofJim Abbott and Stockwell Day at a thinly disguised political event. The Ottawa rally received little advance publicity, but the main floorof the church was almost full and there was a scattering of people in thebalcony, as well, a testament to the networking ability of the groups in-volved. A single bagpiper and a red-coated RCMP constable accompaniedthe dignitaries—including Miriam Ziv, Israel’s ambassador to Canada—asthey walked to the front. There was a procession of flags, Klezmer music,speeches, and two videos extolling the virtues of Israel. Near the end of theevening, everyone was asked to stand and to recite in unison the “Canada-Israel Declaration,” whose words were projected on a screen in the church.People were also asked to sign a pledge sheet containing that declaration,which occupied a table at the back of the church. 9
  29. 29. pulpit and politics The “Canada-Israel Declaration” reads, in part: Whereas we the undersigned, friends of Israel, affirm the eternal and steadfast love of God for Israel and the Jewish People as clearly decreed in the Word of God. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer- emiah 31:3) We affirm the noble stand that our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper has taken in support and solidar- ity of Israel: “The Jewish state can expect the full support and friendship of Canada.” Oct. 19, 2009, Toronto. We affirm our Prime Minister’s explicit statement in his speech addressing the delegation of International Parliamentarians and global leaders at the International Conference to Combat Anti- Semitism ... We affirm, as stated in the Bible, that people, nations and lead- ers will be blessed when they bless Israel. “I will bless those that bless you (Israel) and whoever curses you (Israel) I will curse.” (Genesis 12:3) We affirm that the State of Israel, like Canada, has a right to ex- ist, prosper, thrive and defend her people against the pernicious onslaught of terror, racism and anti-Semitism targeted against them. We affirm the Abrahamic Covenant of God with Israel, and His promises, and in the giving of the land to the Jewish People as their everlasting homeland and eternal inheritance. “I will give you this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:8)This declaration, of course, is a crude form of Biblical literalism, and Stock-well Day’s remarks represented an equally crude historical analysis. The not-ed writer William Dalrymple says that when the state of Israel was createdin 1948, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) were 10
  30. 30. political and religious polarization in 2011driven from their homes and land. There was no acknowledgment of that byDay, Abbott, or any of the presenters. During the pre-emptive Six-Day Warin 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan,and these territories were placed under a military occupation that persiststo this day. The Oslo Accords in 1993 set out a process and timetable forpeace negotiations and Palestinian self-government, but such negotiationsare rendered impossible by the relentless development of Israeli settlementson occupied land. As veteran politicians, both Day and Abbott would knowthis history, but they choose to ignore it. The Canada Celebrates Israel rallies were no doubt planned prior tothe federal election being called on March 26, but despite their religioustrappings they were blatantly political. Their intention was to buttress sup-port for the Israeli government and its policies, and to strengthen a politicalcoalition in Canada between the Conservatives, select Jewish organizations,and Christian fundamentalists. Former MP Tony Martin Pushes Poverty Elimination T ony Martin is a devout Roman Catholic who was a three-term member of Ontario’s provincial Parliamentand the NDP Member of Parliament for Sault Ste. Marie from 2004 untilthe May 2, 2011, election, when he was defeated by Conservative BryanHayes. Martin had made it his political mission in life to fight poverty inCanada. Shortly before the spring election campaign began, Martin spoketo about seventy-five people at Centretown United Church in Ottawa. “Iwant to eradicate poverty, not reduce it,” Martin said. He believes it can bedone if there is enough popular support for it and the political will. “Gov-ernment has no greater responsibility than to look after people who aremarginalized,” he told his audience. Martin described to them how he was eleven years old when he emi-grated from Ireland to Canada with his mother and six siblings in January 11
  31. 31. pulpit and politics1960. His father had arrived nine months earlier to find work. Martin re-called for his audience how mother and children arrived in Sault Ste. Marie,Ontario, in the dead of winter, then made an additional eight-hour traintrip to Wawa, the family’s new home. “I began my Canadian journey in acommunity where people took care of one another,” Martin said. “That wasthe kind of Canada that we came to know, but it is now slipping throughour fingers.” Poverty has been a problem of long duration in Canada. One of myfirst assignments in 1970 as a young reporter at the Prince Albert DailyHerald in Saskatchewan was to cover a visit by Senator David Croll andhis Special Senate Committee on Poverty, which reported in 1971. Speak-ing months later to a business audience at the Empire Club in Toronto,Croll paraphrased the first lines in his Senate report. “It is obvious that thepoor do not choose poverty,” he said. “It is at once their affliction and ournational shame. The grim fact is that one Canadian in four lacks sufficientincome to maintain a basic standard of living.” The central recommenda-tion of his report was for a guaranteed annual income based on need andusing the tax system to deliver it. The guaranteed annual income strategy never happened, but TonyMartin said that over the years other good poverty reduction programs havebeen put into place. They have included medicare, introduced in the 1960s,Old Age Assistance and Guaranteed Income Supplement programs for se-niors, and a variety of federal and provincial housing programs. But Mar-tin also noted that things have been going downhill since 1995 when thefederal government abdicated its responsibility by abandoning the CanadaAssistance Plan (CAP). Introduced in 1966, the CAP required Ottawa to pay half the cost ofsocial assistance programs undertaken by provinces. That enabled the fed-eral government to set national standards for social assistance and other pro-grams in return for its financial contributions. Ottawa set a limit on thosetransfers in 1991 and was soon paying only about one-third of the actualcosts for social assistance. The CAP was replaced in 1996 by a transfer pro-gram that combined federal spending for health, post-secondary education, 12
  32. 32. political and religious polarization in 2011and social assistance programs. Provinces could spend the money withinthat envelope pretty well as they wished. Almost immediately after beingelected in 1995, the Mike Harris government in Ontario, for example, re-duced the level of social assistance payments by 21 per cent. Poverty is not as widespread now as it was in Croll’s day in the early1970s, but Statistics Canada reports that nearly  3.2  million Canadians,or 9.6 per cent of the population, were low income in 2009, the last yearfor which figures are available. Put another way, one can say the number of poor people in Canada in2009 was almost equal to the number of residents in Alberta. The Great Recession that struck in 2008–2009 hit the poor first andhit them hardest, as recessions always do. The ranks of the unemployedswelled but Employment Insurance benefits had been scaled back relent-lessly since 1995, and the system was unable to cope. That, in turn, forcedmany of the unemployed to rely on social assistance and food banks. Statis-tics Canada reported 9.5 per cent of Canadian children lived in low incomefamilies in 2009. If poverty persists, so do the promises to eliminate it. In 1989 theHouse of Commons passed a motion pledging to eliminate child povertyby the year 2000, but that didn’t happen. In 2009 the House passed anothermotion calling for an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada. Itwas in 2009 as well, about forty years after the Croll report was tabled, thatanother Senate committee issued yet another document calling for mea-sures to lift people out of poverty. In addition, Tony Martin badgered his fellow MPs on the House ofCommons Human Resources Committee to look into poverty. They didand by all accounts worked in a collaborative manner, something that hasbeen in short supply among Ottawa politicians in recent parliaments. Thecommittee tabled its report in November 2010. It calls for the federal gov-ernment to commit to an action plan to reduce poverty and to back up thataction with a new federal transfer (a poverty-reduction fund) supportinginitiatives at the provincial and territorial level. The report also calls for acomprehensive and long-term national housing strategy. For good measure, 13
  33. 33. pulpit and politicsin June 2010, Martin also tabled his own Private Member’s Bill, C-545: AnAct to Eliminate Poverty in Canada. Martin told his church audience that the stars are aligning. A grass-roots coalition called Dignity for All is campaigning for a poverty-freeCanada and has the support of 450 organizations and 7,800 individuals.Dignity for All is calling for federal legislation to eliminate poverty and foran integrated federal-provincial plan to pursue that goal: the committing ofsufficient resources, to be derived from “fair taxes,” which would pay for it. A member of his Ottawa audience asked Martin whether creating jobswould not be a better plan for eradicating poverty than putting money intosocial security. He responded by saying it is tempting to believe that a jobis the best social program available. “But we cannot limit an anti-povertystrategy to a labour market policy because it misses too many people. Thereare thousands and thousands of people working full-time and still living inpoverty because they earn too little.” Martin said that he saw little hope that the Harper government wouldmove on the poverty agenda. “They are focused on tax breaks to corpora-tions. We all have to say to them, ‘No, not this time.’ The corporations aredoing all right and they don’t need tax breaks. There are people who needhelp a lot more than the corporations do.” Another questioner asked what people could do to push the anti-pov-erty agenda. Martin responded, “You are doing it tonight. We are buildinghope and momentum everywhere, including in church halls and churchbasements. I believe that we can move on eradicating poverty after the nextelection if we have a more progressive government that will make it a prior-ity to look after people.” That election has now occurred: there is a Conser-vative majority government and Tony Martin was defeated. It will be leftto others within Parliament and without to keep the eradication of povertyon the agenda. 14