Commentary by Rev. Tristan Emmanuel
Special to The Interim
Lorne Gunter’s recent article, “Fighting Canada’s Secular Tide,” which appeared in the National Post, is an interesting, and at points bang-on, analysis of the present challenge that faces social conservatives, but as the headline suggests, in the final analysis, he misses the point. You don’t fight secularism with an exclusively secular method. The way to beat it back is with a better, more culturally vigorous Christian paradigm.
Of course, Gunter makes some very good points, like when he insists that we need “backroom” strategists of the calibre of a Ralph Reed to spur us on. But his mistake is in focusing almost entirely on our lack of organization, fundraising ability, and plain political naivete. Our fundamental problem, according to him, is our lack of methodological savvy, exacerbated only by our numerical weakness.
“Can the religious right ever play a major role in this country?” he asks. No, “they lack the numbers and the mechanism to force change in the way they’ve done south of the border.”
Look, Canada has a population about the size of the state of California (roughly 30 million). Out of that 30 million, only about 60 per cent of eligible voters cast a vote in any given federal election. Mixed into the equation is the so-called “insignificant evangelical community,” which actually totals about three million people (if we include socially conservative Roman Catholics, that number is doubled).
Three million, in a total population of 30 million, where only 60 per cent vote, is nothing to sneeze at.
But this is beside the point. The point is that it is not a lack of mechanism, not even a lack of numbers, that stunts our potential.
There is just no way gay “marriage” could have ever seen the light of day in Canada, if three million people, who apparently believe that Jesus is the Christ and that his morality is the key component in the Great Commission (“teaching them all that I have commanded,” Matt. 28:18-20) were serious about being engaged in the public square. There is just no way.
So what is really the problem?
Most evangelicals don’t believe in politics. They have embraced a pacifistic, quiet pietism and a historical hope that encourages personal introspection, while being politically irrelevant.
We are, to use a cliche, so “heavenly minded” that we are of no use in Christ’s kingdom-building enterprise. The root of this problem lies with bad theology.
I can’t count the times I have heard Christians say they eschew political engagement because Jesus said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” conveniently forgetting that Christ finished that statement by telling us that God is in control of everything, including Caesar, and therefore, everything in life, including politics, is an act of worship.
And what about the many instances when pastors have reminded me that Christians are simple pilgrims passing through this dark world – “besides, what right do we have to judge a world when we’re just as guilty”?
There’s that introspection again.
Here’s a suggestion – why don’t we repent and then get on with it?
Gunter says: “If the religious right wants change, it now knows it will have to abandon its cultural isolation, stop preaching only to the converted and engage in the muck and mire of day-to-day politics.” I’m not so sure that the religious right “now knows” anything beyond a climate of introspective isolation. And, I’d like to know just what he means by “the converted?”
I take it he means those pew warmers who get to hear warm and fuzzy church sermons on Sunday about how Christianity is “judgeless” If that’s who he means, you can bet, as sure as the Liberals will regain power in the next election, that these “converted” have heard more than their fair share of “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” — provided, of course, that one’s Christianity emanates from an ethereal spirituality that remains tepidly personal and private.
The single greatest contributing factor to Canada’s slippery slide into secular hedonism hasn’t been that secularists have out-maneuvered us or that we’ve been taken over by homosexual activists. Not even Pierre Trudeau is to blame.
The problem is the church, and as an evangelical, I am referring particularly to the evangelicals here. Secularism didn’t just happen. Unwitting and sincere believers of the past aided its advancement. These Christians accepted the notion that science had disproved the created origin of man, that reason and knowledge were antithetical to faith, and so, Bible-believing Christians shunned the unbelieving culture. Culture came to belong to unbelievers and social gospelizers.
Instead of endeavouring in society, in politics, law, media and the arts, with an explicit Christian world and life view, pious believers focused on more heavenly, spiritual and personal pursuits, like Bible study, prayer and waiting for the return of Christ.
This ethos of abandonment has been handed down from generation to generation.
Gunter states that it’s taken gay “marriage” to scare us out of our Christian ghettos. But, as I criss-cross Canada, I would have to ask: scare whom? Still too few Christians get it. Still too few pastors understand. And still, social conservative commentators miss the crucial analysis.
What is needed today is not a better mechanism, but a brand new paradigm that shakes Christians out of their lethargy. Only a new paradigm can awaken the political giant within our community. Without the theological justification, strategies to increase fundraising, develop media relations and “getting-out-the-vote” will fail.
Why? Because without the spiritual and theological foundation, Christians simply won’t be compelled to take up their God-given duty in this world as we prepare for the next. All the strategizing in the world will die the death of a thousand pietistic qualifications.
And then, yes, conservatism will be dead, but not because it wasn’t political enough. Rather, because we, as a people of faith, died for lack of knowledge.
Rev. Tristan Emmanuel is executive director of the Equipping Christians for the Public Square Centre and a member of the editorial board of The Interim. A version of this column originally appeared in his online op-ed, “No Apologies.”