Same-sex ‘marriage’ decision prompts increase in Christian activism

When David Mainse stepped down in August as the host of the long-running 100 Huntley Street Christian TV program to campaign in defence of marriage, he commented that the “sleeping giant” of the Canadian church was beginning to awaken. Mainse said that the June 10, Ontario Court of Appeal edict to redefine marriage had caused many church leaders to sit up and take notice that what was happening in the realm of politics was going to directly impact them.

Indeed, many legal commentators agree that redefining marriage will lead to escalating confrontation between those seeking sexual licence and the church. Pastors and priests may be forced to “marry” homosexual partners or face sanctions. Related legislation, in the form of NDP MP Svend Robinson’s Bill C-250 regarding “hate” speech, will also bring those teaching traditional Christian sexual morality into conflict with the Criminal Code.

As a result, huge numbers of Christians are beginning to take what can only be described as political action. Members of Parliament have reported receiving unprecedented numbers of phone calls, e-mails and letters. One rural Ontario MP, Murray Calder (Lib, Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey), admitted to having received over 10,000 communications on the subject. And, a number of seemingly spontaneous rallies have sprung up at legislatures, city halls and MP’s offices across Canada. The church, which for at least 40 years has been almost deafeningly silent on matters of public morality, seems to be stirring.

An August 16 pro-marriage rally in Vancouver drew between 8,000 and 10,000 participants, as well as 310 anti-marriage protesters, according to police estimates. Vancouver lawyer Russ Hiebert, who helped organize the event and, said he believes something fundamental changed in the churches this summer. He told The Interim, “I believe the church is beginning to question its role in public life. I don’t think it’s been asleep. But it has been hiding under the covers, watching the action from a safe place. It is now realizing that politics is going to impact them personally. It is now encouraging its members to get involved.”

Hiebert gives the example of his own church, 10th Avenue Alliance, which is sponsoring a symposium this month that hopes to answer the question, “How we’ve come to this place and what we, as a church, are going to do about it.” He said, “Even those who are not interested in public policy are saying, ‘This has gone too far; what can I do to get involved?'”

Days after Vancouver made its voice heard, it was Ottawa’s turn to speak out. Nearly 10,000 Christians, including a few thousand ethnic Chinese wearing red T-shirts, made their concerns heard in the nation’s capital during a pro-marriage rally on Parliament Hill, August 22. Diane Watts, of REAL Women, helped organize the rally. She told The Interim, “We didn’t expect that many with only a few weeks’ organizing. The turnout was very encouraging. A lot of people put their family time aside to show support for marriage.”

The presence of a large group of relatively new immigrants to Canada at the rallies should have surprised no one, said Watts. “It shows their commitment to Canadian life,” she said. Indeed, some of the most vocal opposition to redefining marriage has come from various ethnic communities, leading many Liberal MPs from Canada’s largest cities to publicly oppose the government’s plans.

Though Watts agrees that many religious leaders are getting their congregations more involved, she feels that the sleeping giant analogy may not be totally accurate. “I don’t think the church is ever asleep. For so long, our Christian values were enhanced by our laws, but that is being reversed now. I think it has taken a while to realize this once well-functioning system is being attacked. The mainstream media just doesn’t talk about it.”

The mainstream media also attempted to downplay the significance of many of the protests happening across the country. Many other rallies took place during the summer months, the most notable being in Winnipeg and Edmonton, where several thousand gathered in both locations.

In September, the Canada Family Action Coalition, in co-operation with leaders from several denominations, organized simultaneous prayer rallies across Canada the first Sunday afternoon of the month. CFAC reported that rallies took place in at least 220 of the nation’s 301 federal constituencies and that over 100,000 participants publicly prayed for their local MPs.

Interestingly, CTV National News anchor Sandi Rinaldo began her newscast that evening with the comment, “The sleeping giant has awakened,” referring to the remarkable turnout to pray. Yet, the CBC downplayed the rallies, focusing on ridings such as Paul Martin’s Montreal constituency of LaSalle-Emard, where only a handful of Christians showed up to pray.

The largest rally was in Halifax, N.S., where over 2,000 gathered in the city centre, while other smaller towns, such as Woodstock, Ont. and Medicine Hat, Alta., each saw over 1,000 attend.

CFAC president Dr. Charles McVety told The Interim, “This was unprecedented in Canada: over 100,000 getting together to pray.” Yet, Dr. McVety admitted that before the big day, “I was somewhat doubtful about the level of participation. To actually go and stand on a street corner to pray. The church has never really done that on an issue. Now that they have done this, they won’t go back to sleep.”

He said, “The complacency of the church has been shrugged off. With the desecration of marriage, the decriminalization of marijuana, and the criminalization of the Bible by C-250, Christians are starting to realize that if they do nothing, they will soon be on the outside looking in. Indeed, the sleeping giant of the church has awakened.”

McVety believes the willingness of so many to express themselves publicly portends electoral change. “This will have an effect on politics in this country. The polls have been telling this story for some time. The latest poll from the Toronto Sun says 45 per cent of Canadians would change their vote as a result of this marriage issue. It will have an impact on the next election,” he said.