After a nine-month process, the board of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada recently announced that it had unanimously made the decision to appoint Bruce Clemenger as its next president, succeeding Gary Walsh. According to board chair Paul Mangus, Clemenger “best matches the needs, vision and mission of the EFC …(He) will lead this vital organization with deep understanding, commitment, humility and persistence.”

Clemenger has served with the EFC since 1992. He was co-founder of the Ottawa-based Centre for Faith and Public Life in 1996 and has served as its director since then. He holds a BA (honours) degree in economics and history, as well as a master of philosophical foundations degree in political history. He is currently completing work on a PhD in political history.

The EFC encompasses some 1.5 million evangelical Christians in Canada and has, since 1964, been an association of denominations, ministries, educational organizations and church organizations that collaborate on a goal of Christian mission.

The Interim spoke with Clemenger recently and asked him about his goals as the new president of the EFC.

The Interim: As you begin the presidency, do you have any priorities that you’ll be tackling?

Clemenger: A number. The Evangelical Fellowship really does three things: we gather evangelicals across Canada, we enable evangelicals to partner and connect in various ways, through forums, roundtables and different types of interactions, and we represent these evangelical communities back to Parliament and the courts. We try to advance what we understand to be a biblical perspective on contemporary issues … That representation side will continue to be a critical component of what we do.

But I guess the theme for me is what I call collaborative engagement. One of the key elements of being evangelical is activism – a desire to share one’s faith with neighbours, community and nation. That expression takes a variety of different forms. It can be in both word and deed. What we are able to contribute is to figure out interesting ways that evangelicals can engage society in word and deed, and do so in a collaborative way. So I’ll be looking for opportunities and ways to encourage that, whether it’s in more traditional missions and evangelism, whether it’s related to social action or whether it’s speaking to governments and courts.

The Interim: You’ve been serving as the director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life. How will the experiences you’ve had and the skills you’ve used in that position benefit you in your new position?

Clemenger: My role in Ottawa has in many ways been that of a diplomat. It has been representing a range of views and concerns to government on behalf of a large number of people who share those beliefs and principles. The job as president will again be one of being a diplomat, a representative of the evangelical community, and seeking ways to identify points of consensus among evangelicals, and then determine and assess how the EFC as a national association can encourage and foster that co-operation. So it’s very much a job of consensus building and trying to determine what directions we need to go, and assist in building and mobilizing our unity around those goals.

The Interim: Do you have any goals for the EFC in terms of life and family issues?

Clemenger: In our work in Ottawa, we categorize the work in broad areas, including the sanctity of human life, care for the vulnerable … and religious freedom. Those will continue to be critical areas that the EFC will continue to advance and promote in Canadian society.

The Interim: You must have been active recently with the situation related to the redefinition of marriage.

Clemenger: We’ve been involved in the court cases in all three provinces. We participated in the hearings in Ottawa and have been issuing press releases on most moves of the government. So we’ve been very, very involved on that issue. In terms of the sanctity of human life, we’ve been involved in a number of cases that have concerned the rights of the unborn – Winnipeg Child and Family Services, the Dobson case. We’ve participated in pretty well all the hearings so far on genetic and reproductive technologies … We’ll continue to be a strong advocate for the sanctity of human life from conception through to natural death.

The Interim: Has that involved much co-operation with other elements of Christianity, other denominations?

Clemenger: Yes it has. We have even intervened in court cases not only with Catholic groups, but also other evangelical groups. We’ve intervened with the Christian Medical and Dental Society, the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Civil Rights League … We’ve been involved in a multi-faith coalition. We’ve also been involved with Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.

The Interim: Are there any particular challenges you see ahead of you? Some say society is becoming increasingly secular, and perhaps even hostile to Christianity. Do you see that as a concern and something you have to address?

Clemenger: There is a growing secularist mindset, which says that faith is properly something private and should not have public expression. We’re very concerned about religious freedom and the ability of people of faith to be full participants in our society and to be fully expressive of the religious traditions that inform every aspect of their lives. That is a critical concern of ours … That will continue to be a strong emphasis of our work.

As president, I will try to promote and model a constructive engagement of evangelicals in public society. We are Canadians and part of this country. Our views should be heard. We deserve a place at the table, and we fully expect to participate at the table of public debate and dialogue. We should not be excluded because of our faith. We’ll be strong in ensuring that people understand and respect the faith traditions. We will try to convince people through dialogue and discussions that a faith perspective is vital and important …