Vancouver. In October of 1990, the B.C. Social Credit Party faced a contentious issue at its annual convention: should it remove from its constitution a clause committing it to foster Christian principles?
On the one hand, pro-life Social Credit member Kathleen Toth contended that, if the clause was removed, “I can see a lot of people who joined this party because of its Christian principles deciding there’s no point in supporting Social Credit any longer.
On the other hand, many agreed with the position of Michael Levy, the first Jew to run as S.C. candidate. Levy argued that the clause left the party a closed shop for Christian fundamentalists. He eventually resigned his membership because of it.
Other people hold that the statement of principles might have been acceptable fifty years ago,, but that it was time social Credit modernized in order to attract people of various religious background to its ranks.
Premier Vander Zalm accepted the logic of the latter position. Saying that the party must be one of inclusion, not exclusion, he secured the passage of a substitute statement.
This recognized the supremacy of God and the rule of law and called on the party “to foster and encourage the development of those social, moral and ethical principles which have historically guided the people of this province in the pursuit of their individual goals, regardless of gender, ethnic origin or religious affiliation.
The revised version was passed by more than 75 per cent of the delegates present. However, several leaflets opposing the change were circulated among those attending the convention, and one of these referred to a phobia against Christian principles caused by the fact that “Canadian history is now taught with no reference at all to the role Christian values played in the birth and growth of this nation…”
When Michael Pallascio declared that Quebec should aim to recruit more immigrants with Judeo-Christian values, he was denounced as racist, intolerant and un-Christian.
Pallascio was the chairman of the Montreal Catholic School Commission until his defeat in November.
He is a leader in the Regoupement Scolaire Confessional, a group campaigning against provincial government plans to set up school boards based on the French and English languages instead of on religion. (Only the Montreal board – Protestant and Catholic – would remain denominational because they are protected by the Canadian constitution.)
In a brief prepared for presentation to the Belanger-Campeau commission examining Quebec’s constitutional position, Pallascio’s group said, “If it’s permitted and desirable to encourage the arrival of Francophones, it should be equally considered that people who share with us the Judeo-Christian values are candidates who integrate more easily into our society.”
For this statement of the obvious – or has Quebec forgotten its motto, “Je me souviens” (I remember)? – Kenneth George, president of the Mouvement pour une Ecole Moderne et Ouvert which opposes the Regroupement, called the proposal, “mean spirited and narrow-minded” and based on a “curious notion” of what Christian charity is all about.
Editorial writers, human rights groups, and immigrant organizations joined in the denunciation of Mr. Pallascio.
“It gives the idea that those values are somehow superior” said Clara Pires, an immigrant woman. “I don’t think he understood how hurtful that kind of statement is.” Spokesman for the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Quebec Civil Liberties Union, and the largest teachers’ union in Montreal condemned him as well.
As the festive season approached, the Toronto Star columnist who goes by the name of ‘Singer’ wrote, “It’s time the Grinch stole Christmas.
He recommends a glorious new festival of celebration, a “whiz bang blowout” in which we give thanks to each other, just for being here and present our wishes for peace and good will to the world. “As for Christmas,” he concludes, “leave it to Christians to celebrate in our hearts where it is not too often enough in evidence.”
The conclusion is ambiguous – is he or is he not a Christian himself? – but the intention clear, to play down the importance of a major Christian feast.
The problems of pluralism and diversity have produced other responses as well.
Speaking in B.C. in October, 1990, Brian Stiller, executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, welcomed the Social Credit Party’s move to drop the Christianity clause. He even said that if Christians want to celebrate Christmas and Easter they should allow other religious groups freedom to celebrate their particular holidays. Prior to the 1960s, he claimed, Canadians held a world view based on Judeo-Christian values; those days are gone, however, and now we live in a pluralistic society.
Still he complained that Canada has lost its Christian moral base and that secularism has stepped into the vacuum; it has gone so far that most MPs do not send Christmas cards any more but convey “Season’s Greetings” he noted.
The problem Stiller posed is that of accepting a multicultural society, yet continuing to give witness to the truth of Christianity.
At an October 1990 conference in Toronto on Christianity, Pluralism and Canadian National Building, reported in Christian Week, a Protestant bi-monthly, Clark Pinnock, Harry Antonides and other speakers also lamented the sudden loss of the Christian faith in Canada.
Pinnock, theologian at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, said that Christianity as “salted” Canada, giving it democracy, concern for the poor and sick, and a sense of the wroth of the individual. With the public dissolution of Canada’s Christian heritage, he expects our country to become mean and ugly, because it will have not transcendent ideas to guide it.
Finally, there is Professor Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge, who published Fragmented Gods: the Poverty and Potential of Religion in Canada, some years ago.
Now he has written another book entitled Mosaic Madness. In the Western Report (October 8), Virginia Byfield gave a summary of its contents.
The ‘mosaic’ is our national multicultural policy, our effort “to convert a demographic reality into a national virtue.” Can it be done, the author asks?
Our watchword is peaceful co-existence. In fact, Pierre Trudeau once said that Canadians need not ask further for our identity, because tolerance and respect for each other provide that.
But when individual and group rights are entrenched, without stress on responsibilities, the results is fragmentation, Bibby states. We have a cultural mosaic, a moral mosaic, a sexual mosaic, and so on; we possess a great deal of diversity, but no principle of coherence. If all we have in common as a nation is this diversity, have we any unifying principles at all?
If the Canadian mosaic is to become anything more than the sum of its parts, Bibby maintains, we have to understand the difference between tolerating ideas and examining which ideas are the most sound. The present left-wing ideological bigotry is no improvement over past right-wing bigotry.
Many Canadians now unthinkingly accept relativism; most intellectuals play a safe relativist game under the guise of open-mindedness, when, in the words of Prof. Bibby, “the reality is that our relativism has frequently made our minds airtight.”
Evidently Christianity has many claims to attention in a society such as ours. It teaches that tolerance is a virtue, but not the only virtue; that every society worthy of the name must possess certain values held in common; and that without respect for human life, based on the worth and dignity of each individual, democratic society cannot survive.