Commentary by Tim Bloedow
Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) is a Christian organization, founded to provide assistance to Christians in countries where they face persecution, largely at the hand of Muslim and Communist regimes. Recently the organization, which sends out regular email alerts, issued a statement about the hostility being faced by Christians at the hand of their government – in Canada.
The animosity expressed against Christianity during the federal election campaign was not limited simply to issues such as abortion, although, quite a bit of time was given to this issue, with Liberal leader Jean Chretien and Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark reaffirming their support for the killing of unborn children. The anti-Christian rhetoric went even deeper, shocking many Canadians across the country and resulting in reaction from a number of Christian organizations as well as other religious groups. Most of the comments were made as criticism and even mockery of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s beliefs.
VOM was redistributing, with the hope of increasing its exposure, a statement issued by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The EFC represents Evangelical (Protestant) Christians in the public square, including the realm of political debate. It represents three million Canadians in 32 denominations, churches, church-related organizations and educational institutions (including VOM).
The incident which finally prompted their reaction was a comment by radical feminist Liberal MP Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre), who condemned Mr. Day for stating his belief in the lordship of Jesus Christ. She had said: “When [Stockwell Day] said that ‘Jesus Christ is the God of the whole universe,’ I say that is an insult to every Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh – everybody else who believes in other religions.” (Questions still exist over whether or not Mr. Day even made the statement as claimed by Ms. Fry.)
EFC president Gary Walsh responded that this doctrinal statement “is central to our faith, [and] to restrict it from the public square flies in the face of all our guarantees of freedom of religion and expression found in the Charter and human rights legislation.” He added, “Every faith tradition has fundamental statements of belief that espouse the truth of their faith. If every one of these beliefs about deity and the world are deemed inappropriate positions all people of faith will be excluded from public life. Atheists only may apply.”
EFC spokesman Bruce Clemenger later told The Interim that the reason his organization became involved in the controversy was because they believed a line had been crossed from challenging the potential implications of a person’s beliefs on their public policy to “attacking and ridiculing the actual belief itself.”
Focus on the Family also raised objections to the hostility being expressed against Christianity as did a number of religious leaders who took issue with Ms. Fry’s attempts to speak for them. The Vancouver Sun reported Aziz Khaki, vice-president of the Muslim Canadian Federation, calling Ms. Fry’s remarks “ridiculous.” Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas Synagogue told LifeSite, “We firmly believe Canada is a multicultural society which is open and welcoming to all religious faiths. The expression of a person’s individual faith affirmation is a sacred part of the Canadian context and no one should be denied that right and be accused of anything untoward in expressing that.” Several organizations, including the EFC, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Islamic Society of North America-Canada have since released a multi-faith statement condemning the religious bigotry.
Hedy Fry’s comments, however, only capped a long series of anti-faith statements primarily targeted at the Alliance leader.
“I’m afraid of the Alliance. I don’t know what this Alliance group is all about. I’m afraid of some of the things I hear … This leader scares me – but only from what I’ve heard, only what I’ve read … Maybe it’s his religious upbringing, I don’t know.” This comment was made to Sun Media fairly early in the election campaign by Mel Lastman, the Jewish mayor of Toronto, who has to know that if such a comment was made about a Jew, the future in Canadian politics for the person who made the statement would have permanently evaporated within about .000078 seconds.
After CBC mockingly “exposed” Mr. Day’s belief in six-day creation, a number of politicians eagerly followed media promptings to discuss the issue, ridiculing the Alliance leader. Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe reportedly burst out laughing and said, “Oh you mean Darwin was wrong?” he asked. “I’m not a specialist on that but I think that Darwin was a great scientist.” Liberal House Leader Don Boudria told CBC Newsworld that Mr Day’s creationist belief “doesn’t make sense,” and also dismissed as false Christian beliefs about the Virgin Mary. Also, treating religion as a liability, he told CBC, “I don’t think that religion should interfere with my political life, it never has in the past and I don’t think it should now.”
Later, Mr. Chretien, further mocking belief in creation, used the controversy to promote Liberal government job “creation” numbers by saying that, although the idea of the world being created may be a theory, job creation under the previous Liberal government was a fact.
In a general attack, Randall Pierce, the PC candidate for Toronto Centre-Rosedale and an open homosexual, stated in Toronto’s “gay” publication, Xtra!, that “Stockwell Day is unfit to govern because he can’t separate his religion from his politics.” Even New Democratic Party leader Alexa McDonough said at one point that “when you see the kind of super-religiosity and the kind of picking and choosing of principles that seem to characterize the Alliance leader, then people are right to examine very closely what those principles and values are that he holds dear – and what the contradictions very often are between what he spouts and what he practises.” These political leaders, however, despite their professed belief in equality and tolerance, did not invite similar investigation into their beliefs.
Mr. Chretien also eventually commented on Mr. Day’s commitment to avoid working on Sunday, asserting at one point that being prime minister is a seven-days-a-week job, “including Sunday.”
Not all election activity which mocked God was targeted at Stockwell Day and the Canadian Alliance. One of the PC’s campaign ads used Biblical imagery to target the Liberals in a way which caricatures the nature of God and which, therefore, is seen by many Christians as taking God’s name in vain, violating the Third Commandment. This was the ad which observed that Mr. Chretien had promised to honour all the promises made in the Liberal Red Book unless prevented by “an act of God.” A lightening bolt then strikes, setting aflame a copy of the open Red Book, and a voice states that there must have been an act of God because the Liberals have not fulfilled all those promises.
Following this kind of rhetoric and intolerance, Christians were disheartened to see most of the perpetrators rewarded by voters with election victories. Many Christian individuals as well as organizations such as Focus on the Family are expressing deep concerns about the implications of anti-Christian intolerance within Canada’s establishment and the apparent irrelevance of this reality among the general population.
Mr. Clemenger said that the EFC is interested in seeing the religious vote breakdown from the election. The organization, he said, has been speaking with Andrew Grenville of Angus Reid who has told him that such an analysis is being prepared. 100 Huntley Street’s Lorna Dueck reported in the Globe and Mail recently that such figures for the last election showed evangelical Christians supporting the then-Reform Party to a greater degree than the population at large. Nevertheless, both Evangelicals and Catholics gave most of their vote to the Liberals. They received 37 per cent of the Evangelical vote in 1997, with Reform taking 32 per cent and the Progressive Conservatives 18 per cent. Evangelical and Catholic political activists worked hard leading up to the latest election to convince the religious voters they represented to, in most cases, give their vote to the Alliance. It will be interesting indeed to see whether or not they were successful this time around.