During the Sept. 14 National Day of Mourning, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said, “Words fail us.” Especially one word – God. It was a word that was not uttered during the official ceremonies on Parliament Hill.
Many Canadians of faith were appalled by government services that failed to mention anything greater than or outside ourselves, reminiscent of other public ceremonies that expunged references to a higher being.
Christians leaders found the snub, whether it was deliberate or not, indicative a government elite that has entirely accepted secularism in the public square – and perhaps worse.
In his Liberation radio broadcast, Rev. Ken Campbell of Tumbler Ridge, B.C., said the prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington was “filled with faith, with the moving singing of hymns, and focused on the prayers and preaching of men and women of faith, affirming the inevitable and ultimate triumph of truth over error, justice over wrong, good over evil, love over hatred and life over death!”
That’s in sharp distinction to Canada’s Day of Mourning which did not invoke God at all.
Campbell told The Interim that compared to the “hopeful, helpful, upbeat, faith-filled” U.S. service, Canada’s was a “prayerless, atheistic, uninspiring” spectacle.
But he isn’t at all surprised. Campbell noted that during memorial services for the victims of the Swiss Air Crash near Peggy’s Cove, N.S., in 1999, there was no mention of God. Also, at the installation of Adrienne Clarkson as governor general, traditional prayers and references to God were expunged.
“It is all part of the unofficial policy to suppress God” in the public square, Campbell said.
Campbell called Chretien’s position “secular fundamentalism,” that shows an intolerance toward the 90 per cent of Canadians that polls consistently show believe in a God.
Reed Elley, Canadian Alliance MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, told The Interim the failure to mention God at the service “is an example of reverse discrimination.”
Elley, a Baptist minister, said that in the hope of not offending people who do not believe in a higher being, the government made the vast majority of Canadians feel excluded from the services.
“To show our tolerance to everyone else, must we show intolerance toward people of faith?” he asked.
More importantly, he said, “It is in times of national emergencies that we need to turn to a higher being outside ourselves.”
He said it is to God “that we turn to answers at times like these: Why does this happen? Is there Hope,” in “calling upon a higher power outside ourselves to look for answers.”
In the House of Commons, Elley chastised the prime minister and governor-general for not being “able to assist us in this search” for answers. He said, “Evil is a spiritual condition of the human heart and at moments of great national tragedy it is logical for us to ask the spiritual questions.”
By contrast, President George Bush at the U.S. Day of Prayer and Remembrance, said, “We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who loved them.” Rev. Billy Graham said, “God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.”
But that need would be filled, just not in the official ceremonies.
Lloyd Mackey, author of the Doing Politics Christianly column, noted that in the week following the areligious services of Sept. 14, two memorial services were held that did feature God. “One, an interfaith service, drew 300 politicians and diplomats, including about 70 members of Parliament,” he wrote, noting that, “It received wide television coverage.”
However, another, an interdenominational Christian service, drew 20 MPs, several aides and just one journalist. The service included the singing of hymns, had a prayer from Elley and personal stories by MPs and Jerry Sherman, head of the Christian Embassy, a Campus Crusade ministry.
Mackey said the interfaith service was good and necessary and corrected what was missing from the previous week’s Day of Mourning.