Practical tools to help the pro-life Christian to “be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove” were taught at a Toronto seminar “to assist faith-oriented Canadians to participate responsibly in Canadian politics.”

The two-day gathering, which was not focused on a specific issue or party, was offered May 11-12 by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, along with Tyndale University College and Seminary.

Ipsos-Reid senior vice-president Andrew Grenville presented his assessment of crucial polling data in a session on, “Knowing your political culture and public attitudes.”

Grenville has found that how Canadians prioritize abortion is better predicted by their religiosity than are their views on other top policy concerns for the church. Asked to compare the importance of leading issues, respondents – whether they practice their faith or not – almost always agree with weekly churchgoers about which “priorities they (feel) the church in Canada should put greater effort into.” To a surprising extent, Grenville says most “Canadians agree on what the church should do.” Thus, respondents overall – whether churched or unchurched – expect the church to fight child exploitation, domestic child poverty and homelessness.

That finding does not hold true in the case of abortion. Among weekly churchgoers, abortion is a middle-ranked issue on Grenville’s list. These respondents want the church to help “(protect) unborn children in Canada.” A sharp difference is seen among the respondents overall, who were more likely to instead favour any of the other issues offered.

Grenville offered data that can help pro-life Christians effectively present their views to others. He cautioned that, between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of Canadians who agreed with the statement that, “Christians should get involved in politics to protect their values” dropped 7 points, from 46 to 39 per cent. During the same decade, the percentage who agreed with the statement that “it is essential that traditional Christian values play a major role in Canadian politics” dropped 5 points, from 45 to 40 per cent.

The data was based on polling of 3,000 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 per cent.

At the same time, Grenville himself believes that “keeping silent is not an option” for Christians. “We have a responsibility to contribute” to Canadian society, he said.

He proposes three P’s as criteria for Christians to consider as they communicate their agendas publicly, each with associated question sets. To assess whether we are beingproactive, we can ask: “Am I reacting in opposition to someone else? Or am I leading the way and setting the agenda?”

To assess whether we are being positive, we can ask: “Am I criticizing and being on the defensive? Or am I building something and making a difference?”

To assess whether we are being prescriptive, we can ask: “Am I complaining about a problem? Or am I proposing a solution?”

Another seminar highlight was a session led by Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform party, on “Principles of Effective Participation: Moral Campaigns.” Using clips of the film Amazing Grace, with its example of abolitionist William Wilberforce and the Clapham group, Manning extrapolated 12 key lessons that can be applied to contemporary campaigns, including pro-life causes.

Among these was one recommendation to “distinguish … between your immediate objective and your ultimate objective and proceed incrementally, rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach.” The abolitionists “couldn’t figure out a way to legitimate the discussion (about ending slavery) or even get it started. So they made a strategic decision to go for the abolition of the trade and cut off the sources and then go for (total abolition) later,” Manning explained to The Interim.

Another recommendation was to “be prepared to suffer and endure major and discouraging setbacks.” After many defeats and obstacles, the abolitionists were able to introduce a viable bill “just calling for the abolition of the trade.” But just when their hard-won victory seemed attainable, abolitionists were faced with a proposed amendment to their bill, such that the great evil of slavery would be ended – but gradually.

That concept was diametrically opposed to the abolitionists’ “ultimate objective.” Their opponents had taken the abolitionists’ “own tactic and then applied it to their bill.”

The Interim asked Manning to clarify how moral campaigners proceeding with incrementalism can distinguish their temporary measures from the obstructive gradualism pushed by their opponents. “The lesson in that is whatever (political) tactic you develop, you can be sure that your opponents will try … to use the same tactic and logic against you, so be conscious of that when you start out and do whatever you can to protect yourself from it … The other lesson … actually (relates to) a spiritual dialectic, (in) that that’s also how the forces of evil themselves work. If they can’t deter you from pursuing a particular goal or particular strategy, they will take that goal and that strategy and somehow give it a twist so that it has negative and destructive consequences … I think the only protection against this is to be aware of it.”

Navigating the Faith-Political Interface seminars, which were previously offered in Vancouver and Ottawa, are being offered in various Canadian locations, including events to be targeted to Muslims and to Jews.