Stephen Harper's Religious Faith
Harper's faith bodes well for Canada (N.B. see the piece written the day after this article)
7 February 2006
It's official. Yesterday, Stephen Harper was sworn in as Canada's newest prime minister.
We're doomed. At least that's what Council of Canadians spokesperson Maude Barlow, Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove and various other far-left leaning commentators would have you believe.
Their reasoning goes like this: Harper is an evangelical Christian. He was raised Presbyterian and now attends the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. Therefore, by definition, he's bound and determined to turn back the clock on Canadian social policy.
They warn that his promise to allow MPs to vote their conscience on the issue of gay marriage is just the beginning. Next, he'll be banning abortion. Left long enough, he'll be legislating that the hem of a woman's skirt has to fall below the knee.
Barlow, Hargrove and their ilk have a reputation of screaming "the sky is falling" every time a government or its policies stray outside the agenda they are trying to promote. Remember, these are the same people who said free trade was going to kill the economy of Canada. They had to eat their words when that Conservative government initiative brought the country economic growth and stability that had not been seen since the end of the Second World War.
But could they be right this time? Does being an evangelical mean that Harper is an ideologue with a fringe, right-wing social agenda?
As an evangelical, Harper is a proponent of traditional marriage, but that doesn't put him on the fringes. If anything, it plunks him in the middle of the mainstream. A poll done just a few months ago for the CBC showed that like Harper, a majority of Canadians, 52 per cent, support the term marriage for heterosexual couples and civil union for homosexual couples.
As an evangelical, Harper is probably in favour of some restrictions on abortion (I say probably because he has never said so himself). But again, that makes him centrist, not far-right.
A 2004 Environics poll showed two-thirds of the population want greater restrictions on abortion. Some experts feel that number would increase if more Canadians knew that we have no abortion legislation and, as such, a pregnancy can be terminated up to its final month.
To say evangelicals in general, and Harper in particular, would be gunning to have abortion outlawed just isn't supported empirically. Research done by sociologist Sam Reimer has shown only 28 per cent of evangelicals are hardliners seeking an outright ban on abortion. A 2005 Environics poll shows a similar percentage of "average Canadians" are of the same mind as these hardline evangelicals believing that "life should be protected from conception."
It's good to know that even hardline evangelicals have lots of company out on the fringe.
While Barlow, Hargrove and friends would have us believe Harper is one of the hardline evangelicals, his track record just doesn't bear that out. As the Gospel of Matthew says, "By their fruits you shall know them."
Read any of the policy or position papers written by Harper from the time he was a graduate student at the University of Calgary, to his days as a Reform party MP, to his stint as head of the National Citizens Coalition and you will be surprised to find that the only time he talks at length about values is when he is discussing the value of the dollar and how to maximize its potential. Conservative social values are not where Harper's political mind is at.
People often forget (or perhaps in the case of his liberal opponents, they choose to ignore) that Harper quit as a Reform MP because his party colleagues often made social issues, and not economic and political reform, their primary focus.
After his resignation, a report in the Toronto Star referred to Harper as a "moderate." Yes, Canada's national voice of the left called him a moderate.
The truth is, being an evangelical Christian might actually help Harper to be one of our best prime ministers.
History has shown that evangelical faith mixed with politics has produced an incredible amount of social good inside and outside our country.
It was a group of evangelical women, headed by Nellie McClung, who secured the right to vote for Canadian women. Free public education in Canada owes its creation to a coalition of evangelical politicians. Evangelical pastor Tommy Douglas was the initiator of our universal system of health care. Informed by his evangelical faith, John Diefenbaker brought in the Canadian Bill of Rights and abroad, his anti-apartheid statement in 1961 contributed to South Africa's rejection from the Commonwealth. Lester B. Pearson's evangelical upbringing was at the root of his devotion to peace. And the list goes on.
One more thing in Harper's favour: if he is a typical evangelical, then chances are he's more prone to be honest than the population at large.
Research, also done by Reimer, has determined that because Canadian evangelicals see honesty, fidelity and charity as categorical imperatives and not situational options, they tend to show more continuity between what they say and what they do. In the vernacular of evangelicals: if they talk the talk; they walk the walk.
Imagine, Canadians might have a prime minister who tells the truth.
WRITTEN THE NEXT DAY...
9 February 2006
So much for optimism. In my Jan. 7 Record Insight article, Harper's faith bodes well for Canada, I wrote that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's evangelical Christian faith might compel him to be more honest.
I noted that research indicates, on the whole, evangelicals tend to have greater consistency between the values they espouse and the behaviours they exhibit.
What a difference a day makes. Behold Harper's cabinet replete with a turncoat "floor-crosser" and an unelected party insider from Montreal. So now we know: When Harper's inner evangelical and his inner politician collide, the former is no match for the latter.
Maybe his spirit is willing. It's clear now his flesh is weak.