Religion and politics

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail:

Voters in poll fear Tory agenda

A Leger Marketing poll, conducted last week, shows the Liberals have gained an 11-point lead over the Conservatives.

And when respondents were asked whether the Conservatives would fare better under deputy leader Peter MacKay or New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, two potential leadership contenders, the poll showed little change in the party’s support.

“The problem isn’t the leader, it is the party and its social policies,” pollster Jean-Marc Léger said in an interview yesterday…

When respondents were asked whether they were “afraid” of Mr. Harper’s positions on “abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage,” 39 per cent said yes and 43 per cent said no. The remaining 18 per cent said they did not know or declined to answer.

From Friday’s Globe and Mail:

Christian activists capturing Tory races

Christian activists have secured Conservative nominations in clusters of ridings from Vancouver to Halifax — a political penetration that has occurred even as the party tries to distance itself from hard-line social conservatism.

At least three riding associations in Nova Scotia, four in British Columbia, and one in suburban Toronto have nominated candidates with ties to groups like Focus on the Family, a Christian organization that opposes same-sex marriage.

But organizers say many more will be on the ballot during the next federal election, a feat achieved by persuading parishioners, particularly new Canadians, to join the party and vote for recommended candidates…

“The difficulty, from a party perspective, is that it begins to hijack the other agendas that parties have,” said Ross Haynes, who lost the Conservative nomination in the riding of Halifax to one of three “Christian, pro-family people” recommended by a minister at a religious rally this spring in Kentville, N.S. …

But Tristan Emmanuel — the Presbyterian minister whose endorsement at the Kentville rally aided the nominations of Andrew House in Halifax, Rakesh Khosla in Halifax West and Paul Francis in Sackville-Eastern Shore — makes no apologies…

Mr. Emmanuel said Christians have been allowed to believe that “to be a genuine citizen of the nation we need to check our religion at the political door. And I’m saying no, that’s fundamentally flawed. You may participate in the public square as a religious individual and be not ashamed.”

John Reynolds, the retiring Conservative MP who ran the party’s nomination process, said the fact that social conservatives have won his party’s nominations is simply a function of democracy.

“I don’t believe in appointments and neither does our party, so we get some real battles,” Mr. Reynolds said. “People say, ‘Can’t you do something about these guys running?’ and I say ‘Hey, you can do something: go out and sign up some more people.'” …

Darrel Reid, the party’s candidate in Richmond, B.C., is a past president of Focus on the Family. Cindy Silver, who will run for the Tories in North Vancouver, was the executive director of the Christian Legal Fellowship for two years in the 1990s. Marc Dalton in New Westminster-Burnaby has been the pastor of a community church in Burnaby…

Rondo Thomas beat former Conservative MP René Soetens for the nomination in Ajax, on the eastern edge of Toronto. Dr. Thomas is a top official with the Canada Christian College, which is run by Charles McVety, a senior director of the Defend Marriage Coalition.

“The Defend Marriage Coalition engaged in a concerted effort to help pro-marriage candidates become nominated,” Dr. McVety said.

“There is a desire to see pro-marriage nominees as candidates right across the country. We know that we have 141 pro-marriage MPs now and our hope is to achieve a pro-marriage Parliament.”

What do you think, folks? Should religion and politics mix in this way?

  1. Is it appropriate for churches and para-church organizations to mobilize politically?
  2. Should the Conservatives find a way to stop it, if it is going to diminish their chances of forming the next government?

6 thoughts on “Religion and politics

  1. Everyone has heard that idea before, that one should “leave one’s religion at the door” when one comes to vote. I’d always pretty much accepted it without thinking. And yet, why?

    If religion is fundamental to a person’s world view, part of what makes a person who s/he is, why should religion be left at the door? We accept that other world views – humanism, or feminism, for example – have a place in a person’s politics. Why not their religion?

  2. I agree that the idea of “leav[ing] one’s religion at the door” when voting is an accepted practice that needs to be revisited.

    The issue is often confused with the separation of church and state. I don’t think that the attempt to separate church and state intended to create an internal rift in a person between his political and religious beliefs, however this is the way people seem to see it. I think the effort would make for a schizophrenic political entity.

    The American constitution has a very good approach to the separation and its purpose.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    It does not say that religion has no place in politics it merely implies that state religion or restrictions based on faith inhibit freedom. So religion does not inhibit freedom but laws that would establish religious bias would; or at least that is the way I see it.

    I guess what I am saying is it is possible to be both a humanist (like those that came up with the concept of the separation of church and state) and a person of faith.

    Some humanist it seems see that faith involves the abandonment of rationalism. I think it is totally possible to have a rational faith.

  3. I guess we’re all of the same opinion. Here’s my take on the subject.

    Every Member of Parliament is caught in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, she ought to represent the views of her riding. On the other hand, she has values of her own. It’s OK as long as they don’t come into conflict but, when they do, there’s no easy solution.

    Obviously, an MP with strong religious convictions is particularly vulnerable to the situation I’ve just described, since her convictions are unlikely to be shared by the community in general.

    But the same challenge can arise from commitments which are not religious in nature. For example, Todd Russell, the new Liberal MP from Labrador, used to be the President of the Labrador Métis Nation. Now he is obliged to represent a broader constituency. He’ll have to walk a fine line if (for example) Labrador Métis interests collide with Labrador Inuit interests.

    But would anyone say that Mr. Russell should park his Métis agenda at the door of the House of Commons? I doubt it. That cause is what brought him into the political arena in the first place. He is now in a position to advocate on behalf of a disadvantaged population.

    Mr. Russell shouldn’t promote a Métis agenda to the harm of his other constituents — that’s all. And I think a similar principle should apply with respect to religion and politics.

    Still, the general population may not see it that way. Presenting a slate of socially conservative Christians is liable to hurt the Conservatives in the next election.

  4. This seems to be a reoccurring theme. Does an MP or MPP vote with his convictions (religious or not), or cross the floor, without regards to his constituents?

    I think if we elect someone we need to look at more than their party politics.

    So we are voting for both the party and the person.

    I don’t think we can logically expect MP/MPP’s to cease being themselves and religion is part of the self.

    Is it an invasion of privacy to require the candidate to publish their religion or religious convictions, as they are linked to their personal opinions?

    After what we have seen in the past months, I think that Canadian politicians need to work on constitutional reform that addresses the issue.

    The problem here is, if the conservatives introduce a bill to address MP’s acting on their own biases without consulting constituents they will be seen as whiners, and at the moment such a bill is not in the Liberal’s best interests.

  5. Sorry Q I didn’t really respond to your questions.

    1. I think under the current system it would be impossible to prevent religion and politics from mixing.

    2. Personally I think that churches need to concentrate on influencing society on the person-by-person level. Any time a church becomes political, it dirties itself to some degree. (Now I am going to have to justify that – I will do that later, when I have more time)

    3. I don’t think the conservatives need to stop the mix of church and politics in their party or even in Canadian politics in general. In my opinion they and other parties need to define themselves, in a way that includes the beliefs of their members. If this prevents them from getting elected that is the price they are going to have to pay for being honest.

    It could be that the conservatives need to examine the role and influence of religion in their party, to either embrace it or reject it, even at the cost of party members or an election.

    Honesty in government is one of their beliefs, maybe on this issue they need to be honest themselves, and admit just how much religion effects their politics?

    However, the liberals are also guilty of this convictional self denial. Even though it may accept athiests and pagans would it hang out a shingle that says Athiests and pagans welcome?

    No Canadian party wants to be the party of the right or the left, or the party of persons of faith or athiests, it seems.

    The white bread government of Canada, inoffensive to nobody, but how honest is it?

  6. Bill, you raise some good questions and comments.

    Is it an invasion of privacy to require the candidate to publish their religion or religious convictions, as they are linked to their personal opinions?

    What troubles me is that Christians seem to be the only group which is subjected to that kind of scrutiny. I didn’t think much of Stockwell Day, but I also didn’t think much of the way he was treated.

    There are Sikh MPs, Aboriginal MPs, and presumably secular humanists, but when did any of them get the Stockwell Day treatment? Either it’s relevant information or it isn’t; but let’s not single out only Christians.

    It could be that the conservatives need to examine the role and influence of religion in their party, to either embrace it or reject it, even at the cost of party members or an election.

    This is exactly what I’m wondering. The Conservatives achieved a Reform/Alliance/PC merger; they have changed leaders (goodbye Preston, goodbye Stockwell); they have moved to the left on social issues (the commitment not to introduce abortion legislation), and now the Liberals are under the dark clouds of the Gomery inquiry. But still the Conservatives are stuck at 30% in the polls. Maybe that’s as much support as they can ever expect.

    The NDP long ago decided to be a party of conscience even if it meant they would never form the government. The Reform Party had similar ideals at its inception.

    The Conservatives are still trying to have it both ways, it seems to me. They appeal to an evangelical Christian / social conservative base, particularly by trying to make same sex marriage a wedge issue. But they’re also trying to appeal to centrists in the hope of forming the government.

    Maybe they have to choose which way they want it. I think this accusation of a “hidden agenda” sticks because the Conservatives appear inconsistent: they look like they’re saying one thing and doing another.

    No Canadian party wants to be the party of the right or the left, or the party of persons of faith or athiests, it seems.
    The white bread government of Canada, inoffensive to nobody, but how honest is it?

    Well said! I think we need a leader — any leader — who appears to stand for something — anything! Trudeau stood for something (love him or hate him). Mulroney stood for something (ditto). But Chrétien, Martin, Harper? — what are their convictions? Name one, other than Harper’s convictions on same sex marriage.

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