Christianity Speech


Christianity Speech

October 26, 2002

Evangelical Fellowship and the Malvern Church

I would like to talk about 3 things this morning:

1)   Religion Matters

2)   Democracy may not matter

3)   Christians could matter a lot

Philip Jenkins in this month’s Atlantic Monthly argues that Christianity, not Islam, will be the dominant religion of the 21st Century.  Within the next 25 years, the world’s Christians will number 2.6 billion, making Christianity by far the world’s largest faith.  By 2025, 50% of Christians will be from Africa and Latin America; an additional 17% from Asia.  Pentecostals already outnumber Buddhists and by 2040 will be on par with Hindus.  Seventy five per cent of all Christians will reside outside of Europe and North America by the year 2025.  The dominant nations in world Catholicism will inevitably become non-European and a Pope will be elected from their midst sooner rather than later.  Evangelical’s today number 325 million; when added to Great Commission Christians (evangelicals) 887 million, they total 1.2 billion.  If you add in Pentecostals at 811 million, the total is 2.025 billion people who could reasonably be described as evangelical.

Christianity has proved to be a very resilient religion.  You will recollect that only fairly recently God was pronounced to be dead.  The trouble with the pronouncement is that neither God nor anyone else thought so and those who gave us that news have since moved onto their own reward.

Not only does God appear to be doing well – even in Canada where 80% profess belief in Him – but his various belief systems also seem to be doing very well despite the best efforts of the high priests of secularism.

In Jenkins’s article he says “ the 21st Century will almost certainly be regarded by future historians as a century in which religion replaced ideology as the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs, guiding attitudes to political liberty and obligation, concepts of nationhood, and of course, conflict and wars.”

Interestingly, Christianity is probably the world’s only fully global religion.  Islam, is still probably a regionally based religion.  The others are more ethnically driven, although all can say that they have a presence throughout the world.

As a global religion, Christianity transcends jurisdictional boundaries and in some instances challenges nation states for the loyalty of its citizens.  Historically, Christianity not only provided salvation and an intelligent way to sort out good and evil, but it also provided community.  As nation-states struggle to be responsive, it’s easy to see how loyalty can be transferred to a priest or a pope or a charismatic figure promising comfort and security of community.  Fighting for God’s cause is far more satisfying than protecting oil supply routes and buildings of commerce.

Islamism (a fascist form of Islam) has raised the art of the jihad to levels of commitment and frenzy that bewilders westerners.  Many of us can’t fathom how Iran’s Shia Mullahs were able to get thousands of young Iranians to die martyrs’ deaths in their war with Saddam Hussein.  Many shake their head and wonder what kind of crazy blows himself / herself up in a bus to kill Jews?  How crazy is it that “Holy Warriors” blow up a French oil tanker and then claim that it is a blow against Christianity? And it is a French tanker at that.  You can say a lot of things about France, but Christian is not something that immediately leaps to mind.  Nevertheless it speaks to the point that religion is replacing ideology as the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs.  Fascism has been defeated.  Communism has disappeared.  Secularism is bewildered.  What makes these religious people tick?  Even evangelicals who agree with Islam’s analysis of Western decadence are perplexed by these religious martyrs committing unspeakable atrocities in God’s name.

Robert Kaplan in “The Coming Anarchy” quotes van Grewald with approval “From the vantage point of the present there appears every prospect that religious fanaticism will play a larger role in the motivation of armed conflict in the West than at any time for the last 300 years.”…

Within Christianity is the north / south divide.  Clearly southern Christianity (Africa, Latin America and Asia) is more conservative, and some would say anti-intellectual. As northern Christians liberalise their attitudes on sexual matters, ordination and liberal interpretations of scripture (cafeteria Christians as my wife would call them: a little of this, a little of that), southern Christians embrace a simplified, stripped down religion that provides certainty and direction in perilous times.  A north / south cultural gap and moral gap result in some strange positioning.  Recently, Archbishop Tay of Singapore was appalled at his fellow Anglicans in Vancouver for their tolerance of totem poles.  Prayer and exorcism by the Bishop against these idols was not seen by the locals as a good way to build bridges to our First Nation’s communities.

It certainly is a strange position for a Christian.  All of us intuitively know the basis for the Bishop’s reaction yet also understand and have sympathy for alternative spiritual expression.  It is quite ironic that southern Christians see northern Christians as wayward brothers and sisters and feel the need to evangelize them.  Just who is the evangelical here and will we need T-Shirts to tell the difference?  Truly, Christianity has a supra-national loyalty where we seek out a fellowship with fellow believers in the strangest of places.  This year I have attended a Catholic service in Colombo Sri Lanka with David Kilgour, a lively Pentecostal like service in Beijing, and the pure joyous “religiontertainment” of David Wilkerson’s Time Square Church in New York.  Man, that place rocks.

Christianity is the world’s pre-eminent global religion – it challenges nation-states – it is on a collision course with Islam primarily and other religions secondarily – and there is a cultural schism between the north and south.

And ladies and gentlemen, it is all right here in Scarborough.  One hundred metres from the front door of this church is everyone and everything that you can imagine.  When something heats up in another part of the world we have fallout here.  We are truly a global community.

Where does that leave sleepy old Canada, our peaceable kingdom presided over by political leaders blissfully unaware of this seething cauldron, worse still, constitutionally incapable of coming to grips with the passage of political ideology and its replacement by religious ideology?  The Taiwanese have a saying about Canada:  “Canadians live in paradise, only they don’t know it.”  Indeed, are Canadians also not blissfully unaware and does the evangelical community have anything to say on the matter?

I would describe Canada as a post -Christian nation.  There are certain remnants, but as Brian Stiller is notes, “The Christian memory is becoming exceedingly dim.”  Trying to fashion social policy that takes account of these trends would be difficult even if Canadians were fully aware.  Regretfully, we spend inordinate amounts of time deciding on whether this initiative is right- wing or left- wing, collectivist or individualist, conservative or liberal.  Most of the time spent is quite useless as more and more people defy labeling.  Personally, I like being a Liberal because it lets me skate all over the ice (left wing and right wing).  Sometimes I even skate backwards.  Nevertheless, our somewhat arcane and outdated labeling system would likely be lost on our southern co-religionists.

The irony is therefore that Canadian politicians are speaking a language of left and right which is incomprehensible to southern Christians.   This will be the 21st Century Tower of Babel.

Canada takes some pride in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I regard it as a mixed blessing, but Canadians generally have a strong affinity for their Charter and see it as an equalizer between individuals and large entities (government, banks, etc).

Rights language is a little bewildering to most people outside of Western thought processes.  Did you know that we have a huge Somali population at Galloway and Kingston Road and along Lawrence Avenue?  Recently I met with a constituent from Somaliland, the northern and eastern part of Somalia occupied by the British for parts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Mogadishu and the southern part were occupied by the Italians.  Sam-Sam wants Canada to sponsor democracy training in Somaliland.  It is a good idea – I hope that we can persuade our government to fund a responsible NGO.  Her interesting point, however, was the time frame.  Westerners think in terms of months and years.  She talked in terms of generations.  The Somali concept of state is that the state owns you, your family and all of your assets.  You are a slave to the state (no Canadian tax jokes please). Rights talk, democratic franchise and rule of law are as foreign to these villagers as someone coming from Mars for coffee – It just does not compute.  Contemporary conceptualizing is as far removed from the Somali warlord as the east is from the west, and yet we persist in the conceit that ideology drives thought when in fact religious loyalty is far more significant.

To give you an illustration of how far off base are the chattering classes (of which I am a Charter member), I went to our local Chapters bookstore.  Naomi Klein, left wing media darling, wrote a book on globalization entitled “Fences and Windows Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate”.  Religion and Christianity are not mentioned once in her book.  How can you talk about the forces of globalization and not mention that which animates the hearts and souls of the world’s peoples (3rd world and others)?

From the right wing we have Michael Mandelbaum’s “ The Ideas that Conquered the World:  Peace, Democracy and the Free World in the 21st Century.”  Henry Kissinger says it is a very fine book and I believe him, but I would have thought that religious expression would have merited more than two footnotes.

Tom Friedman gets a little closer to the truth in his excellent book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”.  He devotes a chapter to the desire within us all to protect our olive tree from encroachment by others.  In the category of a picture is worth a 1000 words, he has a picture of an orthodox Jew holding a cell phone against the Wailing Wall so that another Jew in Paris can pray at the Wall.

To quote Freedman: “Olive trees are important.  They represent everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us in this world – whether it be belonging to a family, a community, a tribe, a nation, a religion or, most of all, a place called home.  Olive trees are what give us the warmth of family, the joy of individuality, the intimacy of personal rituals, the depth of private relationships, as well as the confidence and security to reach out and encounter others.  We fight so intensely at times over our olive trees because, at their best, they provide the feelings of self-esteem and belonging that are as essential for human survival as food in the belly.  At worst, though, when taken to excess, an obsession with our olive trees leads us to forge identities, bonds and communities based on the exclusion of others, and at their very worst, when these obsessions really run amok, as with the Nazis in Germany or the Serbs in Yugoslavia, they lead to the extermination of others.”

The point is made.  In short, we can forget everything else except who we are in relation to God and community.

I make reference to these authors to illustrate the cultural and intellectual gap between the north and south.  They speak different languages and literally live in different worlds.  Who will bridge that gap

The PM has rightly staked out some ground in Africa.  He has started a dialogue on Africa and put his (our) money where his mouth is through NEPAD ($500 million).  But ask yourself, when the PM meets Obasango, the President of Nigeria, what do they discuss?  Corruption and the Rule of Law? Democratic Reform? Ethics package?  Or Sharia Law and the clash of Christian south and the Muslim north? 

Kaplan discusses a recent U.S. State Department’ Bureau of Intelligence and Research analysis of Nigeria:

“Prospects for a transition to civilian rule and democracy are slim … The repressive apparatus of the state security service will be difficult for any future civilian government to control… The country is becoming increasingly ungovernable … Ethnic and regional splits are deepening, a situation made worse by an increase in states from 19 to 30 and a doubling in the number of local governing authorities; religious cleavages are more serious; Muslim fundamentalism and evangelical Christian militancy are on the rise; and northern Muslim anxiety over southern (Christian) control of the economy is intense … the will to keep Nigeria together is now very weak.”

Preston Manning argues is that church and state should be separate but spiritual dimensions have a valuable role in the public square.  His argument is directed at domestic politics, but I would suggest that Preston Manning would have a much more comfortable dialogue with Obasango...  He might even be able to counsel the President that Christians should never force their beliefs on a society yet all the while directing that society towards enlightenment, tolerance, and acceptance of them.  Possibly President Obasango might find that to be more useful counsel dealing with Muslim clerics wishing to force Sharia on everyone regardless of belief than merely incomprehension and bewilderment

Christians can bridge if they want too.  Christians understand the profound motivation of religion.  Christians understand the limitations of ideology – capitalism, communism, fascism, etc.  Christians understand that ideologies come and ideologies go, but Judeo-Christianity in particular and religious expression in general begins at the beginning of time and will end at the end of time.  It speaks to men’s souls in a way that no ideology can. 

The dominant religion in Canada is secularism.  It has orthodoxy, its high priests and its mystical language of political correctness.  One is only admitted to the inner sanctum of political correctness if one renounces all other faiths.  In particular Christianity, Islam, and Judaism must be banished from public expression and limited only to the privacy of one’s home, church, mosque, or synagogue.  It is a brave person indeed that dare asserts in the name of his or her faith that such in such is right or wrong.  The collective wrath of gods of secularism will descend upon the unwary and marginalize whatever that individual may say.

The secularist triumph of separating private religious expression from speaking into the public square from a religious base is particularly true of Parliament.  Parliament is after-all a “talking shop” but certain expressions of faith are better not said because the prevailing ethos is that faith should be a matter of private expression – not public.

Klein, Mandelbaum, and to a lesser extent Friedman are the intellectual spear-carriers for politicians.

It is very dangerous to exclude people of faith from the policy process – people who explicitly ground their positioning in a faith text, or as we would say, a biblical outlook.  My mythical conversation between Western politicians and President Obasango is not that far fetched.  Dialogue of the deaf is nearly always a tragedy except when it’s a comedy.  For some bizarre reason, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to exclude people of faith from public dialogue for fear they might disagree.  Similar arguments that we should exclude scientists, economists, and environmentalists would be laughed out of the public square.  Debate is by definition founded in disagreement.  So what is so awful about two clerics disagreeing in public over issues of relevance in the marketplace of ideas?  It is intellectual sophistry to believe that anyone going into the House of Commons checks their religious beliefs at the door.  People of faith have valuable and insightful contributions to make. 

I am very grateful to Janet Epp Buckingham and Bruce Clemenger from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada for their help on issues ranging from terrorism, to marriage, to stem cell research.   Iain Benson’s of the Centre for Renewal of Public Policy is an eloquent and intelligent analyst of public policy issues.  Iain sums up his position by saying “It may be more soothing the preach to the choir but to do so in the current climate is neither wise nor in the long run effective.”  In his book “Justice – Not Just Us”, Jerry Vanderzande displays an unerring nose for fairness and equity which makes me squirm with discomfort over decisions taken by our government.  Fortunately, he reserves his best shots for Mike Harris.  Should all of these people have to preface their remarks by saying “excuse me I am a Christian – worse still a Christian that speaks from a faith basis”.

When St Paul visited Athens he commented upon the idol to the unknown god.  Quote Matthew 17: 22-24: Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and observed your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:  To An Unknown God.  Now what you worship as something as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  He used that occasion to tell the men of Athens about Jesus of Nazareth very neatly reinventing himself in order to speak into the society of the day.  In each generation, Christians need to reinvent themselves so that they can speak into contemporary society and have society listen.

As a practicing politician, I can say as a general proposition, that people of faith are not leaders in their degree of political sophistication and involvement.  One of the reasons that evangelicals have so little impact politically is that they have not learned the lessons of St. Paul.  It is all just fine and dandy to preach to the converted on Sunday morning, but on Monday you have to change the message delivery because you are preaching to the unconverted.  Have you ever wondered why Christians in Canada have so little impact?  St. Paul had that figured out, but Canadian Christians don’t, with some rare exceptions.  It seems to me that Christians want to show up for the big moral issues (abortion, homosexuality etc.), but then abandon ship for some of the tougher stuff – Medicare, Kyoto, stem cells, and the Budget.

All of us need to recognize the genius of St. Paul, who presumably spoke differently to the men of Rome and differently again to the men of Jerusalem.  All of us need to know how to speak to the Men of Athens.

It is interesting to note the tolerance for faith-based talk in Canadian society.  In the last election we – the Liberals- mercilessly exploited Stockwell Day’s religious talk.  While I have some serious reservations about my party’s overly joyful trashing of another man’s religion, it needs to be pointed out that we hit a nerve end with Canadians.  We capitalized on the fear that somehow Stockwell Day thinks the Flintstones is a documentary, and that he would impose his religious views on Canadians.  I’m not sure that’s true, but many people believed it was true.  Somehow or another I don’t think that St. Paul would have made the same mistake.

So where does this leave Christians?  I hope that I have made the argument that you can be intra-Christian bridges- north-south/fundamentalist- liberal/ literal-intellectual.  Possibly in doing good works you may also build inter-faith bridges.  “In everything, therefore, trust people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the law of the prophets”: Matthew 7:12.  Possibly terrorists will not be as convinced that Israel and America need to be annihilated if they see Linda Tripp and World Vision in Palestine helping out.  “Charmingly naïve” you say, but Jesus says “be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.”  Challenge secular orthodoxy that says you cannot participate in the issues of the day yet concede that you will have to reinvent how you speak into the 21st Century.  Recognize your strengths.

Point out that people of faith are the grease that makes civil society work.  Scratch a volunteer and you are likely to find a person of faith.  Hockey coaches, meals- on- wheals, driving people to doctor appointments, organizing community events are overwhelmingly done by people of faith.  Prisons can’t be run without evangelicals.  Take Christians out of ministering to homeless people and we would be devastated.  How would CIDA deliver its program without Christian agencies acting as trusted intermediaries?  Our society would not likely collapse, but all of those services would have to be replaced-likely at considerable cost if Christians were not there volunteering.

Point out that Christians can be the bridge that reconciles north / south splits in Christendom – that sows the seeds of inter-faith dialogue both here and abroad.  Don’t be shy about saying this is the country and world we want and this is why we want it – after all isn’t that what salt and light means?

I hope that over the course of this talk that I have made the argument that religion matters, democracy may not matter, and that Christians could matter a lot more.

Thank you