iPolitics Op-Ed on Faith & Politics


RE: Religion’s fair game if it motivates politics, Lawrence Martin, Globe & Mail, Jul. 31, 2012

By Hon. John McKay P.C., M.P.

I have some sympathy for Lawrence Martin of the Globe & Mail who had the temerity to suggest that there might be a link between Prime Minister Harper's evangelicalism and his anti-evidence, anti-science attitudes. While I think that he is wrong – profoundly wrong – he does express a commonly held misconception about evangelicals that gets endlessly repeated & therefore takes on a force of truth; namely that evangelicals as a group oppose scientific inquiry and rational thought. This is not true, has never been true but evidence of its untruthfulness seems to never get in the way of those wishing to make an argument.

Mr. Harper's anti-rational, anti-scientific public policies do not generate themselves from his membership in the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church. Were he a more serious evangelical it might well be that some of his more excessive public policy initiatives in such diverse areas as foreign aid, treatment of accused criminal persons, or refugee claimants would lead him in the opposite direction. He seems to have a limited Biblical understanding of how to treat "the poor and oppressed."

Subsequently, the conversation migrated to the false debate about the separation of Church & State. While Mr Harper's more fervent believers might wish for a more Christian Canada the likelihood of that happening any time soon is quite remote. For instance Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marios has promised if elected to impose a secular charter on Quebec's civil servants.

The Don Lenihan argued that "there is a fundamental difference between belief and ideology." Apparently divine or absolute belief leaves no room for debate while ideologies do; conveniently neglecting to mention that the 20th century was terrorized by the ideologies of Communism and Fascism which left multiple millions dead and generations impoverished.

He also minimizes the role that people of faith and faith organizations have played in the development of our own democracy. Medicare, foreign aid, a humane criminal justice system have their roots in people of faith working out the calls to justice and mercy in our society. Many of Canada's most important institutions could not function without the hard work and significant commitments made by people of faith. So it is more than just a little offensive to be marginalized by a secular ideology that does not welcome people of faith in the public square of ideas. Frequently the churches, mosques, and temples get stuck with the pointy end of public policy decisions made without their input simply because they are "religious."

Which brings me back to Stephen Harper. Anyone who is elected to serve in the House of Commons has a set of beliefs. I don't expect that my Sikh, Jewish, or Hindu colleagues should suspend their beliefs nor should the Prime Minister or I be expected to suspend ours merely because we attend evangelical churches.

In my view Mr. Harper's ideology has little to do with his faith and much more to do with his grand narrative which seeks to change the face of our nation. It seeks to play to those who wish to see us as a "warrior nation" rather than a conflict resolver; a nation that seeks vengeance rather than justice; a triumphalist nation rather than one merciful to the poor and disenfranchised. None of the foregoing can be found in the Christian & Missionary Alliance liturgy.

Regrettably some evangelicals have so bought into the faux debates about same-sex marriage and abortion that they are prepared to overlook actions, policies, and rhetoric which are neither merciful nor just. Simply put, many evangelicals have been played for suckers. If you like your religion served up with an unhealthy dose of vengeance Mr. Harper is your guy.

Mr. Martin is asking the wrong question. Rather than asking if Mr. Harper's religion influences his decisions he should be asking why Mr. Harper's faith doesn't influence them more. Faith needs reason as much as reason needs faith. Faith should call us to “seek justice, be merciful, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).”

John McKay is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood and is attends an evangelical church in Toronto.

Read Lawrence Martin's column "Religion’s fair game if it motivates politics" here: