Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PoliticsCanada: Church Leader: Canada has distinctive mode of relating faith and politics, says EFC's Clemenger

Faith Today (July/August, 2k11)
Faith Today is the official monthly publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada; the author is a doctoral graduate of the Institute for Christian Studies.  Dr Clemenger wrote his doctoral dissertation for ICS on the philosophy of Friedrich von Hayek, a political thinker regarded as a founder or precursor of contemporary libertarianism.  —  Politicarp

The Canadian Way
by Bruce J. Clemenger, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

Canada handles the intersection of faith and politics differently than Britain, France or the United States.

The issue of religion rarely surfaced in the recent federal election [in Canada], a change from previous elections. When it did make news, it was usually prompted by media commentators raising the issue.

There were bright spots in the coverage. The National, the CBC TV evening news program, profiled the Elections Kit released by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). In this segment explaining how religious groups engage during elections, viewers learned that the EFC is not a single-issue organization, that we cover a breadth of issues and work across party lines.

Perhaps this is an indication of the media's willingness to explore what it means to be Canadian, to be religious and to be a voter or a citizen running for political office.

Party leaders and many other politicians regularly attend religious services and festivals of a variety of religions, but very few say much about their own religious beliefs.

Contrast this with American candidates for public office: for them not to speak about their own faith or not to have photo ops attending their preferred place of worship raises suspicion.

It is characteristically Canadian for our politicians not to wear their religion on their sleeves and instead to publicly reach out to a variety of religious expressions. It's a manifestation of a long-standing non-sectarian approach to religion that distinguishes Canada from Britain, France and the United States, the three countries with the greatest historical influence on our country.

Our Canadian ancestors did not presume faith should be privatized and kept out of the public square (France), nor did we have a state church (Britain), nor do we have a constitutional separation of church and state (United States).

A non-sectarian approach accepts that religions influence all aspects of life including the political - that religion does have political implications - and hence non-sectarianism seeks fairness in accommodating these expressions.

A secularist approach, by contrast, seeks to limit religious expression to the private sphere and asks people to check their specific religious beliefs at the door when entering the House of Commons or engaging in public dialogue about law or public policy. 

Canada's federation was forged in the political dynamics of the French Catholic and English Protestant reality that required anyone who would be prime minister, whatever their first language or denominational allegiance, to be seen as someone who could mediate between these “two solitudes” and be able to accommodate the aspirations of both.

Not only did Canada develop without a constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state as in the United States, the Canadian constitution provided for the funding of minority religious schools: Catholic schools in predominately Protestant Ontario and Protestant schools in Catholic Quebec. Further, consider our social services sector, where Canada's largest provider besides our governments is The Salvation Army.

Canada's approach has been a robust non-sectarianism, where no single set of doctrines, religious or secularist, would be imposed.

At the same time, a non-sectarian approach does not presume religious neutrality or that the public square can be neutral. Rather, it recognizes that a plurality of worldviews shapes and guides the actions of citizens.

The political world and the broader public realm are shaped by this doctrinal diversity. The goal is not to sanitize statecraft from this plurality, but to accommodate diversity and its expression in the fairest ways possible. In such a context political leaders are expected to be even-handed, fair and just in their dealings with everyone.

What we need is more constructive exploration of the intersection of faith and politics in Canada, and more reflection on how Canada is distinctive from other countries in how this has been expressed.

When political leaders are reluctant to talk about their faith, it doesn't necessarily indicate a hidden agenda or prove they consider their faith to be a private matter with no public consequence.
It might simply mean they understand what previous Canadian leaders learned about giving leadership in a plural and non-sectarian Canada.

Bruce J. Clemenger is president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Read more of his columns at theEFC.ca/clemenger.

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