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Christian Voices of Influence

Who are the Christians and Christian groups that speak publicly on political issues in Canada and how do they express their positions?


The June 16, 2003, gathering of some 600 evangelical Christians outside the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto, was a fair example of one form of political protest used by Christians.

If "strident" is the right term for the last four on the list, then "measured" might be a safe descriptive for the first three.

The protest, in this case, was against the Ontario Court of Appeal's ruling legalizing same-sex marriages. Spearheaded by Canada Christian College, the event included pastors and other Christian leaders who tend to be quite strident about their traditional life and family views.

In reporting on, and analyzing evangelical Christian political and social action opposing gay activism in recent years, I periodically observe that there is a continuum, both in terms of ideology and tone.

Among the organizations scattered along the continuum (with current best-known spokespersons in brackets), from left to right, are:

  • Citizens for Public Justice (Harry Kits, Gerald Vandezande)

  • Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (Bruce Clemenger)

  • Focus on the Family (Darrel Reid, James Dobson)

  • Canada Family Action Coalition (Brian Rushfeldt, Roy Beyer)

  • REAL Women (Gwen Landolt)

  • Christian Heritage Party (Ron Gray)

  • Renaissance Canada (Ken Campbell)

If "strident" is the right term for the last four on the list, then "measured" might be a safe descriptive for the first three.

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), for example, in opposing gay marriage, propose instead that all arrangements apart from male-female unions, be known as registered domestic partnerships. Such partnerships, they maintain, should be free of conjugal implications and available where a long-term commitment of any kind between two people benefits from protection under the law.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ken Campbell is noted for stridency that knows almost no bounds. His supporters would not have been disappointed with his benediction, pronounced at the Toronto rally. There, he opined that SARS would cease when the annual Gay Pride parade was cancelled. (He described that event as the "AIDS parade.")

All of the above classifications tend to draw their theological, intellectual and social sustenance from Christian educational institutions with which they are comfortable.

CPJ would tend to identify with such schools as the Institute for Christian Studies (at University of Toronto), Regent College (at University of British Columbia) and Redeemer University College, near Hamilton.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and Focus on the Family would feel comfortable with Tyndale College and Seminary (soon to be Tyndale University College), Trinity Western University (with its main campus near Vancouver and a leadership centre in Ottawa) and Providence College and Seminary near Winnipeg.

Canada Family Action Coalition frequently ties in with Canada Christian College (CCC). Its president, Roy Beyer, twice left the organization to back Stockwell Day's Canadian Alliance leadership bids, in co-operation with CCC. And the college, led by Charles McVety, supported Jim Flaherty for the Ontario Tory leadership last year. CCC liked his Catholic-based social conservative values.

How many people does each of these categories represent?

It depends. The EFC, by virtue of its 37 member denominations, claims a minimum constituency of 1.2 million. CCC has a spinoff known as the Evangelical Association (EA). The EA counts 50,000 people as attenders at its pastor-members churches.

However, a relatively small group, by acting strategically, sometimes has influence beyond its numbers. CCC, for example, played a significant role in getting Stockwell Day elected as leader of the Canadian Alliance. But it did not have the critical mass to help him elect MPs in the Toronto area, where its influence is the strongest.

Conversely, the EFC has a spinoff called the Pastors' Council (PC), whose membership consists of pastors of 50 of the largest evangelical churches in Canada. Those pastors minister regularly to at least 120,000 people, so they have considerable impact in their own communities. The PC periodically meets off the record with key politicians of all parties such as Joe Clark, Paul Martin, John Manley and Preston Manning. All are willing to admit that at one time or another they have had pleasant and constructive visits from this group. And the public stances of these and other politicians will sometimes reflect the counsel they have received in private.

Lloyd Mackey is Christian Current Ottawa editor, and can be reached at lmackey@christiancurrent.com.

Originally published in Christian Current, July 2003.

 

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A ministry of
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada