The Emergence of David Onley"He understands the importance of serving in the public domain without trying to 'slip in the Gospel.'"
OttawaWatch—One of my colleagues in the Press Gallery, Rob Linke, who covers Ottawa for some of the Atlantic Canada papers, tipped me off this week, to a potential "story-behind-the story". It related to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's appointment of David C. Onley as Ontario's new lieutenant-governor.
|Ruth Ann and David Onley|
Onley, as it happens, is an evangelical Christian. Linke, knowing a bit about my readership, correctly ascertained that such information would be of interest for OttawaWatch.
Onley is not the only recent Ontario LG to have evangelical connections. Hilary Weston, who filled the role elegantly from 1997 to 2002, is part of a wealthy Toronto family that has long standing connections with Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
Mind you, Yorkminster Park, sometimes referred to as the closest thing in Canada to a Baptist cathedral, cloaks its evangelicalism in dignified and carefully enunciated ecclesiastical language. Nevertheless, a worshipper at YP likely often has more in common with one frequenting Ajax's Safe Haven Worship Centre, than, say, with the good folk at the more theologically liberal-leaning Bloor Street United, just down the street and around the corner.
Safe Haven, as it happens, is the place where David and Ruth Ann Onley, and their three adult sons, Jonathan, Robert and Michael, have worshipped for the past four years.
Yorkminster Park is the church of which David Onley was a part, as a young man. And it is the one to which he invited the young and attractive Ruth Ann a quarter of a century ago, shortly after she considerably deepened her long-standing commitment to Jesus Christ. Ruth Ann, by her own admission, wanted to look over the many eligible bachelors the church was reputed to be harbouring. She ended up marrying "the guy what brung her", even though she was a bit hesitant about his polio-induced disability, which forced him to walk with arm braces or ride a scooter.
… they have both worked at integrating their Christian faith with community service.
Through those years of marriage, the Onleys have attended and, in some cases, been part of the leadership of five churches, Yorkminister Park, Peoples, Northview Community, Bayfair Baptist and Safe Haven.
A reading of both David's and Ruth Ann's bios is worth the time it would take, to learn something about the way they have both worked at integrating their Christian faith with community service.
Since earning a political science degree from the University of Toronto, David has served in several on-air capacities at City-TV in Toronto. He gained his media foothold by writing a best-selling sci-fi novel in the early 80s. That paved the way for him to become the science and technology person at City.
But his colleagues and advisors have encouraged him not to try hiding his disability. That gave him the opportunity to become an advocate for the disabled and the need for their public accessibility.
For her part, Ruth Ann has built a solid career as a contemporary and country gospel singer who enjoys sharing her faith through her music. In reading up on her career, I wondered whether her evangelical-charismatic church connections might narrow her potential influence and focus.
But the eclectic list of events at which she has sung over the past couple years is enough to disarm any such possible misgivings.
One event early in her career caused a bit of a stir. She was invited sometimes to lead the crowd in the singing of "O Canada." At one particular game, when she sang in both French and English, she was booed. That was before Canada was as bilingual as it is now.
All of which leads to some interesting tentative conclusions about the ways in which many evangelical Christian people find their way into politics or closely-related fields.
There will be some pundits who will quickly decry the Onley appointment, perhaps even suggesting that evangelical people should not be permitted into places of influence. They will argue that some such will try to push God in a way that will make others feel uncomfortable, perhaps even trying to set up a Christian mirror-image of an Islamic Taliban.
Brian Stiller, president of Tyndale University College and Seminary, where Jonathan Onley is a student, has a response for that kind of critique.
He points out that the Onleys "have lived successfully in the wider community, always serving and loving successfully in their careers.
"David will bring to his new calling an authenticity rooted in faith, in his skills as a communicator never playing off of his disability. You knew he never expected you to listen to him because of that. A word befitting him is 'genuine.' "
Asked about the criticism sometimes levelled at evangelical Christians appointed or elected to high office, Stiller responded: "David never used the pulpit of the media to expound his faith.
"He didn't have to.
"In fact if he had, it would have been inappropriate. It would have discredited him and the Gospel.
"Not only is he wise but he is smart. He understands the importance of serving in the public domain without trying to 'slip in the Gospel.' Instead he lives the Gospel. Again, that is what makes him authentic."
Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and the author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECWPress, 2006). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published on the CanadianChristianity, July 12, 2007.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2007 Christianity.ca.