Prayer Breakfasts Are No Big Deal—Right?

Calgary Herald columnist Catherine Ford recently wrote a spooky column invoking the spectre of William “Bible Bill” Aberhart to scare her readers into antipathy toward, of all things, the upcoming Provincial Prayer Breakfast, to be held in Edmonton later this month.

Ford is fair-minded and competent enough to note that the speaker at the breakfast is not all that frightening: “Pat Nixon, an ordained Baptist minister and founder of the Mustard Seed, the valuable and much-admired ministry for street people.”

Still, the premier himself is also scheduled to speak, and that fact, plus the sponsorship by two MLAs, has set Ford a-wondering whether Alberta now teeters on the brink of a conservative Christian revolution of the scale that brought to power radio preacher Aberhart and the Social Credit Party he founded in 1935. Indeed, her fears get the better of her as she pushes the Wayback Machine to “a retrograde society based on 19th-century morals, attitudes, sexism and racism.”

“This is happening right here, right now, right under our noses,” she breathlessly announces, although “in plain sight” would be another way to put it, since the prayer breakfast is a public event and anything featuring the premier as speaker is likely pretty apparent even to the attenuated newsrooms of what’s left of Alberta’s major media.

Poor Ms. Ford continues: “Do we really want a return to the so-called glory days of an almost all-white, all-Christian province (except for the owners of Chinese laundries and restaurants), ruled with one hand on the Bible and one voice on the radio every Sunday morning?” But the slippery slope downward from a prayer breakfast to a Christian theocracy has got to be both slick and steep in Alberta for anyone to take Ms. Ford’s agitation seriously. I’ve been to several such breakfasts in various parts of Canada, and the level of conspiracy between clergy and politicians has been…slight…and the resulting cooperation between Christian churches and governments has been…not obviously changed.

So let’s chalk up her worries to the typical paranoia of Baby Boomers that Mom and Dad’s religion will once again rise up to wag a finger in their faces and tell them what to do. No, Christianity isn’t that sort of social force anywhere in Canada today—not even in Miriam Toews’s southern Manitoban Mennonite towns—and we can all calm back down.

Still, once we’ve discounted her excessive anxiety, Catherine Ford yet poses an interesting question.

What precisely is the point of these prayer breakfasts? Are they anachronisms left over from a Christian Canada that hasn’t existed for a generation? Then they ought to be retired.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

White American Evangelicals and Trump: Canadians Keep Wondering…

Neil Macdonald of the CBC recently bemoaned the continuing support of white evangelicals for American president Donald Trump.

To his credit, Macdonald was careful to say that they “are utterly unlike most Christians you’ll encounter in this country”—a refreshing refusal to engage in the persistent Canadian journalistic mistake of lumping together Canadian and American evangelicals.

Macdonald was also willing to recall his experiences among American evangelicals as “remarkably welcoming.” Still, he is understandably dismayed by evangelical leaders “venerating a president who…reflects none of the qualities Jesus is believed to have embodied.” Indeed, Macdonald writes, “It has become almost banal to recite Trump’s ugly, vulgar, misogynist, racist mendacity, and yet here he is in an official White House photo…in the midst of an ecstatic laying on of hands.”

As a scholar of evangelicalism, let’s see if I can help Macdonald and his readers with this odious conundrum.

In the American Midwest, South, and Texas, lots of people casually identify with evangelicalism because of the widespread impact of revivals throughout the nineteenth century. But these folks rarely attend church and have patently little knowledge of Christian theology. They’re no more “evangelical” than the vast number of Britons who say they’re “C of E” without darkening the door of an Anglican church except for the occasional wedding or funeral.

There yet are lots of churchgoing American evangelicals who do support Trump. Why?

Macdonald himself attempts two explanations: “Trump is the white evangelicals’ version of V.I. Lenin’s useful idiot, a character who is helping achieve their apocalyptic fever dreams, but who will perish along with the rest of us as the faithful perch in the clouds. Or the white evangelical version of Christianity is a darker, uglier thing than the smiles and the welcoming hugs and the blessings would have you believe.”

Both, however, are at least partly true. Evangelicals clearly support Trump because they generally oppose abortion and hope Trump will stack the Supreme Court with justices that will do what decades of prolife activism has failed to do: roll back Roe v. Wade.

As for racism, one can count on that being a factor, too, as it seems to be in every aspect of American life. And a much-too-high tolerance of the mistreatment of women? That ugly side of evangelicalism is still coming to light, notably in almost-monthly revelations in its biggest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

[For the rest, please click here.]

What the World—and Canada—Needs Now

Choristers in full military uniform celebrating the People’s Liberation Army of China—in Toronto?

The National Post recently reported that 40 or so veterans of the PLA put on such a concert in Richmond Hill, a prosperous suburb of Canada’s urban centre. They belong to a new Canada Chinese Veteran’s Society that poses a fresh challenge to our country’s vaunted multiculturalism.

The challenge, however, is hardly new, not particularly Canadian, and certainly not peculiar to Chinese immigrants.

South of the border, a Sikh memorial in a Connecticut library was removed after a protesting phone call from the Indian consulate. According to The Washington Post, “the memorial to Sikhs killed in India 35 years ago…included a plaque, flags and a portrait of a Sikh separatist movement leader, Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale.”

Bhindranwale was among those killed in the attack of the Indian army on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, the notorious Operation Blue Star that scandalized the global Sikh community and led to the assassination five months later of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

As we learned from President Ronald Reagan, one side’s “terrorist” is another side’s “freedom fighter”—and when both sides have keen representation in the New World, old battles get re-fought.

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if we reasonable Canadians of European descent could do without the violence of these Asian hotheads?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]