Evangelicals and the Canadian Election

Just finished talking about the election on Monday with friends Angus Reid and Janet Epp Buckingham on Drew Marshall‘s radio show. A few thoughts now as we anticipate a new government:

  1. It is unhelpful analytically to apply the current brand labels of the Conservative and Liberal parties to other categories, such as “conservative religion” or “liberal economics.” It’s not even helpful politically when one considers how the Liberal party in British Columbia, for example, is far more conservative than the party at the national level. And Mr. Trudeau’s party has decided on some issues to outflank Mr. Mulcair’s party on the economic or social left. Better to refer to the Blue, Red, Orange, and Green parties and then take each one as it actually is, according to its actual statements and actions.
  2. “Evangelicals” is a name Angus Reid finds unhelpful in his polling because pollsters often get into trouble distinguishing between how people identify themselves (“I’m an evangelical” or “I’m born again”) and how they actually think and behave. Better, he says, to talk about “churchgoing” or “practicing” Christians…who actually show up in the polls as a definite group…which is a point I’ve made for some time about North American evangelicals as well. So let’s use that category for the rest of this post.
  3. Churchgoing Christians have been aligned with the Blue party for a decade or so…but the significant migration of such voters came in the wake of former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s decision to force Parliament to vote on same-sex marriage and to compel his party to fall into line on his preferred policy. No discussion of intermediate options was countenanced (e.g., civil unions or registered domestic partnerships) and cabinet had to vote along the party line. The Orange party went one better/worse and insisted that the entire caucus vote one way. That left the Blue party as not only the only party with significant opposition, but the only party significantly open to dissent. Now that we’ve had considerable experience, however, with the way PM Harper runs his show, we can wonder about the “dissent” part on a variety of issues, even as we can wonder about the wisdom of Mr Trudeau in allowing no pro-life Liberals even to stand as candidates. Practicing Christians, who tend to be against same-sex marriage and abortion thus find it difficult to attach to either party…and they don’t find a happier haven in the Orange or Green parties, either.
  4. The main issues for most people, however, are not same-sex marriage or abortion. And if Mr Harper really wants to live or die on the hill of The Economy, he’s going to be in trouble. The apparent economic health and stability over the last decade or so, for which the Blue party wants to take credit, has been built largely on the backs of the 99 per cent. Most middle-class people have experienced a net loss in spending power, real wages, job stability, and the like. And it’s not like the Blue party has been especially concerned with those many, many Canadians who are below the middle class. Nope: all those nice macro numbers need to be penetrated, and when one digs deeper, one finds (as a million journalists have pointed out by now) a startling concentration and increase of wealth among the one per cent, and even more among the one-per-cent-of-the-one-per-cent.
  5. Christianity, furthermore, really doesn’t encourage its devotees to put first one’s own economic wealth and security. This might come as a surprise to those who think Mr Harper is an “evangelical,” but anyone who knows very much about the history of both evangelical and Catholic social doctrine knows that both kinds of observant Christianity have worked tirelessly for the poor; to produce jobs for the willing; to pay for the adequate training and equipping of the soldiers, rescuers, and police officers we send into harm’s way; and to prevent oppression of the weak by the strong. “Small government” is not, furthermore, characteristic of either evangelical or Catholic politics: fair government, honest governmentcompassionate government, competent government—well, now you’re talking. (And you’re not talking about the Prime Minister’s friend Mayor Ford when you talk that way.)
  6. Voting on Monday, then, cannot be for the leader or party that represents churchgoing Canadian Christians, because none of them do. None of them come anywhere close. Instead, the onus is on those of us who belong to that cohort to do our homework and figure out who is likely to do the most good and least harm. To ascertain who will likely do what he says he will do on this or that issue, and who is most likely to be flexible/pragmatic on that issue if faced with significant reason to compromise.  To discern what the country needs (not just what I want) for the next few years (not forever and ever). To make, that is, a truly political decision.

18 Responses to “Evangelicals and the Canadian Election”

  1. Marshall Krueger

    I would say that Stackhouse, like many 21st century church leaders are wont to do, has sacrificed truth in order to appear relevant. He encourages research? Well, research will put the lie to points 4 and 5. Very disturbing blog post from someone who is claiming to represent truth.




    • John

      Brother Marshall, thanks for sending us these links. The first two seem to me very mixed indeed: only the last one raises contradictory data, and I’m not equipped just now to do more than acknowledge it here. As for the links below to accounts of what the Blue party is promising in an election year, well, here’s hoping that our cops and soldiers get what they need. Ancient Sea Kings and overpriced fighter jets and lousy medical care for veterans all seem much more obvious to my mind, and likely to others’.

      I don’t understand the first comment about me and other “21st century church leaders,” though, unless you have the ability to read minds and hearts. That sort of remark doesn’t tend to increase your persuasiveness, I daresay. Maybe just stick to what we can talk about together? Again, thanks for contributing these links, for what they’re worth.

        • Marshall Krueger

          I can’t read that one because I already used up my 10 free reads from G/M while researching which parties are really most responsible for the spending scandals in the Senate and the House. I already subscribe to National Post and I don’t think my wife would like it if I were to spend money on two different newspapers plus Macleans.

      • Marshall Krueger

        Well the Maclean’s link is not the whole story Maclean’s published, it’s the best summary I could find. If you actually track down the magazine it outright says that Blue has been good to the poor, contradictory to what many want people to believe.

        The second one, I don’t really understand why you think it jives with what you said. Although CBC, in its wisdom, always tries to provide a “but” in this case, they could find no “but” about one thing – there have been gains right across the board. You stated in point four of your blog that the middle class has experienced a net loss, but the CBC article in no way supports that, it supports the opposite view. The only “but” it comes up with is that the middle class did not grow at a rate as quickly as other classes, which of course would also speak to your point in #4 about the state of the poor – the income of the poor has in fact increased at the fastest rate.

        As for your point about lousy medical care for veterans, that all depends on what veteran you are asking. It also seems contradictory to me that you are incensed about military equipment which is too old and at the same time new equipment which costs too much.

        As for my first comment, I don’t need the ability to read hearts and minds to see where you’re coming from, I just need the ability to read. I very much doubt you are the type of person to be persuaded by any source other than personal acquaintance if that; my intent was rather to warn others about the pitfalls in your article. I believe you could have made the case that just because one is Christian doesn’t mean one has to vote Conservative without repeating the lies already told in this election. You could even have done so without bringing up the abortion issue, which wasn’t even an issue in this election until the Red leader decided to make it so. If you and others can stomach that because you feel the middle class and poor have been neglected, then other readers should be alerted to take your own advice given as a church leader “for what it’s worth”.

        • John

          Thanks, Michael, for sending us to that article. Here’s hoping that new helicopters will arrive soon (at last) and that there will be enough of them. What a mess.

          Marshall, you remind me of another politically passionate Krueger, Kevin, a conservative British Columbia MLA who served in the cabinet of the disgraced former premier Gordon Campbell–any relation?

          And just to clear the air, I am certainly not advocating that one vote for the Red party, or any particular party. Just so we’re clear, I have deep differences with, and disappointments in, Mr Trudeau, only a couple of which I mentioned in the article. And if voters seriously think that they–and especially the poor and marginalized of this country–have benefitted financially from the current regime, but also would enjoy more justice, compassion, generosity, and high purpose under more of the same, then of course they should vote for the current regime to continue.

          Corrections on the other points are welcome, but of course the point of the article is in #6.

          • Michael Bell

            Thanks for the reply John. Long time huge fan of yours by the way.

  2. Charles Sullivan

    Thank you very much for your observations for helping “churchgoers” in making a good decision in their upcoming vote. I like your alternative definition of evangelicals as well. Solves many problems.

  3. Kevin Trick

    At the most basic level, government’s job is to preserve order, do justice, and restrain evil. Modern governments, like ours, also provide for common defense and general public health and welfare. (Charles Colson, Nov. 15, 2011). The question all voters must ask is which party, under which leader, will be able to accomplish this best. One must examine what the party’s platform is and their integrity in doing what they say, involving the character and experience of their leader. May we all pray for wisdom and disccernment, . . . then vote!

  4. Wally

    i am completely confounded by the fact that no one seems to get it that the state of our economy over the last 4 years plus has nothing to do with Canadian policies. It’s been a GLOBAL mess. Frankly I am convinced that the Harper/Flaharty/Oliver team made the best of an impossible situation. To blame to current oil crisis and value of the CDN $ on CDN policies is ignorant. Let’s take closer look at OPEC.
    No perfect choice out there. Need stability at this time.

  5. Gord Coulson

    Thanks, John. Good points. As someone who works for the federal civil service, I have seen the damage done to Canada by the Harper government from the inside. We were unable to say much because he threatened punishment if we did.

    The civil service has been living in fear since 2011. And most Canadians are blissfully unaware of the facts. In my opinion, he is a very dangerous person, bad for Canada, and thank God he is gone for good. We need a thorough, public, and transparent postmortem of the Harper legacy. People will be shocked (or at least should be, if their Christian mind is functioning properly).

    I should say that not all “church-goers” support Conservatism as a default. I hope that is a growing number. Our church has a mixture of left and right, and we do a lot of helping the downtrodden, supporting social justice issues etc. Why this has become a minority position is saddening–it’s a New Testament position; a Jesus position!

    In your Christian Mind class, you taught us that evangelicals must be thinkers to be truly effective followers of Jesus. Glad to see you are keeping up the fine fight! Why many evangelicals would be sad over Harper’s defeat, when all the facts surrounding the case are easily available, is hard to understand. Do we really think God favors one particular political party? Does claiming to be Christian make one so–especially if actions contradict the claim? It’s perplexing.

    Maybe Isaiah http://bit.ly/1MGG6iM + Mark Noll is the answer http://bit.ly/1GknvfS

    Shalom, Gord Coulson.

    PS My friend Carmen and I miss you!

  6. AJ

    Late to the game here. I thought this post had some fair points, but I took issue with #4. First, as Christians, it is very important to strive to be fair and to look at the context of each issue. In the case of the economy, Canada weathered the worst economic recession since the Great Depression – and did relatively well compared in the G-7 (best GDP growth, most stable financial system, one of the best job growth rates, etc.). In fact, most of the media outlets that you seem to have placed such great value in endorsed the Conservatives for precisely this reason. In fact, the number of people living on low income (LICO) is at its lowest level ever according to StatsCan.

    I would also contend that one of the hidden legacies of the “Blue” party is in fact their policies which do help the lower middle-cass. Removing 1 million low-income individuals off the federal tax rolls, bringing in the Registered Disabilities Savings Plan, TFSAs, Caregiver Tax Credit, a multiple of tax relief for young parents, raising the GIS for low-income seniors are all targeted to help struggling individuals and families.

    Justin Trudeau acknowledges that tax relief is helpful for Canadians – hence his proposed Canada Child Benefit is essentially a larger version of the Conservative UCCB, except those with lower income will receive more benefits (an idea that I agree with).

    And when we talk about the most impoverished Canadians, we should not forget it was the Conservatives that launched the evidence-based Housing First strategy – increasing funding for social housing to ensure more homeless individuals get roofs over their heads and a wide array of social services. If the Liberal platform is any indication, they are going to continue with the plan that the Conservatives started.

    I wish Justin Trudeau and the Liberals well. However, while the Conservative record has been imperfect, to gloss over their record and imply they’ve been a failure on the economy is rather one-sided. We need to change political discourse – one where we can discuss the good and bad of each party, not just the bad.


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