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Derisive Comments Against Evangelicals Have Got to Stop

" … we cannot leave unchallenged unwarranted comments that stereotype Evangelicals and only serve to promote contempt toward an identifiable religious minority."

Elizabeth May's over-the-top comments at a church service recently might be described as a brush wide enough to tar a lot of people. The Leader of the Green Party's references to Nazis, name-calling of other political leaders, and stereotyping of Evangelical Christians are not common fare for a church service.

Canadians do not accept these types of comments directed toward Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus or other religions.

The leaders of our political parties play an important role in forming public policy and helping to shape public discussion on issues. As leaders, their words carry an extraordinary amount of influence, which is why we should all be deeply concerned about recent comments made by a number of Canadian politicians, not just those made by Ms. May.

A few months ago it was the interim leader of the Liberal Party who criticized the hiring of a prominent Evangelical by the Environment Minister's office—based on the new employee's faith. And, over the last several months, parliamentarians who hold an evangelical faith have faced criticism from fellow MPs for their personal beliefs.

These types of comments demonstrate a significant misunderstanding of Evangelical Christians and can only serve to promote contempt toward what in Canada is a religious minority.

Derisive comments against Evangelicals have got to stop.

We should object to anyone who makes use of religious groups or someone's personal beliefs as 'straw men' to advance their own agenda, especially our political leaders. What is this compulsion to use faith groups in an effort to score political points? In this instance, because she disagrees with President Bush's approach to climate change, rather than critique his position on the issue Elizabeth May ridiculed his religious beliefs by equating him with fundamentalists, some of whom May claims believe that "Joan of Arc was Noah's sister." May went on in her Sunday sermon to state, "While many Evangelical Christians care about the Earth, a fundamentalist sect would rather see the planet destroyed … .They are waiting for the end time in glee and they unfortunately include (U.S.) President (George W.) Bush."

Statements like that are simply uncalled for. Not only is the U.S. President mocked for his religious belief, the Leader of the Green Party misrepresented him by calling him a fundamentalist; a term that, I believe, he would not use to describe himself.

We also ought to be mindful of the role media plays in this type of situation and the importance of the media doing their homework, taking time to understand the groups they comment about and getting their facts and quotes straight. Many media blur the terms "Evangelical" and "Fundamentalist." The terms are, and should be reported as distinct.

All international human rights documents affirm protection of religious freedom. Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, to which Canada is a signatory, states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." Canada's own Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms the "fundamental right" to freedom of conscience and religion.

As Canadians, we cannot leave unchallenged unwarranted comments that stereotype Evangelicals and only serve to promote contempt toward an identifiable religious minority. Canadians do not accept these types of comments directed toward Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus or other religions. Evangelicals are entitled to the same respect. This should be especially true in political discourse. Critics who oppose the views of other politicians and political leaders, cross the line when they cast aspersions on these persons' religious faith in a weak effort to bolster their own arguments.

There is, however, also some good news on this issue. At the invitation of Parliament, leaders from Ottawa's many faith groups meet together regularly with MPs to foster dialogue among each other and with MPs. The All Party Interfaith Friendship (APIF) group brings together MPs and faith leaders to discuss current issues from a variety of faith perspectives and is a forum for dialogue on ways to help MPs better understand the myriad of faith communities in their respective Ridings.

APIF is also a platform for further discussion with MPs in their offices. A typical meeting might involve an Evangelical, Muslim and a member from the Baha'i faith, meeting together with one or more MPs. The clear message is that faith groups are actively seeking ways to relate with each other and offer valuable insight in regard to legislative initiatives. This type of event may not take place frequently in other parts of the world, but in this regard Canada is a leader.

Evangelicals are people of faith, who hold dearly to their beliefs and seek to model their behaviour and life based on the life of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals know that Canada is a pluralistic society that welcomes a variety of religions, languages and cultures because they helped create it, and are still actively involved in it.

Evangelicals, along with other faith leaders are trying to set a tone for respectful dialogue. It seems reasonable that they receive the same respect from our political leaders.

Douglas Cryer is the director of public policy for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




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