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The Election's Cross to Bear
Get used to the fact that religion plays a part in how we vote.

Every family reunion has potential for an odd relative to say the uncomfortable thing and send the whole gathering into a squabble. The scenario has just burst out on a national scale. This federal election is that reunion, a family gathering of the grandest sort. And the fear factor we hope will stay quiet in the corner is faith—not religion, but faith in God.

… Canadians … faith is integrated into their lives and the way they cast their ballot.

Bravo for Bishop Fred Henry, who castigated the Prime Minister for "moral incoherence" in his stand on abortion. Bishop Henry reiterated what authentic faith requires in any Canadian: integration into daily life. Without that, faith is an empty ritual.

Canada is a highly spiritualized country. Multiple millions believe in God, listen for God to speak, and talk to God. To deny that is to ignore current polls, weekend church gatherings that outdraw any entertainment or sport events, and the $5.8-billion that Canadians give annually to charities. Two-thirds of the population identified itself as Christian in recent Ipsos-Reid polling; the company also reported that 44 percent of adult Canadians understand "Christian" to mean they have committed their lives to Christ—Canadians whose faith is integrated into their lives and the way they cast their ballot.

Faith shapes what we value. It determined that The Passion of the Christ was one of Canada's top-grossing movies this past winter. It has the strength to upset the current election. Christian convictions launched our health care (under Rev. Tommy Douglas) and public schools (Egerton Ryerson); they crafted our first immigration policy, and were the root of five of the six Western reform movements. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau drew on his Jesuit education on the dignity of the person when he championed our Charter of Rights. Bible prayers are etched into the stones of our Parliament and universities. This is our heritage. As Paul Martin has said, the issue in this election is "Do you want a Canada that builds on its historic strengths and values?"

That's why faith keeps intersecting as a dynamic in this voting race.

How so? The greatest Christian issue in this election is "love your neighbour." This overarches all platforms, not just the obvious moral hot buttons (such as abortion) that are causing campaign panic. The biblical directive to love your neighbour is at the very heart of why Christians vote.

Government, says the Bible, is a gift from God. Politicians may not know it, but they are on a divine mission to create a bit of heaven on Earth, which is why the best churches in our land give public prayers from the pulpit for our government.

Love your neighbour is why Christians have learned to champion pluralism and cannot insist their views be forced on others. It's one reason why the hate-crime legislation (which, in seeking to protect gay rights, could threaten the rights of the religious to study Scripture) is of deep concern. Christians have a long track record of teaching sexuality without inculcating hatred. Now the worry is that we will have to fight gay activists—who also have a track record of taking Christians to court to force change in our moral views (consider such past cases as whether books dealing with gay parents must be carried in kindergarten libraries, or whether a printer can decline to print promotional works whose sexual contents disturbed him).

Centuries of values and tradition are to be changed in less than a few years? Not without a howl of protest at the ballot box.

Love your neighbour is why we need more time to work through the gay-marriage issue. The Church has just begun to wrestle with paradigm-shift alternatives such as civil unions; the pressure of court-imposed timelines is anathema to the slow thoughtfulness of Church life. Centuries of values and tradition are to be changed in less than a few years? Not without a howl of protest at the ballot box.

Integrity to faith principles goes two ways in a democracy. When Paul Martin fast-tracked unprecedented AIDS relief for Africa, he addressed the greatest moral dilemma of our age. Were his actions coming from the compass deep in his heart where he knew he was on Earth to do good?

You don't have to be a Christian to have such a compass—it's a standard feature the Creator puts in us all. But the Christian community should have commended Mr. Martin more loudly than it did.

The Prime Minister's words in the Commons just prior to the election were: "Let me say very plainly that faith or religion has no room in politics; the fact is this government would never allow it." He's right in the sense that faith should never be the imposing arm of Canadian law. But he's wrong in thinking a government can unilaterally decide that faith is in or out of the process.

In a democracy, there will always be people who act politically because their faith motivates them to do so.

Some MPs will serve from that call, and some voters will look for MPs who fit their faith values. The sooner we start getting comfortable with the fact that faith is a reality in our politics, the more honest we can be about the role it plays in shaping the future.

Lorna Dueck is a Christian broadcaster, author and executive producer of the current affairs program, Listen Up, on Global TV and CTS. Her web site is:

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, Friday, June 11, 2004.




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