Another old article, this one a review of Marci McDonald’s 2010 expose on the influence of the Christian Right in Canadian politics. Still relevant given that Harper has since gained his majority government and faces another election in October.
The Christians are coming!
Originally published in The Peak, 31st May 2010
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him,
And His enemies will lick the dust.
Psalm 72: 8-9
From this passage, Marci McDonald begins her argument in The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada that a Christian Dominionist movement has been growing in Canada. She purports to show how this Northern Christian Right has subtly gained an alarming amount of influence in the government in a short span of time.
In the first chapter, McDonald outlines Stephen Harper’s personal religious history, a taboo in the media. After moving to Calgary and joining Preston Manning’s Reform Party, Harper became a born-again Christian. Harper, unlike Manning and his ilk, preferred keeping his faith and politics separate. McDonald notes that it was only later when, as leader of the new Conservative Party, Harper reached out to other evangelicals.
McDonald has some difficulty measuring the level of influence the Christian Right has had on the Harper government. Few socially conservative policy changes have passed. Those that have passed have generally disappointed the very factions McDonald seeks to expose. Harper has repeatedly turned away from the abortion debate. Upon winning his first minority government, he quickly held his promised free vote on same-sex marriage – earlier than many evangelicals had wanted, as it provided them less time to mount a defence. Similarly, by breaking his fixed-election date law in 2008, Harper killed several of his caucus’ private members bills, including an unborn victims’ bill that was called the “first winnable abortion bill” in years.
However, McDonald does point out that perhaps Harper’s greatest success has been in his “incremental” changes, evidenced by his numerous appointments of partisans and born-agains to the courts, the senate, and the civil service. Within the Prime Minister’s Office, Harper counts many evangelical leaders, including the former leader of Focus on the Family Canada, Darrell Reid.
Similarly, Harper has been able to make many changes by the mere stroke of a pen. Harper cut funds to Status of Women Canada and KAIROS, a social justice charity that apparently represented the wrong-type of Christian – a charge levelled against McDonald herself. He has also provided tens of millions of stimulus dollars to Bible colleges and has cut funding to abortions provided as foreign aid.
McDonald also briefly discusses the so-called “Christian Left,” which included Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian medicare. She points out how both former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the late NDP leader Jack Layton reached out to various faith communities through acts like the revival of the NDP Faith and Social Justice committee.
The Armageddon Factor is an enlightening read, regardless of one’s personal views, but the book strays from objectivity enough that it reads as a bit more than just a who’s who of the Christian Right. I had initially hoped that it could have let the subjects speak for themselves, like the documentary Jesus Camp.
Regardless, the book does shed light on what has been taking place in the dark. No democracy is served by secrecy and backroom lobbying. At the very least, this book will hopefully force Canadians to decide what kind of country we want this to be, because if we do not, there are those who have a scripturally-inspired version of what they think it should be.