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March/April 2006 Issue

THE GATHERING PLACE:
Have Evangelical Optics Changed?
By Bruce J. Clemenger

Election ushers in a new maturity towards Evangelicals

During the election the views of Evangelicals and others on issues of marriage and abortion were called “extreme.” Are they?

More than half of the population remains opposed to the redefinition of marriage. And according to a recent poll more than 60 percent of Canadians favour restrictions on abortion. Evangelicals comprise only 12 percent of the population, therefore there must be more non-evangelicals who hold these views than Evangelicals. Besides, are more than half of Canadians extreme?

Using words like “extreme” to describe views characteristic of a group only serves to marginalize that group and promote suspicion. As a political tactic it may serve a short-term purpose but it doesn’t reflect the attitude of tolerance and respect that politicians say they want to foster in Canada. Increasingly it is perceived as an election ploy rather than a reflection of Canadian attitudes. But there are signs of change. Perhaps we are witnessing a maturing of Canadian society when it comes to the involvement of Evangelicals in politics.

With the swearing in of a new government, there are well-known Evangelicals taking leadership roles in government. The very fact that being an Evangelical is not an issue in the media or in the minds of Canadians as the cabinet is sworn in is a welcome change to the reception Preston Manning and Stockwell Day—both Evangelicals—received when they became leaders of political parties. Today the public assessment of the selection of the prime minister and the cabinet rests on other criteria, and evangelical faith does not appear to be an issue.

Nor are Evangelicals seen as a novelty in politics as they once were. Recall the “God squad” of the Mulroney government, a handful of Evangelicals in the conservative caucus led by senior cabinet member Jake Epp. Such language will likely not be used in this government—Evangelicals are not seen as a unique phenomenon nor are their policy views significantly different than other caucus members. The same is true of theologically conservative MPs within the Liberal party. A threshold is being crossed.

There is also a shift in the voting patterns of those who regularly attend church, be they Protestant or Catholic. That Manning and Day were leaders of right-of-centre parties did not prompt any immediate shift to the right in the voting patterns of Evangelicals or others who regularly attend church. In contrast, this election saw a more pronounced shift to the Conservatives which suggests other factors are determining voting patterns of those who regularly attend church: issues like marriage, integrity, time for a change and a viable federal alternative in Quebec.

Today the views of people who attend church vary on a range of issues, and there is a resulting fluidity in their voting patterns. This too is a sign of mature political involvement—voting for platforms and candidates and not party loyalty or tradition.

Given the characteristic activism of Evangelicals, one should expect them to be engaged in all areas of life including politics. I hope a maturing in Canadian politics will result in Canadians seeing the rhetoric of fear for what it is and assess Evangelicals on their contributions to politics. At the same time we Evangelicals need to continue to mature in our political engagement and come to be known not for what we oppose, but for what we are for—and to explore together what is means to “seek the blessing of the city” (Jeremiah 29).

Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Other Articles
Mar/Apr 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Meeting Christians Online: Does Internet Dating Really Work?

Beware of the Con Man

Featured Articles
Church, Conscience, Corruption and the Conservatives

Four Types of Canadian Voters

A Provocative Public Voice

How to Lose Weight and Gain a Congregation

From the Editor
Blind Dating Online

The Gathering Place
Have Evangelical Optics Changed?

Guest Column
Is Homelessness a Government Problem?

   
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